On July 31st we'll see the long awaited return of WBA Featherweight champion Can Xu (18-2, 3), who has been out of the ring since beating Manny Robles III way back in November 2019. The exciting, all action, Chinese punching machine will not only be back in the ring in July but will also be making his UK debut as he takes on Englishman Leigh Wood (24-2, 14) in Essex, England. For Xu this bout will be his third defense of the title he won in his break out fight, a January 2019 upset win against Jesus M Rojas, whilst the 32 year old Wood will be fighting in his first world title bout to date.
For those who haven't see Xu he really is a perpetual punching machine. He is the man of nightmares for Compubox operators, and the sort of fighter who throws a lot. His shots never a lot on them in terms of power, but he throws, and lands, that many that fighters end up simply being overwhelmed, and go into a defensive shell, unsure of quite how to fight him. His work rate and engine are ridiculously impressive, and whilst he's not the most technical he's so awkward due to his output that few can really take advantage of his flaws. He's also been blessed with real toughness, and began his career as a Light Welterweight before moving down in weight, showing that he's physically strong as well as tough. He can be be out boxed, at least in spurts, but to do it against him for 12 rounds will be a tough, tough ask of anyone in the sport, and anyone who tries better be willing to walk into shots to get their own off.
As mentioned Xu began his career at 140lbs, and he jumped between weights for much of the early part of his career, losing two close decisions in his first 5 bouts. Since then however he has gone 15-0 (3), he has beaten the likes of Hurricane Futa, Chris George, Corey McConnell, Nehomar Cermeno, Jesus M Rokas, Shun Kubo and Manny Robles, to build up a solid, though not startling, resume for himself. He had been hoping for a big 2020, with a potential unification bout against Josh Warrington in the works, before Covid19 put an end to those dreams. Instead of facing Warrington in front of a packed out Elland Road, he instead needs to face Wood in Eddie Hearn's back yard, in front of only a few hundred supposed boxing fans.
Whilst Xu has been sat on the outside looking in Wood has actually managed a couple of fights since the end of 2019, include a razor thin loss to James Dickens in February 2020 and a brilliant domestic win over Reece Mould in February of this year. Those bouts shows that Wood was putting on some of the best performances of his career and despite being in his 30's he's still a fight who is improving, growing more confident and putting together really good results. Something he also did in late 2019 when he upset David Oliver Joyce and it really does seem like his slow burn career has started to peak.
In the ring Wood is a solid fighter, who has proven himself to be a very good British level, maybe even European level, Featherweight with solid power that carries late into his bouts. He's not the most skilled or the quickest, in fact at times he's a little crude, but he's patient, he's heavy handed, and he throws his right hand with bad intent. As we saw against Reese Mould his shots do genuine damage and whether he's coming forward or going backwards he hits hard enough to get the result of anyone he faces, especially when he lands his straight right hand, or his solid left hook. Sadly though his work rate isn't the best, and against a fighter like Xu we think his lack of consistent, high intensity work, will make it very, very hard for him to impress the judges. His shots will be more meaningful, and much more meaty than Xu, but we suspect he simply won't land enough of them.
We think early on Wood will have success, in the first 3 or 4 rounds things will be competitive with Wood holding his own. That'll be until Xu's insane output and work rate begin to turn the fight in his favour and from there on the question won't be who'll win? But instead a case of whether Xu can end up stopping Wood or not. We don't think he will, but we do think Xu will take a very, very wide decision here.
One of the big break outs from Asia in the last 12 months or so is Chinese fighter Can Xu (17-2, 3) who hadn't made his US debut until September 2018 but has since become a fighter with a genuine feel good story, an exciting style and a a charming personality. It's those traits that saw him win over fight fans in December, when he claimed the WBA "regular" Featherweight title with an upset win over Jesus M Rojas in Houston.
On November 23rd Xu returns to the US to make his second defense of the title, as he takes on the unbeaten Manny Robles III (18-0, 8) in what looks set to be a very fun fight between two men who aren't known for their power, but should be capable of putting on a real action fight.
In January the then 24 year old Xu, who is now 25, became the first Chinese man to win a world title by dethroning someone. Whilst the belt was only the "regular" title it was still an historical first for Chinese boxing. The fact he did it against a feared puncher like Rojas, and seemed to beat Rojas at his own game, of making fights a war, just just even more impressive. He pushed Rojas and down the stretch he out worked Rojas in one of the many forgotten thrillers of 2019. He would return to the ring 4 months later and stop former WBA Super Bantamweight champion Shun Kubo in China.
Although not a big puncher Xu is a real danger man. He's physically very strong, has an incredible work rate and toughness, and overwhelms opponents. His power isn't as much of an issue as some would suspect, though it is worth noting he has stopped 3 of his last 5 after failing to score a single stoppage in his first 14 bouts. Given his style we do expect him to grind people down in the later stages of 10 and 12 rounds, where he simply grinds the fight out of them.
Robles, like Xu, is 25 years old and isn't known for his power though that's not to say he can't punch, just that his power really isn't his strength. He's technically a cute boxer, with a nice jab, nice work on the inside and good pressure. His work rate is a lot less than that of Xu but it's also a lot more clearly defined. At his heart he looks to be a fighter who sometimes gets lost between two styles though, not sure if he should be a warrior on the inside or a boxer on the outside and this is certainly going to be an issue as he takes on fighters who know their own identity and fight their own styles.
Whilst the fighting identity of Robles is an issue he also doesn't appear to have the greatest of engines. Both of his completed 10 rounds have seen him only just manage to get over the line with split decisions. If you can't punch and your engine isn't great you're going to be in real trouble against Xu. Notably Robles has also only had 10 rounds of in ring action over the last year, with ring rust being another potential issue for the American challenger.
Although Robles is a talented fighter we see Xu just being too big, too strong and too hungry. Xu will drag Robles into his fight, and we have seen Robles dragged into a war before, and out work him. The bout will test Robles' toughness though we wouldn't be surprised at all if that toughness wasn't enough to see him survive the 12 rounds with the Chinese "Monster".
The pressure, work rate and strength of Xu will be too much, especially down the stretch.
Prediction- TKO11 Xu
Earlier this year China saw it's baby faced punching machine Can Xu (16-2, 2) announce himself on the global stage with an upset win in the US over Jesus M Rojas, to become the WBA "regular" Featherweight champion. The win was a notable upset, especially given how bad Xu had looked on his US debut, and saw the feather fisted "Monster", don't ask, show off his fun style, his incredible toughness and his wonderful personality.
This coming weekend Xu heads back to a Chinese ring as he looks to make the first defense of his title, and unlike many who would take on an easy first defense he will actually go up against former WBA "regular" Super Bantamweight champion Shun Kubo (13-1, 9) in what is a really nice looking match up.
Xu, as we all saw against Rojas, is a tough, gutsy guy with an incredible work rate. His shots don't have much on them individually but the sheer number of punches he throws is incredible and he does wear people out mentally as well as physically. He combines an insane output with a gritty toughness, that we saw not only against Rojas but also against the likes of Spicy Matsushita, Nehomar Cermeno and Hurricane Futa, among others.
His combination of toughness and output has seen him winning his last 13 fights and becoming the new face of Chinese boxing. That's admittedly not a position that has given us a lot of big names, but puts him in a small group along with Xiang Zhao Zhong and Zou Shiming, as Chinese world champions and focal points in Chinese boxing history.
Xu isn't likely to be a big star world wide, despite his style, but for Chinese boxing he is a potential center point to build off over the coming years. He's only 25, he's promoted by China's bigger promoter Max Power Promotions, and could be finding himself as someone to inspire the next generation of fighters. The hope once was that Zou Shiming would do that, but he was too old when he turned professional and although interesting outside of the ring he wasn't fun to watch, his fighters didn't see a lot of punches aren't weren't exciting. Xu is fun, young, exciting and oozes natural charisma, which can appeal to local fans and international ones.
As previously mentioned Kubo is a former "regular" champion at 122lbs. Whilst he was fighting at Super Bantamweight he was regarded as a fast rising hopeful, and scored early career wins over the likes of Monico Laurente and Luis May before taking the OPBF title in 2015. In the eyes of many he was the new hope of the Shinsei gym, and winning the OPBF title in just his 9th fight showed that they were going to be pushing to be the replacement for Hozumi Hasegawa at the top of the Shinsei stable. Less than 18 months after his OPBF win he would defeat Nehomar Cermeno for the WBA "regular title", with Cemerno retiring between rounds 10 and 11. It's worth noting that Cermeno had won and defended his belt, twice, in China becoming a bit of a name there, so beating Cermeno would have got Kubo some attention in China.
Sadly Kubo's reign was short and he lost the belt less than 5 months later when he dominated by Danny Roman, who has now run up 4 defenses and unified the WBA and IBF titles suggesting that a lott to Roman isn't something to be ashamed by. Since losing the belt Kubo has scored a single win, moving up to Featherweight and narrowly out pointing Hiroshige Osawa. Sadly a planned follow up was cancelled late last year when Kubo was suffering issues with his sight, though he has receieved treatment and things are said to be sorted with his eyes now.
In the ring Kubo is a pretty basic fighter. He's gangly, long and has impressive size, and will have that at Featheweight, but doesn't do anything specially well. He has a solid enough jab and a decent left hook to the body but there is nothing that makes you think he's world class, other than his desire and will to win. In fact if anything he's shown a suspect chin, a lack of power and some naivety. Despite his flaws he does have success, his heart is incredible and he knows how to use his size. He's not only awkward in terms of reach and height but also due to being a southpaw and he does do a lot that's nice, as opposed to exceptional.
We think Kubo could ask questions of Xu, especially early on when he can land some body shots and is fresh enough to get his punches off. As the fight wears on however we expect to see Xu's pressure, work rate and aggression be the difference, and for the Chinese fighter to retain his title.
We're expecting Kubo to survive the distance, but wouldn't be hugely shocked by a late a stoppage for Xu, despite his reputation as a none-puncher.
Prediction Xu UD12
The Featherweight division is on of the most fragmented in the sport right now, with no unified champions and no clear #1. In fact it's not really clear on the ordering of any of the champions, and inactivity of certain fighters atop the division doesn't help matter. This coming Saturday we get a WBA "regular" title bout in the division, as defending champion Jesus M Rojas (26-2-2-1, 19) defends his belt against Chinese challenger Can Xu (15-2, 2). No matter who wins the division will remain a huge mess at the top, though at the very least this bout should remove a contender from the very messy WBA title picture.
We say it's a messy title scene for the WBA as they currently have 3 champions in the division. Rojas, the "regular" champion, Leo Santa Cruz, the "Super champion" and Jhack Tepora, the "interim" champion [ Ed's note - Tepora will be defending the "interim" title against Hugo Ruiz the day AFTER this preview goes live]. It appears none of the men are likely to face off any time soon, and instead the 3 titles will float around for time. Rather than linger on that, and politics of the WBA, we'll get on to the preview.
Rojas, from Puerto Rico, is one of the division's many over-looked fighters. He's tough, heavy handed, aggressive, physically strong and a nightmare for many in the division. Technically he is flawed, a rough around the edges fighter who can be out boxed, out sped and out thought, though few will fancy their chances of out fighting him. He comes forward behind a tight guard, looks to go to work up close and turn things into a fighter. He has been down before, and actually lost a decision last time out to Jospeh Diaz but kept the title due to Diaz failing to make weight. Diaz beat him by establishing the range, using a lot of jabs and countering well, setting a gameplan that fighters could use to beat Rojas in the future, if they have a similar skill level and toughness to Diaz.
Although he can be out boxed Rojas is the type of fighter who will be a nightmare for anyone. He will press the action, come forward and make even the best boxers work incredibly hard to earn a win. His aggression, physical strength an will to win are very hard to over-come.
Xu is looking to become the third Chinese male to win a world title, following Xiong Zhao Zhong and Zou Shiming, he's also looking to become their first champion above 112lbs. He's a relative unknown on the international scene, though is relatively well known in Asia, where he has fought all but 1 bout. In Asia he has scored notable wins against the likes Hurricane Futa, Kris George, Corey McConnell, Spicy Matsushita and Nehomar Cermeno. Outside of Asia his only bout saw him being surprisingly pushed all the way by Enrique Bernache last September, and in fact that bout almost cost him this title fight.
In the ring Xu is far from a puncher. He's an aggressive boxer, who lets his hands go a lot, but lacks power, and his stoppages have come from wearing opponents down. Despite his high work rate he does lack finesse in a lot of what he does, though has sparred with top fighters to try and develop his skills and polish things off. That sparring, including sparring with Naoya Inoue, will help improve Xu but the reality is that he's never going to be a a fluid, natural fighter. More a basic fighter, who works hard for results, especially at a level like this.
Given that both men like to let their hands go, both come forward and neither looks great on the back foot we're expecting these two to meet center ring. Sadly for Xu meeting with Rojas in the ring isn't a wise idea, and we suspect that Rojas' power and psychical strength will be the difference. Xu will be forced to back up, and we don't think he'll be effective on the back foot, instead we see him being broken down in the second half of the fight.
Unification bouts in boxing are very rare and generally they are worth getting excited about. Champion Vs Champion, the best vs the best. Sadly however with the WBA having 3 titles we seem to have seen more WBA unification fights recently than real unification bouts and we see another WBA unification bout this coming Saturday as WBA Featherweight super champion Nonito Donaire (33-2, 21) attempts to unify his title with the WBA Featherweight "regular" champion Nicholas Walters (24-0, 20) in what will be the second WBA unification bout in as many days.
Of the two men in action it's Donaire who is better known due to the fact the Filipino has long been one of the stars, and cash cows, of the lower weights. The American based fighter first made his name on the back of a scintillating win over Vic Darchinyan back in 2007 and since then has gone through the divisions picking up both world titles and notable scalps, such as Fernando Montiel, Toshiaki Nishioka and Omar Andres Narvaez. The success, and power, or Donaire has seen him become a favourite of the US boxing media and although he has struggled in recent years it does seem like there is still a lot for Donaire to achieve if he can get himself up for fights, which appears to be his biggest problem.
At his best Donaire is a counter punching destroyer as she showed against Montiel and Darchinyan. Sadly however when a fighter doesn't give Donaire some pretty clear openings he has struggled, as seen in the Narvaez fight and his somewhat recent loss to Guillermo Rigondeaux. At his core Donaire is a powerful and quick counter puncher who adds an air of excitement to every bout he's involved in with fans hoping to see him detonate a bomb on his opponent. Sadly though when an opponent is an unwilling dance partner Donaire can be made to look fundamentally limited and at times lost in the ring.
As for Walters he's a hard man to get a real read on. We've only seen a handful of his bouts and although the Jamaican has serious power he also seems to be developing in terms of timing, general skills and, worryingly for Donaire, patience. In the first few fights of Walters that we've seen he looked like a slugger and offensive mindset, the sort of guy that Donaire would typically feast on with no issues due to the openings that he used to leave.
Whilst he's a big puncher Walter's also has a few tricks up his sleeve. He's willing to take the 1/2 step back, he's willing to let the other man lead and he's capable of unleashing thunder from both hands. He's one of those fighters that others don't take risks against, in fact in many way's he's a lot like a younger version of Donaire albeit a cruder version of a young Donaire. Like a young a young Donaire Walters also appears big for the weight in which he's competing, something that certainly helped the Filipino fighter move up the weight classes. That size is likely to tell here and Walters is likely to look bigger than Donaire, by quite a margin.
Donaire at his best was brilliant. His stoppages against Darchinyan and Montiel were sensational and really made him a huge star and a real pound-for-pound fighter. Sadly those performances look to be well behind him and in recent fights he has looked like a man who is missing his sparkle and confidence. He's still talented but that lack of magic and desire is the difference between a world class fighter and an elite level fighter. and that lack of magic could cost him here.
What we think will happen is that both men will fight as counter punchers and neither will be willing to open up. This will lead to a very slow but tense fight with both men believing they have the power to stop the other. They style of fight won't be great to watch for the most part but as soon as one man leads the other will answer and we will get some very exciting exchanges between the two who will be trying to counter each other. When they do exchange Donaire will have the speed edge and Walters will have the size and power edge. It's a matter of who has the chin edge as to who will come out on top here. We tend to feel the size will be the difference and help Walters take the win however if Donaire connects clean there is every chance he will stop Walters.
The only thing we know for sure here is that we are looking forward to this fight and that either man can pick up the win in what promises to be a very interesting contest even if it's unlikely to be the most exciting bout of the weekend
Over the past year or so Top Rank and Bob Arum have made a home away from home in Macau making the most of the luxurious conditions at the amazing Cotai Arena in the Venetian Resort. The cards, which have split opinions with many fans, have been great for us as they have helped draw extra attention to some Asian fighters such as Yasutaka Ishimoto, Genesis Servania, Harmonito Dela Torre, Zou Shiming, Rex Tso and Kuok Kun Ng.
One of the few Asian fighters that American audiences are fully aware of, with out the need for a Macau showcase, is the "Filipino Flash" Nonito Donaire (32-2, 21). Donaire, once considered as a top 10 pound-for-pound fighter, is a man in a bit of a career crisis. A few years ago he was the rising star at Top Rank, the next Manny Pacquiao. He was stopping great opponents like Vic Darhcinyan and Fernando Montiel with single punches, he was looking sensational with power, speed, the ability to box from either stance and an unnerving ability to time his opponents with fantastic counter.
Since then those glory days Donaire has struggled with the likes of Omar Andres Narvaez, Wilfredo Vazquez Jr, Jeffrey Mathebula, Vic Darchinyan-in a rematch, and been defeated by Cuban sensation Guillermo Rigondeaux. He has basically gone from being a top pound-for-pound fighter to a man that many feel may be so far on the slide that he perhaps only has one or two good fights left in him.
At his best Donaire really was brilliant. He often looked untouchable with a mind blowing combination of speed and power. He was often making top fighters look like also rans and his record genuinely reads like a who's who with names like Darchinyan, Moruti Mthalane, Hernan Marquez, Montiel, Narvaez, Toshiaki Nishioka and Jorge Arce. Unfortunately however he seemed to fall in love with his power in later years, ignoring the skills that had gotten him to the top level and relying solely on counters rather than finding his own openings. He'd gone from wonder kid to frustration almost over night and has struggled to re-find the tools that made him one of the sports must watch fighters.
Unfortunately for Donaire he'll almost certainly have to find his aggressive mindset as he attempts to become a 5 weight world champion and takes on WBA Featherweight super champion Simipiwe Vetyeka (26-2, 16) who has gained a real reputation over the last year as a man who enjoys fighting Asian fighters and is a real king of upsets.
Hailing from South Africa Vetyeka has become a road warrior and fought in his first notable bout 7 years ago in Japan when he lost a decision to the then WBC Bantamweight champion Hozumi Hasegawa. That bad was a horrible clash of styles with neither man willing to open up for vast parts of the bout. From that contest however Vetyeka has learned to make the most of his ability and scored wins over Giovanni Caro, Daud Cino Yordan and, most recently, Chris John.
The victories over Yordan and John have both been played down by some fans. For some Yordan was weight drained and John was old though in all honesty they are detracting from two excellent performances that showed the different sides of Vetyeka. Against Yordan we saw Vetyeka the boxer who bounced on his toes, used the jab and allowed Yordan to eat numerous straight shots. It was a game plan designed to beat Yordan. Against John we saw Vetyeka bide his time, start slowly and then strike breaking John down in rounds 5 and 6 before forcing the stoppage. By then John looked like a broken man, he was busted to the mid section, forced to take shots upstairs and beaten into retirement.
Whilst Donaire is the favourite, and rightfully so, he's in a very, very tough contest here. He's not looked "right" in a while and although he's only lost, in recent bouts, to the excellent Rigondeaux we can actually see an upset here with Vetyeka having all the tools to beat Donaire, if not he'll certainly give Donaire a head ache.
We're expecting to see the counter punching Donaire in the ring. By it's self that's fine but against another relaxed counter puncher we think Donaire will struggle and when he opens up his defensive flaws will be taken advantage off with quick and hurtful shots from Vetyeka. Those shots will take it's toll on Donaire and make things very difficult for the Filipino who will feel what it's like to fight a real Featherweight.
We think that whilst Donaire will start the favourite he will really struggle to hurt Vetyeka, he will struggle to land clean on Vetyeka and in the end he will just flat out struggle. We don't mean to sound harsh but we'd not be shocked if Vetyeka managed to score a third successive upset with a hard fought decision. Unfortunately we think Donaire is about done.
(Image courtesy of Toprank)
Earlier this year we saw South African Simpiwe Vetyeka (25-2, 15) score one of the biggest wins of his career as he traveled to Indonesia and beat the popular Daud Cino Yordan in an IBO title bout. Vetyeka's reward for winning that bout now seems him facing a second successive Indonesian as faces the legendary Chris John (48-0-3, 22) in an attempt to claim the WBA "super" title at Featherweight.
For many in the west this has already been played down as John fighting another "second rate challenger". Unfortunately this just proves how wrong some fans are when it comes to international fighters and Vetyeka is far from a second rate challenger. In fact Vetyeka is one of the dangerous challengers to John's throne and could well be the man who finally ends the long unbeaten run of Indonesia's greatest ever fighter.
Vetyeka, although relative unknown to those in Europe and America is a fighter who is known in Asia. Not only did he beat Yordan but he also gave Japanese great Hozumi Hasegawa one of the toughest bouts of his career.
Dubbed "V12" Vetyeka is an excellent pure boxer who uses his legs and jab to maintain distance. His work rate is fantastic, he's fast, slippery and whilst he's not a big puncher he can break fighters mentally or physically with his straight shots, accuracy and work rate.
Of course John will be the favourite. The 34 year old who has held some version of the WBA Featherweight title (interim, regular or super) for over a decade has proven to be a genuinely great fighter. He's slated in the west for fighting in the east but at the end of the day there is no real valid claim to call him untalented. His record speaks for it's self and with a 51 fight unbeaten streak it's hard to criticise him. Of course those bouts have included contests with Derrick Gainer, Juan Manuel Marquez, Rocky Juarez, Daud Cino Yordan all of whom are real world level fighters.
At his best John was a tricky boxer with great speed, fantastic movement, lovely combinations and solid defensive skills. As he's gotten older though the speed has started to decline, the movement has slowed and he's been dragged in to more exchanges than he would have liked. These trading sequences have lead to exciting moments in with Yordan, Chonlatarn Piriyapinyo and Satoshi Hosono.
We tend to think he was lucky to get of the Satoshi Hosono fight with a third round technical draw. The cut from a clash of heads was a bad one and the ending was fair, but we think Hosono had really good chance to upset John. The Bazooka was almost certainly going to land at some point and hurt John. With that in mind we also need to think that Vetyeka has a real chance against John. If John has slowed any further with his feet we may well see him chasing shadows for portions of this fight.
That's not to say John won't have his moments but we really see him struggling here. This won't be another "easy" defense for John, Vetyeka won't let it be easy. He's too good, too experienced and too determined to let John make it easy.
What we expect to happen is for John to make a good start, taking maybe the first 2 or 3 rounds. Vetyeka will then find his rhythm and take a number of the middle rounds. For us it goes down to the final 3 or 4 rounds as to who will take the win. Vetyeka will certainly not give up, but we also don't expect John to give up his title either. With that in mind a very narrow decision either way seems almost certain.
Could Vetyeka end one of the most impressive unbeaten runs in the sport? The answer, is a very serious yes, yes he could.
Fore those interested in watching this fight, it will LEGALLY streamed on RCTI and can be watched on their website (http://www.rcti.tv/streaming) in English.
World Title Previews
The biggest fights get broken down as we try to predict who will come out on top in the up coming world title bouts.