After more than 20 months out of the ring, and with numerous fights falling through during that time, we were all curious as to what we'd see from exciting Chinese fighter Can Xu (18-3, 3) [徐灿] this evening as he looked to defend the WBA Featherweight title against Englishman Leigh Wood (25-2, 15).
Sadly what we saw was a shadow, of a shadow of a fighter. This was a man who looked completely unrecognisable to the man who announced himself to the world in January 2019, when he beat Jesus M Rojas. In fact what we saw was a man who looked not just out of sorts, but almost as if he was out of love with the sport all together and it looked like the stop start nature of the last 20 months had really taken everything away from him.
Xu, who is known for his high output, incredible work rate, and wildly entertaining fights, was subdued from the off. Part of that was ring rust though part of it, a very good part, was the tactics of Leigh Wood, and trainer Ben Davison, who used subtle movements to make Xu regularly reset. In the past Xu has had no problem resetting but here he seemed completely unable to get his feet into gear, whilst Wood picked him off with good single shots from mid-range. Wood really was just doing basic things, very well, and Xu couldn't do anything. In fact Xu looked like a man wanting to be the human heavy bag in the early rounds,
As the rounds went on the work rate from both increased, and Xu did manage to have some moments, notably landing some solid body shots and he had a solid round 5, but for the most part the action was dominated by the simple, clean, effective boxing from Wood, who appeared to be boxing against a man who had lost everything that had made him a world champion.
After round 5 Xu really didn't build on his success, instead Wood had one of his best rounds in round 6, taking the play away from Xu almost immediately. Xu tried to get back some momentum in round 7, but failed, despite landing some solid right hands late in the round. He was pressuring, but it was ineffective, and really just made life easy for Wood, who had an opponent coming to him, and chances to land some eye catching uppercuts, which had been his best shots in the early part of the fight.
In round 8, for the first time, it seemed like Wood felt he could stop Xu, and he seemed to buzz the champion for the first time, though seemed to gas himself as he went for a finish. One again a bad round for one man, in round 8's case Xu, was followed by him bouncing back and round 9 was a genuinely fatastic round to watch, with both men hhacing some great back and forth before we finally, saw glimpses of the real Xu. Round 10, or at least the first 2 minutes of it, was pretty much the only time we saw anything resembling the Xu of 2019. He was busy, he was aggressive, he was letting shots go and looking like the perpetual punching machine that had won us all over against Rojas. Sadly though it was just a 2 minute burst from him and following that Wood picked up his tempo later in the round, landing good body shots began to take the fight out of Xu.
In round 11 Wood began to play with his man, and there was nothing much landing from Xu, barring a late right hand that connected clean on Wood's chin. It was a brief success, that came too late for him to build on.
In round, as both looked to exchange, a big right hand from Wood dropped Xu. Xu got to his feet but was spent, a broken fighter, and Wood knew it, jumping on him until the referee stepped in.
For Wood this is a massive win. A career changing win. The win that puts him on the map and a win that opens the doors to some huge fights for him going forward.
As for Xu, it's hard to know where he goes from here. On the back of such a poor performance, we really need to wonder if he over-trained, lost focus, was too rusty and needed an easy win before a title defense or to needs move up in weight. This was not the Xu of the past.
On Saturday night in Brussels fans got the chance to see local hero Ryad Merhy (30-1, 25) successfully defend his WBA "regular" Cruiserweight title for the first time, as he defeated Chinese challenger Zhaoxin Zhang (10-2-1, 6), who some how entered the bout ranked #14 by the WBA despite not having a single win of note on his record.
Whilst the WBA are known as a farcical organisation in recent years, it very much felt, going in to this one, that Zhang had been parachuted a ranking to help Merhy get an easy defense and to create a bit of history, with Zhang being the first ever Chinese Cruiserweight to fight for a world title. Sadly though all it really did was further take away from the legitimacy of the WBA, who need to do better before the move to re-recognise the Association picks up any more steam with antics like this.
As for the bout everyone, and their dog, was picking a Merhy stoppage, with the main question going in not being about who would win, but how long it would take him. And surprisingly it took until round 8 for the Belgian based fighter, originally from the Ivory Coast, to see off Zhang. That was despite Merhy being in total control and looking like he could have gone through the gears and really taken this any time he wanted.
To his credit Zhang showed some ambition, some skills and a busy jab, but there was very little on his shots and every time Merhy opened up the challenger looked worried and in trouble. It was clear Zhang had nothing to get Merhy's respect and midway through round 8 Merhy dropped his man with a sweeping left hook for the second knockdown of the fight. Zhang showed heart to get to his feet but the referee made the right call in stopping the bout and saving Zhang, who seemed unhappy at the stoppage but really was lucky that Merhy wasn't in an angry mood as this could have gotten very ugly, very quickly.
As for Merhy this really needs to be used to kick start his career in a division that is heavily dominated by European fighters. There are much, much, much better options out there for him than a fighter like Zhang.
As for Zhang however we wouldn't be that disappointed to see him mixing on the OPBF title scene in the newar future. The OPBF title picture in the region is poor, and he showed enough here to suggest he could play a role in the regional scene. Fingers crossed that is something he and his team consider, despite this set back.
World Title Results
Whether you like them or not World Titles add prestige to any bout as a result we've included the results of world title bouts in this special section.