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.
Back in June 1999 Lakva Sim became the first Mongolian world champion, stopping popular Japanese fighter Takanori Hatakeyama in Tokyo to claim the WBA Super Featherweight title. Today his compatriot Tugstsogt Nyambayar (11-1, 9) attempted to become the second Mongolian to claim a world title as he took on talented American speedster Gary Russell Jr (31-1, 18) for the WBC Featherweight title.
Sadly it wasn't to be for Nayambayar, who came up short against Russell Jr, but proved he belonged at world level, and may have just lacked a little bit of experience coming into this.
The Mongolian started slowly. He applied pressure from the bell, but it was more pressure based on movement, and pressing, rather than letting his hands go and pressuring with output. It allowed the much quicker Russell Jr to get his shots off and get out of range. The jab of Russell Jr, along with his handspeed, kept Nyambayar at a safe range and allowed the first 4 rounds were easy ones to score for the American champion. The pressure was there from Nyambayar but he was struggling to get close enough to make it pay off.
From round 5 Nyambayar finally began to have real success, as he started to let his hands go, at last. The change in output from the Mongolian saw him finally show what he could do, and his pressure finally began to pay off, helped in part by Russell Jr showing more willingness to exchange. The same sort of thing happened in round, though it was very much a case of things only being competitive when Russell allowed them to be. That was similar in round 7, as Russell Jr again took with his movement, and neutralised Nyambayar for the most part.
Despite successes from Nyambayar he was still down, and still struggling to win rounds. That was clear in round 8, which was competitive but one that Russell Jr did more than enough in.
With around 6 rounds, from the first 8, in the bag for Russell Jr he seemed to become more willing to have a fight, and rounds 9 and 10 was fantastic rounds, of high skilled aggressive action. Both were playing high level chess, and both aggressive with it, trying to earn the respect of the other man. For Russell Jr the main shots were up top, with sensational combinations, straight left hands down the middle and real eye catching stuff. For Nyambayar there was some hard shots up top but the key to his work was some big body shots, as he looked to try grind down the much quicker champion.
The action continued to excite in round 11, though it was one where the eye catching work seemed to be the flashy combinations of Russell Jr, in what was a really enjoyable round. At the very worst this round essentially secured Russell Jr a decision. At very worst for him it was his 7th round of the bout.
Knowing he had to go all out in the final 3 minutes Nyambayar started round 12 fast, and dominated the early parts of it, letting combinations go, something he really needed to do in the first half of the bout. Until the round went into a bit of a dull lull in the later stages. It was a Nyambayar round, but it was never going to be enough for the Mongolian, who went into the round needing a knock out.
After 12 rounds we went to the judges, and it seemed that Nyambayar was probably going to need a knockout to get a draw, with cards of 118-110, 117-111 and 116-112 in favour of Russell Jr. Sadly those scores didn't reflect the competitive nature of the bout, over all, and it was close.
Nyambayar's big issue was his super slow start. He had given away 4 rounds, before he really got going. He did really well in the final 8, but not well enough to win. He certainly deserved better than a 118-110 score against him, but a 116-112 card was fairly accurate.
Despite the loss we suspect Nyambayar will learn from this fight and bounce back better. He was competitive with Russell Jr, despite the very slow start. He showed he belonged at this level, and we suspect he'll go on to win a world title in the coming years, eventually giving Mongolia their second world champion. Today however wasn't Mongolia's day.
Earlier this year Chinese fighter Can Xu (18-2, 3) [徐灿] put himself on the map as he won the WBA "regular" Featherweight title in a sensational performance against Jesus M Rojas on US soil. Today he returned to the US to make his second defense, and again put on a sensational performance with an incredibly high work rate and very smart inside fighting.
The talented champion was defending his title for the second time, as he faced off with the previously unbeaten Manny Robles III (18-1, 8), and just swamped Robles with a tempo that that Robles had no answer for.
It only took seconds for Xu to begin letting his hands go, and he never slowed down. Robles tried to box between Xu's flurries in the first few rounds, but he never did enough to be competitive with Xu who was always landing first, landing last and landing more.
Sadly for Robles the tempo was too high for him, and body shots in round 6 began to hurt him, taking away from his work rate even further. What little success Robles had mustered in the first half were completely non existent in the second half, with Robles taking a beating in rounds 7 and 8, as he slowly had the fight beaten out of him. The only things that let the bout continue were Robles' toughness and Xu's lack of power.
Robles tried to push forward late on but all he did was walk into uppercuts and hooks as Xu continued to beat him up through the championship rounds, putting any possible doubt to bed.
After 12 rounds the scores were tallied quickly, and were easy to tally. 120-108, 119-109 and 118-110 all to Xu.
Following the bout DAZN show punch numbers suggesting there was over 2000 punches thrown, with Xu throwing over 1500! An incredibly amount, in what was a truly fan friendly and entertaining, yet 1-sided, battle.
After the bout Xu called out IBF champion Josh Warrington in what would make for a chaotic and fan friendly bout with a lot of leather being thrown, but one we don't imagine Warrington and his promoter, Frank Warren, will be in a rush to make. Instead we assume that Xu will likely make a mandatory against Hiroshige Osawa sooner, rather than later, in what could well be a bout back in China, before another big bout Stateside.
Earlier this year we saw Chinese fighter Can Xu (17-2, 3) [徐灿] shock a large portion of the boxing world by defeating Jesus M Rojas in the US to claim the WBA "regular" Featherweight title. Today he made the first defense of that belt, taking on Japanese challenger Shun Kubo (13-2, 9) [久保隼].
On paper this didn't really promise a lot but actually delivered a really, really fan friendly battle, at a high tempo, fought at mid to close range and had some eye catching back and forths, before the champion broke down the challenger and forced the referee to stop the contest. It was not a fight of the year contender, but still a very, very enjoyable contest to watch.
The first round was a solid one for Kubo, who managed to use his southpaw jab and long arms to control the range pretty well, taking advantage of Xu being a relatively slow starter. Sadly for Kubo, who was picking some really classy shots, he was totally unable to get Xu's respect. That meant Xu could gradually pick up his pace, and like a steam trainer he build up some real momentum.
Round 2 and 3 were still somewhat competitive, with Kubo standing his ground and having some success, but it was coming at a cost with Xu landing more and more shots per round.
It was in round 4 that it was becoming clear Kubo was feeling the pace and being broken down. He was starting to break away from the action more often, trying to create space to catch his breath and not staying on the inside. He was also struggling to avoid the fire of Xu, who was increasing his output round by round, and landing more and more clean shots.
The problems Kubo was having with the volume of Xu got worse in round 5, and he was dropped towards the end of the round, after being badly hurt and eating some solid combinations. It was a testament to Kubo that he fought back as hard as he did, but it was clear he was being broken down, and as we heard the bell he was staggered again.
By now the referee and Kubo's corner were keeping an eye on the challenger and was he was rocked again in round 6 the referee, Gustavo Padilla, stepped in and halted the bout.
Interestingly this was Xu's third stoppage in 5 bouts, and whilst no one would call him a puncher he is certainly hitting hard than his record would suggest. Sadly for Kubo this is his second stoppage loss, and it's really hard to see where he goes from this. Domestically and regionally the Featherweight division is a mine field and it's really, really hard to imagine him making a mark on the sport at 126lbs given how he was broken down here.
Every so often a supposed mismatch ends up being less of a mismatch than expected, in fact instead of a mismatch we get a Fight of the Year contender as the perceived under-dog fights as if their career depends on their performance.
That was the case tonight when Chinese fighter Can Xu (16-2, 2) [徐灿] played his part in a bout with Jesus M Rojas (26-3-2-1, 19), for the WBA "regular" Featherweight title. The bout was a thrilling, pulsating and action packed 12 round war from two men who's style gelled perfectly.
Rojas was expected to win with ease. Most had predicted him to walk through Xu, score an easy early victory and defend his title without any issues. It seemed Rojas also expected that as he put intense pressure on Xu from the open bell. Xu backed off, but unloaded combinations when there space to work with, whilst Rojas worked hard on the inside, trying to make the fight a war.
As the rounds went on Xu's confidence grew and Rojas became less and less intense. The first 5 rounds were insane, all action, incredible intensity. The 4th may well go down as one of the best rounds of the year. But from then on the pace slowed, Rojas seemed to be the one feeling the tempo, and round 6 was a fantastic one for Xu who seemed to begin backing Rojas up.
Xu would go on to back Rojas up again in rounds 7 and 8 as the tempo really seemed to effect Rojas, who was only able to keep a high intensity for a minute or so in a round, rather than the 3 minutes he was pressing in earlier rounds.
Those rounds going to the Chinese fighter made things very interesting, though Rojas did do much better in round 9 as he stopped the rot. That a momentary respite for the Puerto Rican champion as Xu charged again in the final 3 rounds, again pressing, forcing Rojas back and stopping the champion from getting his breath.
Through the 12 rounds there was clear momentum shifts, Rojas easily the dominant fighter in the early stages, Xu in charge in the later rounds. The amount of leather both threw was insane, and it seemed an incredibly close fight as we went to the judges.
The first score read was 118-110, a score that didn't reflect the fight, the second was 117-111, and that didn't reflect the fight, and the third was 116-112. The third card was arguably, at best. Surprisingly however they all went for Xu, who scored a major upset here with a unanimous decision.
Rojas should feel aggrieved by the scores. It was a close fight, it could have gone either way, but it was not a 9-3 or 10-2 type of fight.
For Chinese boxing history was made, with Xu being the first Chinese fighter to win a world title above Flyweight, even if it is only the "regular" title, and we suspect he will be returning to China to fight in front of a huge audience in his first defense. A rematch with Rojas would be very welcome, we suspect it'll be a much easier bout than that for the new champion!
A busy morning of action in Kuala Lumpur featured a number of title fights. The third of those was a WBA “interim” Featherweight title bout, as Filipino Jhack Tepora (22-0, 17) faced Mexican foe Edivaldo Ortega (26-2-1, 12). On paper this looked liked the potential show stealing, with both men being well matched on paper, both looking to make a statement on the global boxing scene and both looking to claim their first “world” title. Sadly for a bout that promised so much it did seem to fail to really reach the heights expected of it.
The first round was genuinely brilliant as Tepora seemed to try and make an immediate statement, chasing down Ortega and trying to stop him early on. Ortega managed to fire back and we got the opening round that we all expected, with both men unloading big shots. The second was quite similar, though Ortega managed to show more of his boxing and seemed to have a stronger second round as he landed more of his harder shots.
With Ortega using his boxing the action slowed. There were still moments, especially towards the end of rounds, but the fireworks seemed to slowly vanish as both men dropped their output and what action we did have became more and more sloppy.
There were certainly some good moments, and it was really close and competitive, but it seemed somewhat lacking in drama due to the pace and tempo slowing as much as it did. The slowdown in part was due to Tepora boxing really well off the back foot whilst Ortega had tasted the power and didn't feel like letting Tepora land hurtful counters. It was an understandable move from Ortega, to avoid the power, but did feel like Tepora could have done more.
Thankfully we did get drama in round 9 as Tepora's power showed it's self. The Filipino began to hold his feet more early in the round and Ortega seemed to see that as a chance to let his shots go. This finally gave us a return to the fireworks we had been waiting for since round 2. Ortega however ate a huge right uppercut that dropped him hard. The Mexican, with a badly swollen eye, returned to his feet, but looked like he was there for the taking and Tepora chased him before unloading power shots. The referee gave Ortega a chance to respond but after a number of clear shots waved off the bout.
For fans of Tepora the performance may not be memorable but he got the stoppage and claimed a career defining victory for the WBA interim Featherweight title, a win that will clearly put him on the boxing map. It comes just days after Vic Saludar claimed the WBO Minimumweight title and has put some momentum into Filipino boxing going forward.
As for Ortega this will be a hard loss to bounce back from and he really did get smashed by the power of Tepora in the 9th round.
In boxing the winner is usually the fighter who takes the plaudits, and rewards, however every so often a loser can be a winner, and that was seen last night when Filipino Genesis Servania (29-1, 12) came up short in when he challenged WBO Featherweight champion Oscar Valdez (23-0, 19), but enhanced his reputation in such a way that he went from relative unknown to a man who pushed one of the top young champions in sport, all the way.
The Filipino started slowly, pressing behind a tight guard and trying to counter Valdez. At the early stages it wasn't a great tactic for Servania, but it was a foundation for his performance as he managed to settle into the fight well. Although reserved early on Servania had moments when he threw to get Valdez's respect, and showed that he could take the much vaunted power of the Mexican.
In round 4the fight came alive as Servania surprisingly dropped Valdez, who was up quickly but had clearly found a new respect for the challenger. Valdez was then hurt again before the round was over, with Servania showing his power and his ability to hurt Valdez. Unfortunately for Servania he was dropped himself the following round, and was shakey as Valdez looked to finish the bout. The recovery of the Filipino was impressive and he ended the round throwing bombs back, despite clearly losing the round.
Rounds 6 and 7 saw Valdez fight well for the most part, but late charges by Servania in both rounds made things very interesting as it was the challenger who left the last memory, despite the more prolonged success from Valdez.
With the action heating up and both having scored knockdowns it fight like the fight still had a drama in it, and Valdez was the one seeking the finish, letting loose with significantly more shots in the middle rounds than the challenger, who pressured and pressed and countered well, but seemed to hold back just a touch. That all changed in the championship rounds as the two men traded bombs, unloading some great shots during a fantastic back and forth, especially in the final round.
By the final bell it seemed clear that Valdez had retained his title, and all the judges had it in favour of the Mexican, but given the performance of the challenger it's almost certain that he will get another shot at a title in the future. His stock rose dramatically with his loss, and in all honesty that can help a career out massively.
Despite being a real unknown in boxing circles prior to this weekend Japanese fighter Hiroshige Osawa (30-4-4, 19) [大沢 宏晋] managed to fight for the WBO Featherweight title on Saturday night as he took on unbeaten Mexican champion Oscar Valdez (21-0, 19).
Unfortunately for Osawa he was unable to shock the world with a performance to remember, though he did, in some ways, impress with his toughness as he took a steady and one-sided beating from Valdez, lasting much longer than many would have expected.
From the opening seconds it was clear that their was a gulf of difference between the two men and Valdez out boxed and out slugged Osawa who was only landing single shots when he had any success, whilst Valdez landed combinations at will, to both the head and body of Valdez.
It wasn't until round 4 that Valdez's much vaunted power really had Osawa in trouble, with the Japanese fighter being dropped, though he gritted his teeth and bounced up to continue the contest, which continued to remain one sided.
With Osawa trying to fight back, and never being in major trouble, the fight became a bit or a procession with Valdez even switching to southpaw to get some rounds in in the alternative stance, and even as a southpaw the Mexican landed at will.
In round 7 Osawa's toughness was too much, with the Japanese fighter taking bombs on the ropes from Valdez until the referee finally, mercifully, saved him.
For Osawa he got to fight for a world title at long last, something he likely didn't expect just a few years ago when the JBC suspended his license. Whilst he came up short no one can fault his bravery or courage. Sadly if anything some will question Valdez, and his struggle to put away Osawa, though he never was in trouble there were flaws exposed that will need to be sorted out before the Mexican takes on an elite level talent.
When unbeaten fighters collide we can get some great fights as both men put it all on the line to not just win the bout but the keep their perfect record intact. We saw one such fight earlier this year when Kosei Tanaka beat Ryuji Hara in a genuinely enthralling contest for the OPBF Minimumweight title. When a world title is at stake however things are even more interesting and there is so much on the line for both men.
We saw one such world title bout this past Saturday when IBF Featherweight champion Evgeny Gradovich (19-0-1, 9) took on mandatory challenger Jayson Velez (22-0-1, 16) and we ended up with both men retaining their unbeaten records whilst we all tried to lift our jaws off the floor at one of the worst decisions of the year.
The Russian champion was defending the belt for the fourth time and early on it appeared that Velez had the style to beat him. For the first few rounds Velez simply out boxed Gradovich, he used exceptional movement and fought superbly behind a very busy jab that kept Gradovich at range and prevented the usually busy Gradovich from getting inside where he likes to work.
In round 3 things began to change as Velez's feet began to slow and he was gradually forced into the fight that Gradovich would have wanted. The Puerto Rican challenger probably did enough to take the round but it was probably the final round that Velez could have been given without a debate.
In round 4 Gradovich began to really close the distance, both traded body shots and both had their success in the bouts closest round. It was one that could have gone either though to us it seemed that Gradovich just did enough to take it as he began to turn the fight into his style of a fight. The Russian was cutting the distance, building on his success from the previous round and began to force Velez to trade shots. When trading Velez did have plenty of success of his own but was out-worked, out landed and out powered.
From round 5 to 11 Gradovich became more and more successful. His trademark engine was helping him to grind down his challenger who was game but out fought and came off second best in every exchange. It was to Velez's credit that he was fighting back but he was unable to ever establish the distance that had helped him to take the earlier rounds.
The action, for the most part in those Gradovich won rounds, was exciting and saw both men unloading a high volume of shots but sadly for Velez it was hard to see him winning any of them, or even taking a a share of an occasional round as his punches resembled arm punches and his head was snapped back time and time again.
Going into the final round it seemed clear that Velez was in a hole and would need a KO to win the title. His early work had long been forgotten and he seemed to know he needed something special to pull the bout out of the bag. Knowing he was down Velez really went for it in the final moments and seemed to unload everything he had at Gradovich who saw out the storm to hear the final bell.
It seemed a clear win for Gradovich who had swept much of the bout. At most we suspected Velez could have won 5 rounds, giving him the close 4th and the 12th, at an absolute push. In reality however we hadn't given him anything after the third round and had it a very clear 117-111 to Gradovich. The judges however threw their typical spanner into the works. One judge had it the same as us, one judge somehow found 6 rounds to give to Velez giving a 114-114 card whilst the third judge had a frankly ridiculous card of 115-113 to Velez, a truly shocking card that should see the judge dragged over the hot coals.
For Gradovich the key thing is that he retained his title and there is still a chance for him to get involved in major bouts with the likes of Nicholas Walters in 2016. For Velez the draw was an early Christmas present and whilst it's clear he's a talented fighter he was very lucky to escape with his unbeaten record.
It's a shame the judging has cast controversy over this bout which was, the scoring aside, a really enjoyable bout that saw both men fighting their heart out and we hope to see both men in action sooner rather than later, though not a rematch as some suggest. This wasn't close enough to actually warrant a rematch, even if it was a “draw”.
At the moment professional boxing seems to be going through a genuine transition and it appears that we are at the start of generation where fighters don't mess about padding records but instead the best are going to race to the top and stay there. We've already seen Naoya Inoue get to the top of the Light Flyweight division and we suspect he'll manage to become the #1 guy at Super Flyweight in the next 12 months. We've also seen Kosei Tanaka move to within a fight of a world title. Another man who deserves to be mentioned alongside those two is Ukrainian sensation Vasyl Lomachenko (3-1, 1).
Unlike the two Japanese fighters Lomachenko was regarded as one of the greatest amateur fighters of all time. He was pushed quickly by an American promoter and given huge attention by the boxing press in Europe and US. That attention helped him to tie the long standing record of Saensak Muangsurin in winning a world title in just his third professional bout.
In his fourth bout Lomachenko made the first defense of his title, the WBO Featherweight title, as he bamboozled, out boxed, out fought, out moved and just did as he wished with Thai veteran Chonlatarn Piriyapinyo (52-2, 33).
In the opening round it was clear the men were in completely different levels with Lomachenko doing as he wished against Chonlatarn who fought a very timid round. It was a start that suggested that Chonlatarn was afraid of Lomachenko's great amateur credentials and as a result it was a poor round to watch.
Thankfully, for those watching, Chonlatarn did up the work rate round after round and tried to make a fight of things. Sadly for the Thai however the more he opened up the more opportunities he gave to Lomachenko who danced around the ring, landed at will and did as he pleased whilst also getting some valuable ring time.
The ability of Lomachenko was really on show in round 4 as he put on an exhibition for the first 2 minutes of the round before dropping the teak tough Thai very late in round. The Thai, to his credit, recovered and saw out what was left of the round though it appeared that he was only in the fight for as long as Lomachenko wanted to carry him.
Having been dropped in round 4 it was great to see Chonlatarn on the front foot through rounds 5 and 6 though he failed to have much success in either round despite coming forward and pressuring the ultra-skilled Ukrainian fighter who showed his class with a sensational burst of punches late in the round 6.
With the bout under total control Lomachenko spent much of round 7 taunting and teasing Chonlatarn. It was an exhibition in show boating even if it did come at the expense of his offensive which went frustratingly quiet for a round. It seemed that Lomachenko had injured his left hand but he was still managing to put on a masterful display of pure boxing against an experienced and world class opponent.
Although Lomachenko was effectively down to one hand he was still managing to completely dominate the Thai and round 9 was a masterclass with Chonlatarn looking confused by what was coming at him. The same again applied in round 10 as Lomahcneko seemed to step on the gas slightly and back up the Thai who looked like he was completely frustrated by what was happening in the ring.
Whilst it would have been nice for the Ukrainian to have closed the show in the final two rounds what we got instead was just more supreme boxing from Lomachenko who did what he had been doing for several rounds and just dominated with the right hand whilst Chonlatarn did little more than hit air and look lost.
Sadly for those fans hoping to see the stoppage it was never likely when Lomachneko hurt his hand, which we think happened in round 6 or 7. What we got instead however was a masterclass in 1-handed boxing which both amazed and frustrated us. We were amazed by Lomachenko's ability to dominate a fight one handed whilst we were frustrated by knowing that with 2-hands he could have done so much more
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.