Leigh Wood of Nottingham (25-2, 15 KOs) became Great Britain’s newest belt holder Saturday, stopping Xu Can of China (18-3, 3 KOs) in the 12th round in a significant upset to claim the WBA Featherweight World Title in the first of three Matchroom Fight Camp cards at the Hearn estate in Brentwood, Essex.
Wood made history as the second boxer from Nottingham to become a World Champion, following in the footsteps of former IBF Super-Middleweight World Champion Carl Froch, watching ringside.
Wood took the fight as a last-minute replacement on six weeks’ notice and only domestic fights on his resume. But he took control from the opening bell, putting on a power punching clinic and visibility buzzing Can at several points during the fight.
Can never seemed to get into gear. Knowing he risked losing on the cards, Can tried to put his foot down, but he paid a heavy price diving in. Wood met Can with a hard right hand, dropping him in the last round. Wood didn’t want to leave the decision to the judges, and as Can got up, he let loose everything he had left to force a referee stoppage with 20 seconds left in the fight. Can was disappointed but didn’t argue.
“It feels good, you know, to get the stoppage over the line in a great and high-paced fight, the last round with six weeks’ notice, I couldn’t have done anymore,” said Wood.“I did say in an interview that I’m going to be catching him clean, and it’s not down to me how long the fight lasts. It’s down to him pretty much. I could have sustained that all night. He took some big shots, big heart, credit to him, but the accumulation has its effect as well. The shot I finished him with wasn’t as big as the ones I caught him with earlier on, but they took their toll. I caught him and got the stoppage.
“I had belief in my power, not only do I have big power, but I know how to get it off, how to set it up, and how to mix it up. That’s the biggest factor in working with Ben (Davidson), Lee Wylie, and Barry Smith. They’ve really changed the game for me.”
Wood says he hopes he inspires younger athletes to consider picking up a pair of gloves and taking up the sport. As for his first defense, he would love to avenge his loss to Jazza Dickens, but he also said he’d love to face Emanuel Navarrete of Mexico in a unification bout.
“I’m easy. Redemption with Dickens would be great for myself. Full confidence in Ben getting my tactics right for that fight. I had a bad night that fight. First southpaw, I boxed as a pro. I’d like to put that right naturally. But if there’s bigger fights, I said I wanted the Navarrete fight he’s explosive like me, that’ll be absolute fireworks.”
Cruiserweight contest goes to Billiam-Smith
Chris Billam-Smith of Bournemouth (13-1, 10 KOs) edged Tommy McCarthy of Belfast (18-3, 9 KOs) by a narrow split decision win to add the British and European cruiserweight titles to his Commonwealth title.
McCarthy started and ended the fight well, but he wasn’t busy enough through the middle rounds. Whether he was pacing himself or got winded, it cost him the fight. Both received a scorecard of 115-114, but a 116-112 verdict for Billam-Smith.
“It’s crazy, it’s been a bit of a tough camp towards the end. I had an injury, and I haven’t sparred in three or four weeks,” said Billam-Smith. “I was really confident. The corner had it closer. In my head, I thought I’d won probably eight rounds, but I wasn’t scoring it as I went along, so maybe seven. There was no way he won seven rounds, absolutely no way, that first round he landed one shot. It was a good shot, but I also had him hurt and hit him a lot more – those rounds should really go in my favor.
“He was harder to hit clean, to be fair to him, but that was my own fault. I was loading up, looking for one shot. Shane said that so the jab to the body was key. It was everything. It won me the fight.
Campbell Hatton makes Dad proud
Lightweight prospect Campbell Hatton of Manchester extended his unbeaten record to 3-0 with four round shutout decision over Jakub Laskowski of Poland (4-5-1, 2 KOs).
The 20-year-old son of former world champion Ricky Hatton put in more rounds as he continued his development in the professional ranks.
“I was happy again, really; I thought my defense was a lot better,” said Hatton. “I was a bit more composed again. I think there were a few times where I’d hurt him and probably could have smothered my work fully and not caught him with anything. I managed to control myself a little when he was going. I didn’t quite get the knockout because I was smothering, and he was tricky, but it was exactly what I need. I need the rounds more than I need a stoppage.”
Of the Fight Camp atmosphere outdoors on a summer evening, Hatton said, “This was a different experience. It’s different to anything that I’m probably going to face very often in my career. It was different making the ring walk this time. You feel breezy seeing people tucking into their tea and having a pint. It was weird making my ring walk to that, but as soon as the bell went it was just like any other ring, and I just got to work.”
Anthony Fowler of Liverpool (15-1, 12 KOs) set himself up with a fight against hometown rival Liam Smith on the Joshua vs. Usyk undercard on October 9 with an eighth-round TKO win over last-minute replacement Rico Mueller of Germany (28-4-1. 19 KOs). Mueller replaced Roberto Garcia due to injury.
Fowler, who became a first-time father earlier in the week, is on a six-fight win streak since his single loss in 2019.
“My next opponent is a really good fighter, much better than him, but I needed the rounds,” said Fowler. “The one thing I haven’t had in my career is rounds. I’ve always blasted my opponents out and haven’t really learnt much. I’m learning plenty in the gym, but that’s where it counts. It means nothing in the gym.
“I’m from the south of Liverpool, Liam’s (Smith) from the north. It doesn’t bother me. I respect Liam a lot, he’s a really good fighter, ten times better than that lad tonight, so I need to be on top of my game. I don’t turn fights down. Since day one, I’ve boxed anyone, I’ve asked for all these big fights, but it never happened for me.” But it did tonight.
Yildirim fails to get back in the win column, beaten by Jack Cullen
Former title challenge Avni Yildirim of Turkey (21-4, 12 KOs) hoped to get back in the win column after his thrashing at the hands of Canelo Alvarez. Instead, Jack Cullen of England (20-2-1, 9 KOs) picked up where the Mexican star left off, blasting through Yildirim with ease to win a lopsided decision. Scores were 100-90, 98-92, and 97-93. It was the biggest victory of Cullen’s career.
“I knew he was going to come forward, he’s a tough fighter, and he comes to fight – that’s what he did tonight,” said Cullen. “To be honest with you, every fight I’ve seen him in he’s been one-paced. It’s me not doing too much, using the jab, and letting him come forward, instead of me getting involved in a scrap – it worked. We stuck to the game plan, it worked, and I’m delighted. Yildirim will continue to get fights because of Alvarez's name on his resume, but the Turk needs to do some serious thinking about his career in the ring.
Sandy Ryan wins pro debut
In the opening bout, super lightweight Sandy Ryan of Derby won a six-round shutout on all three cards over Kirstie Bavington of Pensnett, England (3-2-2, 2 KOs) in her professional debut. The former amateur star said she enjoyed the ring walk and took her time.
“I wanted a tough fight, to prove the levels. I showed glimpses of it. There were times where she was a bit messy and holding. The pro game and each fight as it goes on, I’m going to get much better,” promised Ryan. “I said that even if I had a bad day, she wasn’t going to beat me. It’s no disrespect to her, but I just know what I’m capable of. Boxing’s my life, and I’m going all the way.”