Nottingham switch-hitter Leigh Wood confounded the bookies and most experts to wrench the WBA Regular featherweight title from China’s Xu Can with a thrilling last-round stoppage in Matchroom’s Fight Camp main event in Brentwood on Saturday night.
Wood bridged what seemed a significant leap up in class with relative ease. The challenger frequently rocked back Xu’s head with sweet right uppercuts and stemmed his trademark pressure with a debilitating jab to the body.
With the win, the 3/1 underdog has rocketed into world class and put himself in line for a potential unification bout against the winner of next weekend’s vacant IBF title clash between old foe Jazza Dickens and Sheffield slickster Kid Galahad.
Wood is in dreamland and the win marked another feather in the cap for trainer of the moment Ben Davison, who steered Josh Taylor to undisputed champion status only two months ago. Now it’s Wood’s turn to bask in glory.
“He was very tough, I’ve never hit someone so clean so often,” Wood told DAZN afterwards. “It was about staying disciplined. I had to dig deep.
“I really want to test myself and mix it with other champions now. I’m 33, no time to mess about, let’s get some big fights!”
Wood started well, riddling a subdued Xu with the crisper blows in the opening session. Better was to come in the second as a right uppercut and a brace of body shots caught Xu napping. Another right hand troubled the champion later in the session. The brighter Wood was starting to plant his feet and fancy the job.
Xu (18-3, 3 KOs) had a better third and found some much needed rhythm behind the jab. But Wood held the heavier hands and was catching the eye and Xu with a sweeping right uppercut. The champion was in full flow by the fourth, however, and working the body adroitly. The single right hands of Wood were landing flush, but Xu’s workrate was edging it now.
The champion was gradually shaking off the ring rust after a 20-month hiatus and increasing the pressure. But Wood was still breaking his stride with those right hands. Jabbing to head and body, Wood was posing problems and disrupting the rhythm of the champion in a positive sixth.
His good work continued in the seventh, stifling Xu to the body and reeling off those stiff right-handers. Switching stances, Wood was picking his shots nicely and giving Xu different looks by the eighth. The Nottingham man was pushing Xu back with bursts of punches, making a mockery of his 3/1 underdog status.
In the ninth, Xu pressed with his feet, but Wood was outlanding him. The Chinese fighter needed much more and found it in a strong 10th, ruffling Wood with more educated pressure.
Wood (25-2, 15 KOs) utilised the southpaw stance in the penultimate round. There was a greater snap in his punches. He appeared to win the session with his crisper work but took a stiff right hand on the bell for his troubles.
The Nottingham challenger needed to hold his nerve in the final round. He did that and much more. Wood didn’t try to protect what seemed a narrow lead on the cards, he went for the jugular.
A thudding right hand dropped Xu and knocked the fight out of the champion. He rose but was still feeling the effects of the blow and a hard night. Wood piled on the pressure with Xu toiling on the ropes before referee Marcus McDonnell intervened to send the Englishman and his team into raptures.
In a compelling chief support, Commonwealth cruiserweight champion Chris Billam-Smith was adjudged a split decision winner over European title holder Tommy McCarthy, also adding the vacant British crown to his belt collection.
A 115-114 nod for McCarthy was overruled by scores of 115-114 and 116-112 for Billam-Smith. The latter card from Ian John Lewis was predictably wide of the mark. Boxing Social scored the fight 115-113 McCarthy with the Belfast man closing strongly in the last two rounds. But there was little between them and a rematch would seem in order.
Billam-Smith (13-1, 10 KOs) made the more assured start, but an overhand right from McCarthy wobbled the Bournemouth fighter near the end of the opener, illustrating the threat of the Belfast man.
McCarthy kept looking for that overhand right as Billam-Smith tried to impose his size and physicality. But by the third and fourth McCarthy’s jab and neater work was taking the initiative. He impressed to the body in the fourth, but Billam-Smith took over in the following round.
In the fifth, Billam-Smith bullied McCarthy into a corner as he sought to grab the contest by the scruff of the neck. McCarthy was badly buzzed by a right hand but saw out the storm.
McCarthy (18-3, 9 KOs) rediscovered the spring in his step in the sixth, but ended the round with a cut above his right eye from a head clash at the end of the session. The European champion was blinking and feeling the effects of his injury in the seventh, but the fight was finely balanced.
Billam-Smith’s heavier hands held sway in the eighth as he rocked McCarthy with hefty left hooks, but the Belfast man shrugged them off and returned to the fray. In the topsy-turvy nature of the bout, McCarthy rediscovered his poise to seemingly nick the ninth.
Heads flew in during the 10th with McCarthy suffering a swelling under the left eye though his earlier cut was under control. There was still barely anything between them. It felt like the outcome rested on the final two rounds.
McCarthy was boxing astutely in the 11th and stung Billam-Smith with a right hand. He was finding momentum at the crucial time. The contest was on a knife edge in the final three minutes but McCarthy did that little bit more. Two judges disagreed and Billam-Smith took the spoils and all three belts back to Bournemouth.
Anthony Fowler teed up a tantalising all-Liverpool clash against former WBO 154lbs champion Liam Smith at the Echo Arena on October 9 by halting determined German Rico Mueller in eight rounds.
The experienced Mueller, a late substitute from the division below, arrived with ambition, working Fowler to the body in a promising first round. Super-welterweight Fowler, who became a father to a son on fight week, worked the jab well in the second and began to find his range with right hands.
On the front foot, Mueller (28-4-1, 19 KOs) was having his successes against the naturally bigger man, catching the Scouser with flush right hands in the third. The German was undaunted, but Fowler mixed up his work more, sinking a left hook to the body and finishing the fourth strongly.
Fowler (15-1, 11 KOs) needed more urgency and found it in the fifth, pinging stiff right hands off a fluid jab as he controlled the range. Mueller’s output had dropped off markedly as his features reddened and he felt the pace. Blood poured from Mueller’s nose at the end of the sixth as Fowler began to impose himself with his heavier hands.
In the seventh, Fowler rocked Mueller backwards with a series of hefty right hands, but the sturdy German dusted himself off and, to his credit, battled back again. But a round later the curtain fell on his brave performance.
Fowler cranked up the pressure in the eighth, stunning Mueller with a stiff jab and bullying the unsteady German around the ring. The visitor was in dire trouble and not firing back under a volley of blows before referee Bob Williams stepped in with Mueller sinking by the ropes.
Super-middleweight Jack Cullen made light of reputations with a clear verdict over former world title challenger Avni Yildirim in a fast-paced affair. Scores were 100-90, 98-92 and 97-93. Many rounds were close but Cullen always held an edge with Yildirim outworked at crucial stages.
Little Lever’s Cullen (20-2-1, 9 KOs) boxed neatly behind a high guard, shooting out his left lead as Yildirim hassled him on the front foot and fired off dangerous right hands in the opening session. The Turk worked the lanky Cullen’s body in the second, but the Englishman had the better of it with a ready jab and some sweet left uppercuts and hooks.
In the third, Cullen steadied Yildirim (21-4, 12 KOs) with a left hook but the visitor’s pressure was unrelenting. He was playing the long game. Cullen’s jab was incisive early in the fourth but he shifted his feet left and was stung by successive right hands. Yildirim was chipping away.
The Turkish fighter marched forward, hoping the pace and pressure would tell in the fifth, but Cullen stayed with him. Deeper waters were to come, perhaps. But in the sixth Cullen was rejuvenated and his shots started to sting the onrushing Yildirim. A left hook and then brisk left-right had the Turk holding and wary of return fire.
The fight seemed delicately poised, but Cullen held a slight edge through most of the first seven rounds. A more purposeful Yildirim made inroads in the eighth as Cullen tried to jab, move and nurse his apparent lead. But Yildirim was warned for headwork by Marcus McDonnell in the ninth as his work took on a more desperate tone.
Cullen’s variety and discipline held firm in the last round as Yildirim’s route one pressure was not nearly enough. A career-best win for the Englishman.
Campbell Hatton banked win number three in his fledgling pro career with an easy points win over Poland’s Jakub Laskowski (4-5-1, 2 KOs). Lightweight Hatton (3-0, 0 KOs) looked a little bit smoother than his first two outings, employing a solid jab, but is still a raw novice. Being the son of former two-division champion Ricky means his early work is already under the spotlight, later on the bill than it should be. He needs time. Referee Mark Bates scored 40-36.
Derby 140-pounder Sandy Ryan (1-0, 0 KOs) made a bright start to her professional career with a wide points win over the gutsy Kirstie Bavington (3-2-2, 2 KOs) in the show-opener. Ryan’s power and pedigree had the Pensnett fighter holding in the last after a hefty left hook, but she survived a late onslaught. Referee Mark Bates scored the bout 60-54.
Main image: Mark Robinson/Matchroom Boxing.