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The Past Week in Action 27 July 2021: Leigh Wood Dethrones Can Xu

Wood (R) presses Can Xu.

-Leigh Wood wins the secondary WBA featherweight title with last round stoppage of title holder Can Xu
- Chris Billam-Smith takes a split decision over Tommy McCarthy in a fight with the Commonwealth, European and British cruiserweight titles on the line
-Jonathan Rice upsets the odds as he stops previously unbeaten WBA No 9 heavyweight Michael Polite Coffie in five rounds
-Andre Dirrell returns to action with a stoppage of Christopher Booker

World Title/Major Shows

July 31

Brentwood, England: Feather: Leigh Wood (25-2) W TKO 12 Can Xu (18-3). Cruiser: Chris Billam-Smith (13-1) PTS 12 Tommy McCarthy (18-3). Super Welter: Anthony Fowler (15-1) W TKO 8 Rico Mueller (28-4-1). Super Middle: Jack Cullen (20-2-1) W PTS 10 Avni Yildirim (21-4).

Wood vs. Can
Wood wins the secondary WBA title with late stoppage of champion Can. The Chinese fighter was advancing behind a high guard over the first two rounds, Wood was jabbing strongly and although Can was blocking some of the punches Wood was able to find gaps both for body shots and some eye-catching uppercuts. Can had a better third but whilst boxing mainly on the back foot Wood was the one doing most of the scoring in the fourth going strongly to the body and again finding the target with uppercuts. Can upped his pace in the fifth and probably did enough to edge the session but the best punch in the round was yet another uppercut from Wood. Can rebounded with a big effort in the sixth rolling forward and scoring inside and the seventh was close as Wood’s output dropped. Wood switched to southpaw in the eighth and found considerable success. He was getting through with jabs and straight rights and Can was throwing very little back and Wood outboxed him in the ninth. Can had early encouragement as he cracked Wood with a heavy right at the start of the round but Wood shook it off and outlanded Can over the rest of the round. The champion had been expected to bring a high work rate and plenty of pressure but neither was on show as Wood constantly pierced Can’s guard with fast, accurate punches. Wood was able to pick his spot in the eleventh pounding an almost static Can with jabs, hooks and uppercuts but was rocked by a right late in the round. Can tried to stage a big finish but was soaking up rights from Wood and with 45 seconds remaining in the fight Wood caught the advancing Can with a right to the head that sent Can down. He managed to make it to his feet but after the eight count Wood pounded Can with punches and with Can just covering up and not punching back the referee stopped the fight. A game changing win for Wood who had only been slipped into the WBA ratings at the end of June to legitimise this title fight but he took his chance and scored a brilliant victory already being five points ahead on two cards going into the twelfth. He lost a majority decision to James Dickens in February 2020 and although Dickens is not currently in the WBA ratings that will quickly be changed if this big domestic clash needs to be made. Can was a disappointment. This was his third defence of the title and he had won his last fifteen fights but he was outboxed and outworked. He had been inactive for twenty months which might have been a factor but he has a rebuilding job on his hands.

Billam-Smith vs. McCarthy
There were three titles on the line here and Billam-Smith walked away with the majority decision and the three belts. The first round was a bit untidy but McCarthy made a big statement as he wobbled Billam-Smith with a heavy right. Billam-Smith steadied himself and boxed well to take the second. McCarthy was back in the groove over the third and fourth using plenty of pressure and again finding the target with rights. Billam-Smith bounced back in a big way in the fifth. He connected with a solid left hook that had McCarthy in trouble. He drove McCarthy to the ropes and bombarded him with punches only to have McCarthy stick his tongue to the crowd to show he was unhurt. Despite that act of defiance the sixth was a bad round for McCarthy as he emerged from a clash of heads with a cut over his right eye. McCarthy came back into the fight as he edged the seventh but was rocked by punches from Billam-Smith in the eighth. Things swung back to McCarthy in the ninth with both fighters showing the effects of the pace of the fight McCarthy was probably slightly in front going into the tenth but Billam-Smith produced the stronger finish over the last three rounds to earn the decision. Scores 116-112 and 115-114 for Billam-Smith and 115-114 for McCarthy. Billam-Smith retained the Commonwealth title won the vacant British title and relieved McCarthy of the European title. The was a close and entertaining fight and McCarthy deserves a chance at revenge.

Fowler vs. Mueller
Fowler breaks down and stops a gutsy Mueller in the eighth round. Mueller marched forward in the first using a high guard to get past the longer reach of Fowler. Fowler met him with stiff accurate jabs and left hooks to the body. Fowler went onto the front foot in the second and was adding clubbing rights to the jabs and hooks and Mueller had no answer to the stronger puncher. Mueller had some success with hooks in the third but Fowler was digging in some hurtful body shots. Mueller continued to march forward over the fourth and fifth and was rocked by jabs and left hooks in the sixth. Fowler handed out a brutal beating to a brave Mueller in the seventh and drove Mueller around the ring under a hail of punches in the eighth before the referee stepped in to stop the fight. The 30-year-old from Liverpool will now move on to a mouth-watering domestics match against Liam Smith. Mueller has done well against more modest opposition but has lost when he has stepped up against Jeff Horn and Jeremias Ponce.

Cullen vs. Yildrim
Cullen gets a career best win as he outboxes Yildirim. Cullen boxed on the back foot using his longer reach to spear the oncoming Yildirim and also connected with left hooks to the body. Yildirim pressed hard but was not cutting the ring off well enough to be able to work inside. Too often Yildirim was standing in front of Cullen behind a high guard allowing Cullen to fire bursts of hooks and uppercuts with Yildirim too slow to counter. Relentless pressure and some hard body punches slowed Cullen in the second half of the fight allowing Yildirim to pick up some rounds and have Cullen bleeding from the nose. Cullen kept his game together and continued to pierce Yildirim’s porous guard and ended a clear winner. Scores 100-90, 98-92 and 97-93 all for Cullen. The 6’3” tall boxer from Lancashire was stopped in eight rounds in November 2019 by Felix Cash for the British and Commonwealth middleweight titles but had climbed off the floor last November to triumph over unbeaten John Docherty. First fight for Yildirim since his loss against Saul Alvarez in February and his third loss in a row.

July 28

Verbania, Italy: Super Middleweight Ivan Zucco (14-0) W TKO 3 Ignazio Crivello (7-8-1)
Zucco retains the Italian title with third round stoppage of Crivello. After a fairly even first round power-puncher Zucco began to put Crivello under more pressure in the second and floored the challenger with a right hook. Crivello survived but Zucco continued to force the fight in the third until Crivello suddenly stopped fighting indicating an injury to his left shoulder. After a few seconds the action resumed and Zucco landed a series of punches and the fight was stopped. The Verbania southpaw was making the first defence of the national title and gets his twelfth win by KO/TKO. Sicilian Crivello had been victorious in 5 of his last 6 fights.

July 30

Accra Ghana: Feather: John Laryea (9-0-1) W TKO 4 Sebastianus Natanael (14-3).
Ghanaian champion Laryea stops Namibian Nataniel in the fourth round. Laryea took the first round landing some good shots but Nataniel fired back to take the second. The third was close and the fight was stopped in the fourth after Nataniel was cut. Plenty of controversy over whether the cut was caused by a punch o a head and whether it was bad enough for the fight to be halted but Laryea, 21, wins the WBO African title.
Tijuana, Mexico: Middle: Marcos Vazquez (19-0-1) W DISQ 6 Paul Valenzuela JR (26-10)
Vazquez gets disqualification win. Vazquez had put himself in control with his better boxing and Valenzuela was cut twice as herds collided. In the sixth Valenzuela being driven along the ropes with Vazquez unloaded on him. Valenzuela ducked trying to get under the punches and Valenzuela connected with a hard right to the back of Valenzuela’s head. The referee jumped in and sent Vazquez to a neutral corner. Valenzuela staggered holding the back of his head and then fell face first to the canvas. The rules in Tijuana say that someone from Valenzuela’s corner can enter the ring only after their fighter has received five minutes of medical attention. One of Valenzuela’s corner team broke that rule and Valenzuela was disqualified. Mexican super middle champion Vazquez, 31, has won his last eleven fights. .

Mexico City, Mexico: Super Light: Erick Leon (15-1-1) W pts 10 Juan Rodriguez (10-4).
Leon outpoints Rodriguez to pick up the vacant WBA Continental Americas title. Mexican Rodriguez took the aggressor role and lanky Venezuelan Leon the defender. They produced ten entertaining rounds with Leon effective with uppercuts that had Rodriguez rocking and Rodriguez focusing on a body attack to add to the problems that the Mexico City altitude gave Leon. It was close but Leon’s accurate counters saw him take the decision. Scores 97-93, 96-93 and 96-95 for Leon who is 3-1-1 in fights in Mexico. Rodriguez is now 3-3 in recent bouts.

Timisoara, Romania: Super Welter: Flavius Blea (20-1) W PTS 10 Ivan Alvarez (31-12-1).
Romanian Blea retains the IBA Inter-Continental belt with victory over Alvarez with 97-93 being the only published score. The 31-year-old Timisoara boxer has had to travel to stay busy scoring victories in the UK and Hungary in winning his last eight fights. Travel restriction meant Alvarez had a five day trip to get to Romania and he made Blea fight hard for his victory.
Livi, Ukraine: Super Light: Aram Fanilan (21-1) W PTS 10 Mukhammadsalim Sotvoldiev (7-3-2). Heavy: Andriy Rudenko (34-6,1ND) W TEC DEC 8 Andrea Pesce (7-13-3).
Fanilan vs. Sotvoldiev
Ukrainian Fanilan continues to travel the easy route as he outpoints novice Sotvoldiev. Scores 99-90 twice and 100-89. Fanilan, 24, retained the WBO Oriental title with his eighth consecutive victory. Uzbek Sotvoldiev never really in the fight.
Rudenko vs. Pesce
Rudenko gets a technical decision when his fight with Pesce was halted on a cut in the last round. Scores 70-63 for Rudenko on the three cards. The 37-year-old Ukrainian wins the small fights and losses the big ones having been beaten by Hughie Fury, Alexander Povetkin and Agit Kabayel. At 5’9” and 260lbs Pesce would be more suited to sumo wrestling.

July 31

Atlantic City, NJ, USA: Super Feather: Christian Tapia (12-0) W TKO 2 Mason Menard (36-6). Bantam: Dylan Price (14-0,1ND) W PTS 8 Edwin Rodriguez (11-6-2). Welter: Anthony Young (22-2) W PTS 8 Todd Manual (19-18-1).
Tapia vs. Menard
Tapia blows away Menard in the second. Menard made a confident start coming forward behind his jab and firing rights and putting Tapia on the back foot. Tapia was connecting with some crunching body shots and showed real power. In the second after they traded punches Tapia took over landing clubbing shots to the head forcing Menard back to the ropes and landing a wicked left hook to the body. Menard crumbled to the floor and was stretched out on the canvas with no chance of beating the count. Puerto Rican Tapia wins the vacant NABA title with his seventh inside distance victory in a row, all scored within the first four rounds. Last time out Menard lost a majority decision to Emmanuel Tagoe and this is his fifth loss by KO/TKO
Price vs. Rodriguez
Bantam prospect Price continues unbeaten as he takes unanimous decision over Rodriguez who proved a better test than his record promised. In his third fight this year Price settled quickly and outboxed Rodriguez. This was Rodriguez’s first fight for eight months so was a little rusty but over the second half of the fight he was looking to stand and swop punches with Price who had to fight hard to protect his lead but his superior skills won the day. Scores 79-73, 78-74 and 77-75 for Price. The 22-year-old from Philadelphia was US Under 17 and twice Under-19 champion and won bronze medals at the National Golden Gloves and World Youth Championships. Puerto Rican Rodriguez was coming off a draw with 22-2-1 Joshua Greer Jr in November.
Price was floored and lost a split decision to Pedro Rodriguez in January 2019 but Rodriguez tested positive for a banned substance so the result was changed to No Decision.
Young vs. Manual
In his first fight since scoring an impressive victory over 27-2 Sadam Ali in May 2019 Young drops Manual late and wins a wide unanimous decision. Young was conceding 5” in height against Manual but worked hard to get past Manual’s jab and was able to work effectively to the body to establish a useful lead. Manual had a good spell over the fifth and sixth but Young closed out in style by flooring Manual in the last. Scores 78-73 twice and 79-72 for Young who has won his last eleven bouts. The COVID-19 pandemic stopped him from building on that win over Ali and as he is 33 that was precious time lost. Manual had won 4 of his last 5 fights.

Newark, USA: Light Heavy: Andre Dirrell (28-3) W TKO 3 Christopher Brooker (16-8). Heavy: Jonathan Rice (15-6-1) W TKO 5 Michael Polite Coffie (12-1) . Super Light: Karl Dargan (20-1) W TKO 3 Ivan Delgado (13-4-2). Middle: Joey Spencer (13-0) W PTS 8 James Martin (7-3).
Dirrell vs. Booker
In his first fight for nineteen months Dirrell floors and halts Booker in three rounds. Dirrell took a two rounds to shake off the dust although he landed a couple of nice shots in each of the first two rounds. A left in the third had Booker going down on one knee and although he got up he was put down twice more and the fight was stopped. Now 37 the former interim IBF super middle title holder was having only his second fight in over three years but hopefully will be more active now. Booker had won his last two fights including a bout in June.
Coffie vs. Rice
Upset here as unbeaten Coffie is stopped by unfancied Rice. Coffie was taking the fight to Rice in the first and was landing some heavy stuff but Rice rocked Coffee with some booming rights in the second and third with Coffie’s defence gone absent. Rice brutalised Coffie over the third and fourth rocking him with right crosses and left hooks. In the fifth a series of right drove Coffie to the ropes and as Rice continued to land rights to the head the referee stopped the fight. Rice had lost his last two fights but he certainly burst Coffie’s bubble here. In January Coffie had stopped 17-0 Darmani Rock but he was overconfident and failed to respect the power that had brought Rice ten inside the distance wins.
Dargan vs. Delgado
Dargan gets his stop-start career back in play with stoppage of Delgado. In his first fight for almost three years Dargan understandably was a little rusty. Both fighters found the target with shots in an even first but Dragan outlanded Delgado in the second. Delgado forced Dargan to the ropes in the third and began to blast Dargan with punches. Unfortunately he was so busy throwing punches he forgot his defence and a perfectly delivered right uppercut from Dargan dropped him to the canvas on his back. He arose but was unsteady and when the action resumed as he tried to punch his way out of trouble he was shaken with a burst of punches and sent down again. He managed to get up but was in no condition to continue. Now 36 Dargan won a cupboard full of medals as an amateur including two US National titles and a gold medal at the Pan American Games but just 21 fights in over 13 years as a pro tells it own tale as to how serious he has been about his career. Delgado was having his first fight since September 2019 and this is his third loss by KO/TKO.
Spencer vs. Martin
Spencer decisions late replacement Martin to remain unbeaten. Spencer comfortably outboxed Martin. Only his work rate garnered a round for Martin but other than that it was a one-sided contest with the judges turning in cards of 79-73 twice and 80-72 for Spencer. The 21-year-old from Detroit was US Uder-17 champion in 2015 and 2016. Martin was to have fought another opponent but came in over the weight so that fight fell through and he face Spencer instead.

Hamilton, Scotland: Feather: Nathaniel Collins (8-0) TKO 3 Felix Williams (29-3). Welter: Dean Sutherland (11-0) W TKO 7 Jose Velazquez (10-2). Super Bantam: Alejandro Jair Gonzalez (10-2-2) W PTS 10 Billy Stuart (10-1).
Collins vs. Williams
Collins wins the vacant Commonwealth title with third round kayo of Williams. Collins took the fight to Williams from the start. He stormed forward throwing punches and Williams never really got into the fight constantly being driven to the ropes as Collins bombarded him with punches. In the third Collins trapped Williams in a corner and buried him under a hail of punches with Williams slumping to the floor and being counted out. The 24-year-old Scottish southpaw gets his third win by KO/TKO. First inside the distance defeat for Williams.
Sutherland vs. Velazquez
Sutherland wins the vacant WBO Youth belt as he stops Mexican Velazquez. Southpaw Sutherland boxed well showing quick hands and feeding the advancing Velasquez with some wicked left hooks. Velasquez kept coming but with Sutherland stringing together punishing combinations Velazquez was being rocked time and again. He was taking a beating in the seventh and he fell to the canvas and the fight was stopped. Impressive performance by the 22-year-old Scot. Velasquez was brave but limited.
Gonzalez vs. Stuart
Gonzalez gets a win for the away side as he takes majority verdict over Stuart. This one pitted the aggression and hard punching of Gonzalez against the clever boxing of Stuart. The respective styles produced an entertaining fight. There was never a great deal between them and the decision could have gone either way depending on which style most impressed you and the judges came down on the side of Gonzalez. Scores 98-93 and 96-94 for Gonzalez and 95-95 but a draw would not have been robbery. Gonzalez is the new IBF Youth champion and Stuart fought ten good learning rounds.

Leones, Argentina: Super Light: Carlos Cordoba (15-7,1NC) W PTS 10 Emiliano Dominguez (25-9).
Cordoba makes a successful defence of the national title as he outpoints Dominguez. There was some disagreement over whether Cordoba went down in the first from a punch or a push. It certainly looked as though Dominguez landed to the body but the referee did not apply a count. It could be that Dominguez might have built on a 10-8 round but instead Cordoba’s higher work rate and good defensive work allowed him to take charge and he persistently found gaps in Dominguez defence for straight rights as he boxed his way to a comfortable victory. Scores 99-93, 97 ½ -94 ½ and 97 ½ -96 for Cordoba who was making the second defence of the title. Probably a last chance at the national title for 32-year-old Dominguez.
Baden Wurttemberg, Germany: Super Middle: Petro Ivanov (14-0-2) W KO 3 Rafael Ortiz (14-5-1). Welter: Karen Chukhadzhian (19-1) W KO 5 Roberto Arriaza (18-3). Middle: Andril Velikovskyi (19-2-2) DREW 10 Jose de Jesus Macias (28-10-1)
Ivanov vs. Ortiz
Ivanov punches too hard for Mexican southpaw Ortiz. Ivanov dropped Ortiz twice with rights in the first round with the bell saving Ortiz from defeat. Ortiz made it through the second but a body punch floored him in the third and he was counted out. Ivanov wins the vacant WBC International title having previously won the WBC Youth and WBC International Silver belts. Ortiz had won his last eleven bouts.
Chukhadzhian vs. Arriaza
Ukrainian Chukhadzhian extends his winning run with fifth round kayo of Nicaraguan Arriaza. Chukhadzhian dominated the action slowly breaking down a tough Arriaza. A burst of punches in the third sent Arriaza down and almost out through the ropes. He bounced off the ropes and took the full count resting on one knee. After losing his first fight Chukhadzhian has won 19 in a row and in April stopped 21-1-1 Yannick Dehez. Arriaza won his first 17 fights but now drops to 1-3 in his last 4.
Velikovskyi vs. Macias
Ukrainian Velikovskyi and Mexican Macias fought a close entertaining contest with Macias having a slight edge but having to settle for a split draw. Scores 96-94 for Velikovskyi, 96-94 for Macias and 95-95. The vacant WBC International title remains vacant. Velikovskyi is now 10-0-2 in his last 12 fights. Macias had sprung a huge upset in January when he stopped Canadian Steven Butler in five rounds.

Fight of the week (Significance): Leigh Wood’s win over Can Xu puts him in line for some big fights
Fight of the week (Entertainment): Chris Billam-Smith vs. Tommy McCarthy was close and competitive all the way
Fighter of the week: Leigh Wood
Punch of the week: Karl Dargan’s uppercut that floored Ivan Delgado was a beauty
Upset of the week: Jonathan Rice had lost his last two fights so his win over Michael Polite Coffie was a shock.
Prospect watch: Philadelphian-born bantamweight Dylan Price 14-0,1ND is progressing well

It pays to know the rules. After being struck down by a punch to the back of his head it was not his opponent who was disqualified but Valenzuela. The rules in Tijuana say that if a fighter is down and incapacitated from a punch to the back of his head no one from his corner is allowed to enter the ring until the downed fighter had had five minutes of medical assistance. One of Valenzuela’s team entered the ring before the time was up so Valenzuela was disqualified.
When Shiming Zou turned professional in 2013 there were plenty of predictions about how big a market China would become for boxing and the expectation that a tidal wave of new professionals would sweep into the professional ranks. Nothing remotely like that has happened and with the defeat of Can Xu they have no title holders and no leading contenders.

About the Author

Born in Scotland, Eric Armit started working with Boxing News magazine in the UK in the late 1960’s initially doing records for their Boxing News Annual and compiling World, European and Commonwealth ratings for the magazine. He wrote his first feature article for Boxing News in 1973 and wrote a “World Scene” weekly column for the magazine from the late 1970’s until 2004. Armit wrote a monthly column for Boxing Digest in the USA and contributed pieces to magazines in Mexico, Italy, Australia, Spain, Argentina and other countries. Armit now writes a Weekly Report covering every major fight around the world and a bi-weekly Snips & Snipes column plus occasional general interest articles with these being taken up by boxing sites around the world. He was a member of the inaugural WBC Ratings Committee and a technical advisor to the EBU Ratings Committee and was consulted by John McCain’s research team when they were drafting the Ali Act. He is a Director and former Chairman of the Commonwealth Boxing Council. Armit has been nominated to the International Boxing Hall of Fame the past two years (2019 and 2020) to which he said, “Being on the list is an unbelievably huge honour.”

Click here to view a list of other articles written by Eric Armit.

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