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China's world featherweight champ set for ring return

By SUN XIAOCHEN | China Daily | Updated: 2021-07-06 08:57
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Xu Can (left) will defend his WBA world featherweight title against Britain's Leigh Wood in London on Aug 1. [Photo/China Daily]

After 20-month hiatus, China's world featherweight champ set for ring return in London

Watch out! "The Monster" is back on the hunt.

After going without a competitive fight for over 20 months due to the pandemic, China's reigning world featherweight champion Xu Can has confirmed his long-awaited return on Aug 1, when he squares off against British challenger Leigh Wood in London.

Xu's Beijing-based agency Max Power Promotions announced the deal on Monday, with British champ Wood the opponent in Xu's third defense of the World Boxing Association's 126-pound belt. Mooted bouts against other contenders were repeatedly scuppered by pandemic-enforced quarantine and scheduling issues.

Known as "The Monster" in the ring, Xu (18-2, 3 KOs) hasn't flexed his muscles in an official bout since retaining his crown with a 12-round unanimous decision over American Manny Robles III in California in November 2019.

Wood (24-2, 14 KOs), who goes by the ring moniker "Leigh-thal", is expected to pose a tough challenge for Xu following his impressive knockout win over compatriot Reece Mould to claim the British featherweight title on Feb 13 at Wembley.

Fighting out of Gedling, Nottinghamshire, Wood, a 32-year-old counterattacker, possesses a lethal right hook. The 27-year-old Xu, hailing from Fuzhou, Jiangxi province, boasts an aggressive style characterized by punch volume over power.

Both considered crowd-pleasers in the highly competitive division, their encounter, which will be staged at the headquarters of Wood's agency Matchroom Promotions, promises to be a ferocious and entertaining contest.

Xu, who has been training in Miami, Florida with his Cuban coach Pedro Diaz since March, shrugged off Wood's home advantage, saying: "Whatever opponents I have to fight and wherever I need to be, my goal is always the same-that is to bring the belt back to China."

"Now that the Briton wouldn't dare to leave his home, I will come knocking on his door."

Xu, who beat Puerto Rico's Jesus Rojas to win the WBA crown in January 2019, would have had a chance to become China's first unified titleholder if a plan to face former International Boxing Federation featherweight champ Josh Warrington last summer in Leeds, England had not fallen through.

However, the COVID-19 outbreak forced a postponement of the mouth-watering unification bout, before Warrington (30-1, 7 KOs) suffered the first loss of his pro career to unheralded Mexican Mauricio Lara in London in February, thereby losing his shot at Xu's WBA belt.

In April, Xu's agency found him a replacement in American fighter Emilio Sanchez (18-1, 11 KOs), with the bout scheduled for June 13 in Los Angeles.

However, issues over the broadcasting times derailed the matchup, prolonging Xu's absence from the ring.

Xu now has to switch his training focus from keeping up with Sanchez' high-volume attacking style to adapting to the finesse and patience of Wood.

Should Xu defeat Wood in the 12-round bout, he will become the first Chinese boxer to successfully defend a professional title three times in a row. The current record is held by former World Boxing Council champion Xiong Chaozhong, who twice retained his minimum-weight belt, in June and November 2013.

Before the victory over Robles, Xu had dispatched Japanese challenger Shun Kubo (15-2, 10 KOs) to retain the strap in his first defense in Fuzhou in May 2019.

That victory saw Xu become the first Chinese to win a pro boxing title fight against a Japanese opponent following Xiong's failed challenge against Daisuke Naito for the WBC world flyweight title in 2009, and two-time Olympic champion Zou Shiming's loss to Sho Kimura in his first World Boxing Organization flyweight defense in 2017 in Shanghai.

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