Leigh Wood stopped Xu Can in the 12th and final round to claim the WBA Featherweight World Title in a big upset at the top of the bill on the first week of Matchroom Fight Camp in Brentwood, Essex, live worldwide on DAZN.
‘Leigh-thal’ created history by becoming only the second-ever boxer from Nottingham to become a World Champion – following in the footsteps of former IBF Super-Middleweight World Champion Carl Froch who was watching on from ringside.
After only competing at British level throughout his career, Wood was thought to be up against it against Can, but it was clear from the opening bell that the powerful Ben Davison-trained puncher belonged on the big stage.
As the fight entered the championship rounds, Can tried to put his foot down as he felt his crown slipping, but he would pay for that approach in a memorable last session. A superb right hand dropped the Chinese fighter and after rising to his feet, Wood wasted no time in forcing the stoppage.
“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,” Wood told Matchroom afterwards.
“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, Lee Wylie and Barry Smith, they’ve really changed the game for me.
“He definitely wasn’t throwing 120 punches a round and that’s down to the game plan. Everyone was saying how are you going to do it, what are going to do, are you going to hit him hard, are going to hold him, it was down to the game plan. Even people watching don’t understand, but that’s a conversation for another day.
“Hopefully the younger generations see this and think you know what, he’s done it, World Champion, British, Commonwealth, European, hopefully people decide to go pick up a pair of boxing gloves and start their journey.
“Ben and Lee said to me they’ve never been so confident in someone getting the tactics right as much as me going into this fight. I thought that was a big statement, I was doing everything they wanted me to do. I executed it pretty much to perfection and credit to those guys for getting it right – I just do as I’m told, and it works.
“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. People might slate me and say it’s a regular title, let’s fight for the super title, let’s unify – I want big fights.
“My career was stalled earlier on. In three years I’ve been British, Commonwealth, WBO European and now World Champion. My best years are definitely to come.”
Chris Billam-Smith withstood a late fightback from Tommy McCarthy to edge out a narrow split points decision to add the British and European Cruiserweight Titles to his Commonwealth Title in an epic battle at the Matchroom HQ.
Belfast’s McCarthy started and ended the fight impressively but his low output in-between cost him the decision. Both fighters received a scorecard of 115-114, but a 116-112 verdict for Bournemouth’s Billam-Smith was enough to see him to progress to 13-1.
“It’s crazy, as Shane said, it’s been a bit of a tough camp towards the end – I had an injury and I haven’t sparred in 3-4 weeks,” Billam-Smith told Matchroom afterwards. “All that emotion came out, it was an interesting build up the fight, future fights, but I’m over the moon.
“It was a good shot, the best shot he landed all fight, I was with it, but it was a good shot, it buzzed me in a way, but I was in control, I could see, I knew I’d been hit but I just had to ride it a bit.
“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 favour.
“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, we watched the Askin fight today and that was the key – props to Shane.
“I sent the tweet out and it got him going, he built the fight really well. I played the villain at the beginning and just let him run away with it. All respect to Tommy, he was tougher and better than I thought he was.
“I’m so much better than that, I just walked back into the changing rooms and Shane has a massive go at me and said, ‘what was that?’ We know what I’m capable of but then I get too excited in there when I hurt someone. That’s because I’ve only had 14 fights, I’ve got a lot of learning to do but it’s a long process, I’m not the finished article and that’s the sort of fight I need.
“I was fit in there, comfortable in there, still ready to work in that last round and go up a gear which is good, but I’ve got to learn to be more articulate with how I go about things.
“They all work hard in the gym; I like to do the little 1% that they probably can’t be bothered to do. They work hard, Lawrence runs every morning, everyone’s a grafter in the gym but that comes down to Shane and Josh, they set such a high standard. You’ve got to be world class and act like a professional the whole time in that gym to survive.
“There was a group of twelve lads from Bournemouth that I kind of know and they all come up, to see them in crowd and to making the noise they did, it was really special. It’s so good to have fans back and some normality.
“I want a show in Bournemouth, I really do. We’ve tried it almost 18 months ago, it would be unbelievable to have a show down there. We’ve got the Bournemouth International Centre which Eddie had booked for last March which he couldn’t get an opponent for. I need a show in Bournemouth, I love my fans, they’ve been superb to me. I’ve been on the road, Riakporhe in London, Glover in Liverpool, here in London, I want to go home.”
Campbell Hatton extended his unbeaten record to 3-0 with a straight-forward four-round points win over Jakub Laskowski, from Poland.
The 20-year-old Mancunian, son of former double World Champion Ricky, banked more valuable rounds as he continued his development in the professional ranks.
“I was happy again really; I thought my defence was a lot better,” Hatton told Matchroom afterwards. “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.
“He was tricky customer, slippery, doing a bit of switching and some different looks. That’s the perfect fight and it has been matched perfectly for me to learn. There are people out there they could bring in and anyone could hit them and knock them over. That’s not how they’re matching me, we’re getting me people who are going to get the rounds out of me and give me different things to overcome – that’s what he did tonight.
“I think I showed some more classy work than I have before, working off my jab. My jab is one of my best shots in the gym and now I’m bringing it into play in the fights now.
“The first fight I was saying all week I was dead relaxed, but I had nothing to compare it to. The second fight I was more composed, and I was more composed this fight – next time it’s going to be the same pattern and even better.
“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.
“Gibraltar, the amount of media commitments I had to and how much time was invested into me on the media side, I think that set me up, so I’ve not had to do much really. We’ve got it all out the way in the first one, I’m never going to have to deal with anything like that again, the pressure will always be there but each time I’ll be dealing with it better. I’m dealing with the pressure like it’s not there now.
“You see all these opponents, if it was any other kid he was fighting with any other surname, I don’t think he would have been digging in half as much as he did there. They want to make a point, whether it’s to stop me, or just survive – they raise their game a bit when they know it’s me and I’ve got to do the same.”
Anthony Fowler was made to work hard for victory as he registered an eighth-round stoppage over late stand-in opponent Rico Mueller – setting up a tasty October 9 domestic clash with Liverpool rival Liam Smith.
The German, who arrived in the UK earlier this week to replace Roberto Garcia following an injury, had plenty of ambition at the start of the fight, but Fowler was always landing the heavy shots and the pressure finally told.
The Liverpudlian, who became a father during the week, has now won six fights in a row since suffering his one and only loss in the pros at the hands of Scott Fitzgerald at The M&S Bank Arena Liverpool back in March 2019.
“My next opponent is a really good fighter, much better than him, but I needed the rounds,” Fowler told DAZN afterwards. “I thought in round two I wobbled him but thought, ‘not today’. My last fight was three rounds and I thought, ‘I need rounds today’, so I stepped back and worked on a few things.
“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.
“Even tonight, I wanted to box Roberto Garcia, a good, experienced veteran. Rico Mueller gaveca good fight and I’m happy he replaced Garcia because I said in the ring, ‘thanks for giving it your all’, after six rounds he was six rounds down and he was still trying.
“Liam is a much higher level, but I needed the rounds and that’s what I got.”
Jack Cullen claimed the biggest win of his career by outpointing former World Title challenger Avni Yildirim over ten rounds to earn the IBF International Super-Middleweight Title.
‘Little Lever’s Meat Cleaver’ was in control from the opening bell as he used his long jab to set up further attacks on the Turk who shared the ring with pound-for-pound king Canelo Alvarez back in February.
Yildirim was looking to get back to winning ways after being stopped in three rounds by the Mexican in Miami but instead suffered the fourth defeat of his career at the hands of the 27-year-old from Lancashire.
Cullen outboxed and outfought ‘Mr Robot’ in front of his vocal support at the Matchroom HQ in Essex – with the final scorecards reading 100-90, 98-92, and 97-93 in favour of the Michael Jennings-trained fighter.
“I’m absolutely buzzing and listen; we came with a game plan, a couple of rounds in I wasn’t doing what I should have been doing, but I stuck to my game plan and it paid off eventually,” Cullen told Matchroom afterwards.
“I knew he was going to come forward, he’s a tough fighter and he comes to fight – that’s what he did tonight. Like I said with my game plan, using the jab and trying to not get caught with the right hand. I got caught a few times stupidly, but I got back on my boxing and got through the ten rounds.
“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.
“I’ve been working over and over, every day, it’s starting to pay off. Like I said, you’re going to see a different Jack Cullen and I think you did tonight.
“At the end of the day, I’m in this game to fight the best and anything can happen, anything is around the corner. It’s all about being switched on and ready, whoever you get offered you’ve got to take the fight with both hands and go for it.
“I have got a brilliant support, a lot of fans that love watching and supporting me. There were only 25 in there tonight, but it sounded like 100, it’s brilliant and I’m going to have a nice little rest – we’ll see. Hopefully Eddie will sign me now!
“It’s moving in the right direction, the direction I want it to go. Everyone said Yildirim is going to be a tough opponent and I knew that, but I knew I should be beating fighters like him because of where I want to take my career to.
“I will go with flow, who knows, I reckon there will be all sorts of people jumping out the closet wanting to fight me, but we’ll see.”
Former amateur star Sandy Ryan made a winning start to life in the paid ranks as she outclassed Kirstie Bavington over six rounds in the opening bout of Fight Camp.
The Derby fighter, who is trained by Clifton Mitchell and managed by Paul Ready, was in control throughout and that was reflected on the scorecards as she emerged from the contest a 60-54 winner.
“It was a very good fight,” Ryan told Matchroom afterwards. “I’m over the moon and I’m so happy. I enjoyed every minute of that, the walk, everything, I’m just made for the pro game.
“I took my time; I enjoyed the ring walk – I enjoyed it so much.
“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.
“Levels, I said that even if I had a bad day, she wasn’t going to beat me. It’s not disrespect to her, but I just know what I’m capable of. Boxing’s my life and I’m going all the way.
“I’ve got the right team behind, Matchroom, DAZN, Eddie Hearn, Paul Ready my manager and Clifton my trainer, that’s all I need – that’s my team. I don’t need a big entourage around me, this is all I need and we’re going all the way.”
Photo Courtesy of Mark Robinson/Matchroom Boxing