Leigh Wood and Xu Can weren’t originally supposed to be the main event for today’s Fight Camp show from Matchroom headquarters, but they were bumped to the slot, and Wood made it count, pulling an upset and taking the WBA featherweight title.
To be clear, the belt Wood now has is the WBA’s “world” (aka “regular”) belt, but it’s a strange situation where the WBA are keeping a light on for Leo Santa Cruz, who hasn’t defended the belt in two-and-a-half years, and moved up in weight to 130 over a year-and-a-half ago, even winning their “super world” title at junior lightweight.
So for all it really matters, Xu had the only WBA belt that’s mattered for a while, and that’s what Wood took today, dropping the Chinese fighter in the 12th and final round, and stopping him with 17 seconds left in the fight.
Wood (25-2, 15 KO) bossed much of the fight, not doing anything spectacularly, but landing the harder, crisper shots. Harder and cripser wasn’t entirely unexpected, since Xu (18-3, 3 KO) has never been a puncher, but Wood was able to keep Xu from getting anywhere near his normal work rate, which is what turned him into a high-level featherweight in the first place. Without that, Xu didn’t have much, and was mostly hanging around, hoping to shade some rounds along the way.
For what it’s worth, Bad Left Hook had it 106-103 for Wood after 11 rounds, and if the fight had finished without another knockdown, our card would have been 116-111 with a 10-8 12th round for the Nottingham native. But the stoppage was earned, as Xu was still rocked after eating a peach of a right hand, and Wood went for it, looking to end it inside the distance. He did that, and referee Marcus McDonnell’s call was fair.
“He’s a very good fighter, there were times I had to dig deep. He’s very tough. I’ve never hit anyone so clean, so often, and had him still be there,” Wood said of Xu. “We knew he was there to be hit. It was about discipline, not get carried away.
“Everyone said, ‘There’s no way you’re going to beat him on points.’ Not only did I nearly beat him on points, I stopped him in the championship rounds after a hard-paced fight. But credit to him. I’m going to enjoy this moment.”
“It’s honestly life-changing. That was an incredible performance,” promoter Eddie Hearn said. “I thought Leigh was brilliant, and to get that stoppage was a real statement.”
Hearn said that there will be an eye on next week’s vacant IBF title fight between Kid Galahad and Jazza Dickens, and also said Xu does have a rematch clause, but that he “can’t see” Xu wanting it. Personally, I expect he probably would, since what is he going to do that’s any better or for more money, but I’m not the one selling you anything right now. Hearn also said he’d like to see Wood fight Leo Santa Cruz and WBO titlist Emanuel Navarrete.
Chris Billam-Smith SD-12 Tommy McCarthy
A good fight, never broke out into anything super dramatic, but a real crowd of fans might have helped, the high ticket prices to sit in Eddie’s lawn didn’t exactly entice the ragers who might have picked this up a bit at points.
Billam-Smith (13-1, 10 KO) keeps the Commonwealth cruiserweight title, adds the previously vacant British title, and takes the European belt from McCarthy (18-3, 9 KO) with the win. The scoring was fair — two cards of 115-114, one going to each man, and then 116-112 for Billam-Smith, which might seem out of line, but there were a lot of close rounds here. Bad Left Hook had it all even, 114-114, with McCarthy rallying to earn a draw on our unofficial card.
The loss ends a five-fight win streak for the 30-year-old McCarthy, who seemed intent on possibly going after a world title soon if he’d gotten another W here. Billam-Smith, also 30, may look toward that soon. He fought well here, working at his best behind a solid jab, but McCarthy was scrappy and kept himself in the fight, working through an early cut that his corner took good care of over the bout.
“I’m elated,” Billam-Smith said, holding all his hardware. “It was attrition, but I was fit. I had gears, I just didn’t keep it clean. I felt comfortable. I honestly don’t know how he could have won seven rounds, personally, that’s the judge’s score card.”
Billam-Smith said he’s up for a rematch, but would be surprised if McCarthy would want to take one. My gut feeling says McCarthy would want to take one.
Campbell Hatton PTS-4 Jakub Laskowski
Young Campbell improves to 3-0 (0 KO). He’s 20, still a novice, on the main cards for very obvious reasons, and while I understand logically in my brain that it’s too soon to make harsh judgments, I am certain he is not a blue chip prospect in any way other than the money he might generate if carefully handled. Maybe that’s “too harsh” for promoters and whatnot, but if they don’t want anyone critiquing, keep him off-air, I guess. Laskowski is now 4-5-1 (2 KO).
Anthony Fowler TKO-8 Rico Mueller
Mueller came in on short notice, replacing Roberto Garcia, and Fowler (15-2, 12 KO) pretty much dominated this fight against an undersized opponent. Fowler’s a legit, natural 154, while Mueller (28-4-1, 19 KO) is really a natural 140, and the size difference was apparent from the opening bell.
This became a mismatch, honestly, just physically as much as anything. Mueller gave his best effort but couldn’t put a dent in Fowler, who kept putting more and more dents in Mueller, marking up the German’s face. This could have been stopped after six or seven, really, but it went on, and referee Bob Williams watched Mueller take a lot of unanswered shots in the eighth before finally stepping in to stop the fight.
The bigger story out of this is that Fowler will move on to face Liam Smith on Oct. 9 in Liverpool. If fans going to fights is still a thing by then, that should have a great atmosphere, and it’s a good matchup.
Jack Cullen UD-10 Avni Yildirim
It’s a career-best win for “Little Lever’s Meat Cleaver,” who took this one on scores of 97-93, 98-92, and 100-90, with Bad Left Hook also having it 97-93 for Cullen, who improves to 20-2-1 (9 KO).
It’s an awful little reality check for Yildirim (21-4, 12 KO), as the 29-year-old Turkish fighter has now lost three straight dating back to 2019, when he lost a controversial technical split decision to Anthony Dirrell. While waiting on his WBC-appointed super middleweight title shot, Yildirim may have regressed if anything, not that he was ever some superstar. Here, he was hoping to put his frankly embarrassing effort against Canelo Alvarez in February behind him and get into IBF contention (they had a minor belt at stake in this one), but he just didn’t work enough in there, and didn’t land enough of the big right hands he wanted.
Cullen, 27, is not about to bust through to mega-stardom himself, if we’re being honest, but the 6’3” scrapper has proven quite useful at perhaps the European level at 168, where he’s become a standout undercard operator on Matchroom shows. He peppered his way to victory here and deserved it.