By Jake Donovan
Xiong Zhao Zhong entered Wednesday's bout with Oswaldo Novoa as the first-ever fighter from China to win a major title.
He is now also the first-ever fighter from China to lose a major title, as Novoa pulled off a major upset with a 5th round stoppage on the road in Haikou, China.
There was concern over Novoa, fighting for the first time outside of his native Mexico, being the bigger fighter, coming down in weight with most of his career spent at flyweight and junior flyweight. The difference in physical strength was evident from the opening bell, as Zhao Zhong, barely 5'0" tall, kept it strictly boxing while Novoa sought the best way to reduce the size of the ring.
The first couple of rounds saw Zhao Zhong jab and use lateral movement, scoring with straight shots as Novoa was a bit wide and deliberate with his power punches from the outside. Its effectiveness and success were only temporary, akin to placing a chair under a doorknob to prevent an army from storming the castle.
Eventually, Novoa managed a way to take the lead and put Zhao Zhong on the defensive. Once that moment arrived, momentum never swayed back in the defending titlist's direction.
Novoa turned up the heat late in the second round, although Zhao Zhong was able to block most of the incoming. The punches started to get through with regularity in round three, as Novoa momentarily abandoned his left hook-dependent offense to score with uppercuts and right hand shots.
By the fourth, Zhao Zhong could be seen overthinking his strategy. Moving his hands in a circular motion, the diminutive fighting pride of China was hesitant to open up his offense for fear of getting caught with something big. Instead, the 31-year old moved around the ring when Novoa attempted to set up camp, and clinched his way out of trouble whenever the challenger closed the gap.
The ringside judges were hardly influenced by the backdrop of Zhao Zhong defending in his home country. All three officials had Novoa up 39-37 through four rounds, as revealed through open scoring. The scorecards mattered little, though were a clear indication of the bout's momentum and its eventual finish.
Novoa closed the show strong, battering Zhao Zhong in the decisive fifth round. The punches never seemed to stop coming, as Novoa continuously through in combinations, hoping that for every punch that missed another one would land.
A right hand while fighting his way out of the clinch prompted Novoa to go for broke towards the end of round five. It was a race against the clock for Zhao Zhong, who was in a world of trouble but hoped to ride out the storm just long enough to hear the bell to end the round and perhaps clear his head during the one-minute rest period.
That moment never came. Novoa through a swarm of punches against which Zhao Zhong was simply unable to defend, promoting referee Bruce McTavish to jump in and stop the contest.
Novoa comes out of nowhere to claim a strawweight title, while advancing his record to 13-4-1 (8KO). The 32-year old has been a regular on the undercards of Canelo Promotions' ongoing boxing series with Televisa (and Fox Deportes in the United States), but even among his current win streak - six in a row, following Wednesday's win - provided little evidence that he would one day go on to win a major title.
That day has arrived, much to the surprise of many. Shocked more than anyone else is Zhao Zhong, whose 14-month title reign comes to an end. In becoming China's first ever champion in Nov. '12, Zhao Zhong remains a fixture in the sports history of the most populated nation in the world. Memories are all he is left with, as his four-fight win streak comes to a close in falling to 22-5-1 (12KO).
Ageless former two-division champ Sirimongkol Singwancha extended a 10-year long win streak with a 6th round stoppage of Yang Xing Xin in the evening's co-feature.
Singwancha was in control for much of the bout, though the end came ironically after Xin's best round of the fight. The 36-year old Thai was the aggressor, his fighting style by trade but useful in this instance as it was his best way of negating a four-inch height advantage enjoyed by the homegrown welterweight.
The bout appeared to be a rout after five rounds, but the 6'0" Xin briefly turned the tide in the sixth. It was by no means a suggestion that the fight was getting away from Singwancha, but a solid effort by Xin coupled with a point deduction for a questionable low blow ruling provided a brief moment of drama.
That moment quickly evaporated when Xin's corner decided that their charge was not coming out for the start of round seven.
The official time was 3:00 of round six.
Singwancha cruises to his 33rd straight win as he advances to 76-2 (48KO). His last loss came more than 10 years ago, conceding the 130 lb. title to Jesus Chavez in their Oct. '03 bout, which aired live on Telefutura (now UniMas) in the United States, marking the first of three stateside appearances over the course of his 20-year career.
Both of Singwancha's pro losses have taken place outside of his native Thailand. His other defeat came in a thriller versus Joichiro Tatsuyoshi, suffering a 6th round knockout to end his bantamweight title reign in Nov. '97, albeit in one of the best bantamweight title fights of all time.
Overall, Singwancha is now 6-2 outside of Thailand, with Wednesday's bout marking his first in-ring appearance in China.
Opening the telecast, Qui Xiao Jun scored a 10-round decision over Australia's Jason Cooper (8-2-1, 4KO), in their regional super bantamweight contest. Scores were 96-94 (twice) and an odd 99-94 in favor of the 23-year old Jun (11-2, 4KO), who picks up his fourth straight win.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as a member of Transnational Boxing Ratings Board and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox