Leigh Wood pulled off a big upset as he tore the WBA featherweight title from Xu Can, stopping his 17 seconds from the end of the twelfth and final round on the opening night of Matchroom’s Fight Camp in Brentwood, Essex.
At 32, Wood has showed remarkable improvement in the two years since he began to be trained by Ben Davison. The fight wasn’t close. Wood began well and dominated, finishing in style as he dropped Can and then stopped him in the last.
Wood won with a seemingly simple gameplan. He refused to meet Can head on, instead edging away and picking his shot. He never got greedy, mostly dealing in single punches, but apart from a spell in the middle rounds, Can failed to get any control over the fight.
“He was very tough, I’ve never hit someone so clean so often,” Wood said. “It was about staying disciplined. I had to dig deep.”
It was a baffling display by Can, who seemed at times to let Wood do exactly what he wanted. Wood talked before about how his fight plan was to restrict Can as much as impose himself, but he never looked in a moment’s danger.
Can had not boxed since 2019 and, perhaps, it was the ring rust that did for him. But, ultimately, he just couldn’t figure out Wood’s style and as the challenger’s dominance grew in the second half of the fight, Can faded.
This fight was only added to the bill four weeks ago and elevated to top-billing when Conor Benn was forced to pull out of his fight with Adrian Granados when he tested positive for COVID-19 last week.
A tight opening round saw Can walk forward behind a high guard, while Wood tried to find holes for straight shots. But the Englishman warmed to the task in the second, landing a big uppercut through the middle and then catching Can with two hard body punches and, later in the round, he landed a good right cross.
The Chinese boxer was more aggressive in the third, but Wood bided his time and landed clean with the right again as Can landed little.
Wood’s success continued into the fourth. As Can came forward with more urgency, Wood edged back and looked for opening for heavy shots, landing another excellent uppercut.
Can found some rhythm in the fifth round, as he got Wood in range and landed some sharp lefts, but, after missing with several shots, Wood landed another crunching uppercut late in the round.
The sixth was a good one for the champion, as he blocked most of Wood’s shots on his gloves, while getting through to both body and head. Wood seemed to switch off, though, and did little more in the seventh.
But if Wood had looked like he was starting to drift, he stepped up significantly in the eighth round, switching southpaw and banging punches in off the back front. Can was either tiring or baffled by this man who kept moving away from him but landing punches. In the tenth, Can landed a decent right cross but Wood landed much more.
In the eleventh round, Wood started to go through the levels, landing a string of punches on Can, who seemed rooted to the spot, although he did end the round with a big overhand right, which Wood shrugged off.
There was no real attempt by Can to go for broke in the last, but as Can tried to work an opening, Wood dropped him with a hard right. The champion looked finished and Wood went for the kill, opening up and trapping Can on the ropes until referee Marcus McDonnell intervened.
“It’s life-changing, that was an incredible performance,” Eddie Hearn said. “Leigh Wood has done it the hard way, he had fights on small halls, he took fights for money when he shouldn’t have done. This is a brilliant story for British boxing.”
Ron Lewis is a senior writer for BoxingScene. He was Boxing Correspondent for The Times, where he worked from 2001-2019 - covering four Olympic Games and numerous world title fights across the globe. He has written about boxing for a wide variety of publications worldwide since the 1980s.