'Monster' Xu Can retained his WBA world featherweight title on Sunday with a ruthless display that boosted both his own mainstream appeal and the profile of Chinese professional boxing in general.
The 25-year-old dispatched Japanese challenger Shun Kubo with a sixth-round stoppage in front of 5,000 boisterous fans in his hometown of Fuzhou.
Xu's relentless aggression smothered any hope Kubo might have had for effective countering as he dropped the former WBA super bantamweight champion in the fifth round with a three-punch combo. He finished off Kubo (13-2, 9 KOs) with another assault in the sixth as referee Gustavo Padilla stopped the fight with 1:44 left.
The victory in his first title defense improved Xu to 17-2(3 KOs) and showed he's definitely in the mix for a unification bout against the more experienced WBC, IBF and WBO titleholders. The triumph also saw Xu become just the second Chinese alongside Xiong Chaozhong (2013, WBC minimumweight) to successfully defend a world championship belt.
In the co-main event, Carlos Canizales of Venezuela dominated to retain his WBA junior flyweight world title by unanimous decision (118-110, 119-109, and 119-109).
Xu wrested the 126-pound crown from Puerto Rico's Jesus Rojas in Houston, Texas, in January to become the third Chinese to win a pro world title, following Xiong and two-time Olympic gold medalist Zou Shiming (ex-WBO flyweight titleholder).
Kubo, a 5-foot-9 lefty, was far from an easy challenger, especially considering the 29-year-old's split decision win over compatriot and current No 1 contender Hiroshige Osawa in April 2018 in his first test after moving up to featherweight.
Xu attributed his convincing victory to his thorough preparations. Max Power Promotions sought out an ideal sparring partner for the champ, 22-year-old Filipino southpaw Joepher Montano, who matched Kubo in height, range and style.
"We have strong faith in Xu believing he has what it takes to beat a tough challenger in a quality fight," said Lu Xiaolong, CEO of Max Power. "The rise of Chinese pro boxing needs a victory like this to maintain the momentum and Xu delivered."
Xu, who earned the ring moniker Monster for his ferocious attacking style, now wants to unify the fragmented WBA title. While Xu holds the "regular" WBA featherweight title, Mexico's Leo Santa Cruz is currently the more prestigious "super" champion of the division.
"Santa Cruz has always been my target," Xu told the post-fight media conference. "I am looking forward to a WBA-title-unifying bout against him.
"I don't want to make any bold statement (concerning my next defense), because my fight always speaks for me. Now that I've proved I belong in the top of the division, I fear no one."
Xu also became the first Chinese to win a title fight against a Japanese boxer following Xiong's failed challenge against Daisuke Naito for the WBC world flyweight title 10 years ago and Zou's loss to Sho Kimura in his first WBO flyweight defense in 2017 in Shanghai.
Born in remote Zixi county in Fuzhou, Xu moved to Kunming, Yunnan province, at 16, supported by his pastry-making parents. There he trained in renowned Chinese promoter Liu Gang's professional system, carving out a different career path than Zou and Xiong, who were more influenced by the amateur style that prevailed within the State-run system.
Xu's potential caught the eye of Oscar De La Hoya's Las Vegas-based Golden Boy Promotions, which signed a contract with Max Power at the end of 2017 to jointly promote Xu overseas.
Having impressed the world with his ferocious style, Xu is well on track to cement his status as China's first true professional boxing star, according to Roberto Diaz, a Golden Boy matchmaker.
"In pro boxing I'd rather have Xu in my corner than finesse," Diaz told China Daily on Monday.
"Xu is different. He has a more crowd-pleasing style than the other two great champions.
"It's just the beginning for him－not just being great in China as its third ever world champion but in general as a great featherweight champion worldwide."
Diaz also believes Xu's success can now inspire a new generation of Chinese boxers to follow in his footsteps.
"It's very positive and it was done in the right direction. Now what we need to do is to maintain the momentum with quality fights," said Diaz.
"Hopefully before the end of the year back in the States we will have him defend his title once again.
"I want for him to keep the momentum building obviously here and also growing his fanbase all over the world."