By Jake Donovan
Jesus Rojas couldn’t believe his ears when he heard the words “… and the NEW” accompany the final scores of his 12-round war with Xu Can.
He likely won’t believe his eyes when he sees that the judges collectively gave him very little credit—yet somehow still with a chance after nine rounds to leave the Toyota Center in Houston with his featherweight title still intact.
In an early candidate for Fight of the Year, China’s Can pulled off a stunning upset in outlasting Puerto Rico’s Rojas to lay claim to a secondary featherweight title. Final scores of 118-110, 117-111 and 116-112 were a disservice to such a terrific slugfest, with the two combatants combining to throw well north of 2,000 punches on the night.
Can (16-2, 2KOs) was fighting in the United States for just the second time as a pro, while in his first career title fight. He entered the ring as the perceived B-side fighter, against a defending titlist in Rojas (26-3-2, 19KOs) who fought under the banner of Golden Boy Promotions, the lead promoter for Saturday’s show which streamed live on DAZN.
In a fight involving boxers from Puerto Rico and China taking place in Texas, the theory of either boxer boasting a regional advantage goes out the window. Further proof of the deck never being truly stacked against him came in the form of the three ringside judges, all hailing from neutral locations and having never before worked a bout involving either boxer.
Mexico’s Alfredo Polanco had the visiting challenger prevailing by 116-112, the closest of the three scorecards, and the only judge who had Rojas with a chance to still win the fight after nine rounds.
Panama’s Ignacio Robles had the widest scorecard of three, his 118-110 tally officially taking the fight off the table for Rojas by round eight.
Gloria Martinez, the lone U.S. judge as she is based out of Florida, had Can winning the fight 117-111, with the 10th round proving to be the clincher.
The three judges agreed on seven of the 12 rounds scored.
All three awarded Can rounds 2, 4, 7, 8 and sweeping rounds 10-12 to secure the victory. Rojas claimed just one round unanimously, as all three judges awarded him round nine—at which point he was to the point of no return on one card but with a strong enough rally still a chance to leave with a draw.
It would have meant his second straight fight without a win—but also a third straight fight leaving the ring as a secondary featherweight titlist instead of a second-place featherweight.
Judges Martinez and Robles were in step on all but one round—round six, which was one of just three frames that Rojas claimed on more than one scorecard. The two judges had Can winning rounds 1-4, seven, eight and 10-12, while awarding Rojas rounds five and nine.
Judge Polanco was the dissenting official in three of the nine rounds—although his 116-112 card seemed to be closest in line with most observers who saw a close affair (BoxingScene.com had it 116-112 for Can). He was the only judge to award Rojas rounds one and three, as well as the lone official to score round five in favor of Can.
Judge Robles was the lone official to score round six in favor of Can, which in part explains why Rojas was to the point of no return on his scorecard after eight rounds.
In sweeping the final three rounds, Can became just the third boxer ever from China to win a major title and the first to do so at featherweight.
Xiong Zhao Zhong broke ground for China in winning a vacant strawweight belt at home in 2012, while Zou Shiming—China’s first-ever Olympic Gold medalist (two-time Gold medalist and three Olympic medals overall)—picked up a vacant flyweight strap in Nov. ’16. Can’s win over Rojas marks the only time ever a boxer from China dethroned a sitting titlist.
As badly as Rojas believes he was robbed, in the end he still had three rounds to do deny his opponent a place in the history books.