The WBC Minimumweight Championship will be on the line this Friday night in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, as the champion Xiong Zhao Zhong defends his title against No. 1-ranked contender Denver Cuello.
Zhong, who won his title last November, will be making the first defense of the belt that made him mainland China's first boxing world champion.
Cuello, of the Philippines, enters the bout on a 12-fight winning streak. He will be making his first challenge for a world championship.
Read on for our complete preview and prediction for this Friday night's title bout.
Despite being four years younger than his opponent, Cuello has spent more time inside a boxing ring. He turned pro in 2004 and is the more experienced of the two fighters.
Cuello also possesses advantages in height and reach, which could help him neutralize the speed advantages that Zhong will likely carry into the ring.
Both fighters have decent pop in their punches, given their small stature, and can score a stoppage under the right circumstances.
20-4-1, 11 KO
33-4-6, 21 KO
|Hometown:||Wenshan, China||Cabatuan, Iloilo, Philippines
Xiong Zhao Zhong became the first man from mainland China to capture a world championship when he outpointed Javier Martinez Resendiz to capture the vacant WBC title last November. It was a big deal, both for the fighter and his country, and now he will face the pressure of defending the title for the first time.
Zhong will be making the defense away from the pressure of his native China, but that might also prove to be a bit of a double-edged sword. He has lost all three of his bouts outside of China.
Denver Cuello has been waiting a while now for a world title opportunity. He was paid step-aside money in order to allow Zhong to compete for the title last November, and now he hopes to be the man to take the belt away from him.
He is very physically strong and has drawn some past comparisons to Filipino icon Manny Pacquiao. But to get anywhere near that level, he'll need to cash in on this opportunity.
Xiong Zhao Zhong has two main strengths that he will bring to the fight. He is very quick and has tremendous stamina. He is able to fight at a fast pace for the full 12 rounds without ever slowing down, and his pace can give many fighters trouble.
Zhong has decent punching power. He was able to drop Daisuke Naito in his first world title challenge despite a loss and can hurt you if he lands clean.
Denver Cuello might just be more hungry than the champion. He has been waiting a long time for his world title shot and knows another one might not be in the offing should he lose. He is extremely aggressive and has the type of power to make any opponent uncomfortable.
He is a pressure fighter who loves to attack to the body and throw absolutely devastating uppercuts. That probably explains why not many people have been lining up to fight him.
Xiong Zhao Zhong is one of the most frequently criticized world champions on the planet with many observers arguing that his world championship is more about marketing than in-ring accomplishments.
Zhong's world title victory last November is filled with interesting innuendos, including that he wasn't even ranked by the WBC when he challenged for the title, Cuello was paid step-aside money to get him the fight and his opponent was nothing more than a journeyman fighter of no consequence.
His is a very limited technical fighter and gets hit a ton. Not exactly a recipe for success against a power-punching, aggressive opponent.
Denver Cuello is sometimes described as a bit crude. He likes to attack and fights in a highly aggressive manner, but that leaves him open to counters.
The big question for him will be whether or not he'll have the stamina to go the full 12 in the event he struggles to get to Zhong early.
For Zhong, this fight is as much about proving his legitimacy as a world champion as anything else. In many quarters, there is a perception that he lucked into a championship that he didn't really deserve and will be exposed by higher-quality opponents.
First and foremost, he's going to need to get Cuello's respect. The Filipino is known for his all-out aggressive style, and if he doesn't see a reason to back off, he won't. That would be the worst possible scenario for Zhong.
Zhong will need to land something early that gives Cuello pause and makes him a little reluctant to get inside. Boxing will be key here, as will defense. If Zhong can do all of those things—a huge if—he has a chance to win the fight.
Cuello will win this fight if he's able to get inside and neutralize Zhong's speed. He's a strong, highly aggressive fighter who relies on his ability to pressure his opponents and break them down.
Cuello's clearest path to victory will to be get inside early and attack Zhong to the body. That should set him up to connect upstairs with his power shots and see if his opponent has the whiskers to take them. Zhong is not known as a very technically sound fighter, and his defense is often lacking, so if Cuello is able to land his shots, he has an excellent chance of winning the fight.
Zhong is a great story, and becoming the first world champion from a nation as populous as China is a tremendous accomplishment. But the story ends here.
Cuello is just on a different plane. He's hungry, determined and simply the better fighter. Expect his aggression to get to Zhong early in the fight and begin to wear him down by the middle rounds. Zhong doesn't have the defense, or the firepower, to keep Cuello at bay and will lose this fight by mid-round knockout.
Denver Cuello KO 6 Xiong Zhao Zhong