RIZAL, Philippines – WBC strawweight titleholder Xiong Zhao Zhong will make his long-awaited mandatory title defense against No. 1 contender Denver Cuello on June 28 in the United Arab Emirates city of Dubai, said Cuello’s manager, Aljoe Jaro. Jaro tells RingTV.com that the contracts are signed but the official venue has yet to be decided upon. The fight is believed to be the first world title bout ever in the Middle Eastern city.
Cuello (33-4-6, 21 knockouts) of Cabatuan, Philippines, has been on the sidelines waiting for his title opportunity since knocking out Mexican Ganigan Lopez last May in a final elimination bout. Cuello then became the mandatory challenger for Japan’s Kazuto Ioka, who held the title at the time. Instead, Ioka faced countryman Akira Yaegashi in a unification bout in June before moving up to 108 pounds and vacating.
Instead of placing Cuello in against the next available contender to fill the vacancy, WBC president Jose Sulaiman requested that Cuello step aside to allow Xiong (20-4-1, 11 KOs), who was rated by the WBC at 108 pounds but not at 105, fight Mexican journeyman Javier Martinez Resendiz last November in China.
Cuello agreed to step aside for a fee of $25,000, while Xiong defeated Martinez by unanimous decision to become China’s first professional world titleholder.
There had been talks of Xiong making a voluntary defense against an unknown Panamanian named Carlos Ortega, who held a mediocre record of 8-2 (4 KOs), before Jaro forced the mandatory fight by allegedly threatening to sue the WBC.
“It has been a long time waiting for this opportunity but now the opportunity is already here,” said Cuello, who is rated No. 1 by THE RING at strawweight. “I will try my very best to get the title to join the ranks of Philippine world champion boxers.”
Xiong’s manager, Liu Gang, did not return an email from THE RING requesting comment, but WBC president Jose Sulaiman confirmed several weeks ago that the two sides had been negotiating for that date.
Cuello, 26, has lost just once in his last 29 bouts, with the sole defeat being a controversial disqualification in Mexico after he struck Juan Hernandez when he was on the canvas following a third-round knockdown in a 2010 WBC elimination bout. Cuello was originally named the winner but the verdict was reversed a half hour later.
Xiong, 30, has won two straight since losing an eight-round decision to Shin Ono last April in Japan.
Cuello has begun light training at Jaro Boxing Gym in the Philippines as he works to reduce from his normal walk-around weight of 120 pounds to 112, at which point he will begin sparring early next month.
When asked what he’d do with his purse money from the title fight, Cuello said he’d fulfill his dream of buying his own car to avoid the nightmarish scenario that played out last year when he forgot his WBC silver title in a taxi cab. The belt was returned to him. Cuello said he plans to buy a Honda Civic.
Cuello, who was at ringside when Xiong won the title, says he has respect for Xiong for winning the title, but is expecting to walk out of Dubai with the belt.
“He’s a good fighter because right now Xiong is a champion,” said Cuello. “But comparing Xiong against Hernandez and the many Mexican boxers I’ve faced, the ability of Xiong is not the same of my opponents before. It’s different. I will try my very best to get the titles from Xiong because that title is not for him. That title belongs to me.”
Photos: Ryan Songalia
Ryan Songalia is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) and contributes to The Ring magazine and GMA News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. An archive of his work can be found at www.ryansongalia.com. Follow him on Twitter: @RyanSongalia.