April 14, 2017

Ukrainians highlight first boxing card at MGM National Harbor

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At the MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Md., on April 8 are the three professional Ukrainian boxers who fought that evening (from left): Oleksandr Usyk, Vasyl Lomachenko and Oleksandr Gvozdyk.


At the MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Md., on April 8 are the three professional Ukrainian boxers who fought that evening (from left): Oleksandr Usyk, Vasyl Lomachenko and Oleksandr Gvozdyk.

It was an unprecedented North American sporting event when the inaugural fight card at MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Md., on April 8 featured three professional Ukrainian boxers – Vasyl Lomachenko, Oleksandr Usyk and Oleksandr Gvozdyk. The main event had WBO super featherweight (junior lightweight) champion Lomachenko against Jason Sosa of the U.S.A., preceded by light heavyweight Oleksandr Gvozdyk versus Yunieski Gonzalez of the U.S.A., and cruiserweight Oleksandr Usyk squaring off against Michael Hunter of the U.S.A.

Countless Ukrainian fans and supporters packed the arena, raucously cheering the names of their countrymen during their respective bouts, switching off to loud chants of “U-kra-yi-na” as a change of cheer. All three Ukrainian pugilists were victorious in their fights – a three-fight Ukrainian sweep.

Lomachenko disposes of Sosa in ninth round

Frustration is an operative word when describing Lomachenko’s pro boxing career. Frustrated in not getting fights against top opponents, Lomachenko releases his frustration against challengers like Sosa. Lomachenko (8-1, 6 KO) dominated his WBO junior lightweight title defense until Sosa’s corner stopped the bout after the ninth round.

In front of a sell-out crowd of 2,828 with a heavy Ukrainian contingent waving blue-and-yellow national flags, Lomachenko battered Sosa, the champion’s third choice for battle. Unable to find willing combatants in his division, Lomachenko may be looking at a move up to 135 pounds (lightweight); the super featherweight division is 126-130 pounds. Sosa was the former WBO featherweight champion (20-2-4, 15 KO).

It was surprising it took until the ninth round for Sosa’s corner to realize they were in a no-win situation. Boxing experts had this pegged all along with Lomachenko’s promoters, Top Rank, hoping for a rematch with Orlando Salido (43-13-4, 30 KO) of Mexico or a unification match with Jezreel Corrales (21-1-1, 8 KO) of Panama. Salido had handed Lomachenko his only defeat in his second pro fight, but only after Salido failed to make the 126-pound weight limit.

Lomachenko used his speed, skill and power to outclass Sosa, who began taking a beating in the opening round. In the fifth, Lomachenko mocked his opponent by pretending to hold out a cape as if he was a matador toying with an angry bull in the ring.

Sosa came into the fight as a 25-1 underdog and it showed. Lomachenko landed 275 punches compared to only 68 for Sosa.

After a tentative opening round, Lomachenko stepped it up by landing a flurry of punches at the end of the second. By the fifth round Sosa was putting more energy into ducking punches than throwing them. Lomachenko was teeing off on Sosa at will, and if there was a mercy rule in boxing it should have been invoked before the seventh round.

The brilliant boxer is above average in defense, technique and ring intelligence, forging what has been a historically quick start to his pro career. He won a featherweight world title in only his third fight, to tie the boxing record for fewest fights needed to win a world title and setting a boxing record by becoming a two-weight titleholder in his seventh bout.

Usyk retains belt with decision over Hunter

Usyk, the WBO cruiserweight champion, took his time to get going, but when he finally did, he took command and punished Hunter, winning with a huge 12th-round unanimous decision, retaining his cruiserweight title for the second time.

All three judges scored the fight 117-110 for Usyk, a crowd favorite among the many Ukrainians present in support of their countryman.

“I’m very happy with my performance,” Usyk said in a post-fight press conference. “I did what I wanted to do. He took a lot of punches. I thought maybe they would stop the fight [in the 12th round]. I’d love to fight any of the titleholders, any time, any place.”

The fight heated up in the third round with a series of heated exchanges. Hunter’s jab caught Usyk several times, and he was successful in avoiding incoming punches. After a low blow warning to Hunter in the fifth round, Usyk stormed back, landing several clean left hands.

Usyk (12-0, 10 KO), who won the title in his 10th fight, a division record for fewest needed to win a world title, continued to hurt Hunter (12-1, 8 KO) in the sixth round, forcing him to the ropes with hard shots. Hunter appeared to be on the verge of being knocked down many times, but managed to somehow stay upright.

The 30-year-old southpaw closed the show impressively with a huge 12th round in which he battered Hunter nearly senseless, but could not get the knockout. He received credit for a knockdown when he drilled Hunter into the ropes, which held him up. Usyk landed 321 of 905 punches (36 percent), while his challenger landed a mere 190 of 794 (24 percent).

Gvozdyk crushes Gonzalez

Light heavyweight contender Gvozdyk (13-0, 11 KO), a 2012 Ukrainian Olympic bronze medalist and good friend to Lomachenko and Usyk, destroyed fringe contender Gonzalez (18-3, 14 KO) in a third-round knockout victory, the second of the Ukrainian three-sweep.

Gvozdyk, 29, was in no hurry until he got rolling in the third round, landing most of his punches at will. One minute into the third he landed a tremendous right hand, dropping Gonzalez. Later in the same round Gonzalez took another clean shot, which left him wobbling and barely standing.

A scant few moments later Gvozdyk landed another right hand to the head that dropped Gonzalez, 31, face-first. His corner threw in the towel just as referee Harvey Dock waved off the fight at 2:55 seconds.

“He was one of the best fighters I ever fought, amateur or professional,” Gvozdyk said in a post-fight press conference. “He was very strong. Once I got him hurt, I just kept throwing punches. I wanted to get him out of there.”

Gvozdyk (No. 6 ranked by the WBO and titleholder for the NABF light heavyweight devision) has rapidly established himself as a top-10 contender after 2016 knockout wins over former world title challengers Nadjib Mohammedi (38-5, 23 KO), Tommy Karpency (27-6-1 16 KO) and Isaac Chilemba (24-5-2, 10 KO). He is now in position to possibly face Joe Smith Jr. (23-1, 19 KO) in a world-title eliminator recently ordered if both camps agree to the fight.

Gvozdyk landed 116 of 250 punches (45 percent) to Gonzalez’s 26 of 165 (16 percent).

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