Photos: Ed Mulholland
By Kieran Mulvaney
OXON HILL, Md. - On Friday afternoon, Vasyl Lomachenko offered the hope that Jason Sosa would charge toward him and fight aggressively on Saturday night. “If he does, it will make things more simple for me,” said the peerless Ukrainian, imagining a scenario in which his American opponent would simply plow forward and be eaten up by a fusillade of counter punches. In the event, Sosa did not fight with the face-first aggression that Lomachenko claimed to seek. He showed plenty of heart and determination, and had his corner not pulled him from the contest, he would surely have continued tilting at pugilistic windmills until the very end. But he barely took a step forward throughout the nine one-sided rounds that unfolded in front of a heavily pro-Lomachenko crowd of 2,828 at the new MGM National Harbor; Lomachenko simply wouldn’t let him.
From the very start, Lomachenko (8-1, 5 KOs) was the one advancing, stalking toward Sosa, putting his opponent on the back foot, feinting a move to the right and then the left, testing Sosa’s reactions and filing the information away for imminent use. In the early rounds, Sosa (20-2-4, 15 KOs) looked confident if not entirely comfortable, but rapidly saw for himself the skills and speed that had caused even as accomplished and impressive an opponent as Nicholas Walters to quit in Lomachenko’s last outing. Attempting to combat the Ukrainian is like trying to catch a ghost, as he darts in and out and shifts weight and position effortlessly, controlling the distance and varying it from instant to instant while never leaving himself off balance or out of position.
The elite boxers are able to launch a combination, shift position, fire off another combination, and move again – all, ideally, while avoiding incoming artillery. Lomachenko glides effortlessly from one point to the next in the middle of a combination, and yet so supreme is his balance and poise that he is in perfect position at the beginning, the end and even the middle of his movement. And as the minutes and then the rounds tick by, he dials in his punches with ever greater accuracy and authority, a flurry of tip-taps to the head suddenly giving away to a digging southpaw left to the body and then a hard left to the head. So it was against Sosa, who stood valiantly and defiantly, doing what he could to launch and land punches, even as Lomachenko steered him into punches of his own. One moment Lomachenko was there, one moment he wasn’t, and in either case Sosa’s brave efforts to hit him were almost entirely in vain.
By the end, Sosa had landed just 68 punches of 286 thrown. In contrast, Lomachenko had scored with 204 of 351 power punches – fully 58 percent – and 275 of 696 total blows. As his dominance became all-encompassing, he mocked Sosa by miming the yielding of a matador’s cape, or by doubling over in mock sympathy after landing a left to the body that had Sosa gasping for air. In the eighth, a pair of ripping body shots brought Sosa to a standstill and prompted Lomachenko to unleash an onslaught that, at the end of the round, caused Sosa’s trainer Raul Rivas to warn him that he had one more round to avoid his pulling the plug. Sosa vowed to knock Lomachenko out, but despite his best efforts, it was he who has taking the unanswered blows at round’s end, after which Rivas followed through on his promise.
“I came into the ring to do my job, and I think everyone saw what they wanted to,” said Lomachenko afterward. Having already departed the featherweight division in search of a challenge, the junior lightweight said that he would “go home, get some sleep and then put out offers to the other champions at 130 pounds.” If they didn’t respond, then he would seek out new challenges at lightweight. Wherever he goes, and in whatever weight division he boxes, it is hard to see many if any being even remotely competitive. Lomachenko is just that good.
In a sensational performance that definitively announced his arrival as a major player in the light-heavyweight division, Oleksandr Gvozdyk (13-0, 11 KOs) annihilated Yunieski Gonzalez, dropping him twice in the third round until the Cuban’s corner stepped in to halt the bout at 2:55 of the frame.
Gonzalez (18-3, 14 KOs) was never in the contest, unable to cope with Gvozdyk’s blisteringly fast combinations or catch up with the Ukrainian’s swift footwork. The more the slugger sought to close the distance, the more he walked into Gvozdyk’s buzzsaw, and a rapidfire combination bloodied Gonzalez’s nose and dropped him to one knee in the third. Gonzalez continued to try to press forward, but he was merely walking into punches and barely able to throw any back. The end was clearly in sight and it came when another short right dropped Gonzalez face-first. It was to the Cuban’s immense credit that he protested when his corner stepped onto the ring apron and caught the attention of referee Harvey Dock, but the stoppage was merciful and wise. Gonzalez had lost twice before, but once – against Jean Pascal – he was widely considered to have been robbed, and a subsequent loss to Vyacheslav Shabransky was a majority decision. Nobody had come close to dominating him, but Gvozdyk did so with ease, and a world title shot must now be just around the corner.
In the opening bout, cruiserweight Michael Hunter survived a furious twelfth round shellacking from Aleksandr Usyk, making it to the final bell even as referee Bill Clancy looked carefully and contemplated stepping in and calling a halt to the contest. As a result, he became only the second professional opponent to extend Usyk the full distance, even as he became the Ukrainian’s 12th victim and suffered his own first pro defeat.
Hunter (12-1, 8 KOs) started brightly, moving constantly from left to right and back again and peppering Usyk with fast combinations that landed effectively to body and head. But Usyk is a self-described slow starter, who prefers to spend a few rounds analyzing his foe before determining what adjustments need to be made, and that’s what he did against the man from Las Vegas. After falling behind through the first three rounds, Usyk (12-0, 10 KOs) began digging to his opponent’s body and deploying his southpaw right hook to limit Hunter’s movement.
The American’s hands continued to work overtime, but his feet became progressively more leaden, allowing Usyk to land with increasing effectiveness. A series of digging left hands to the body knocked much of the remaining fight out of Hunter in the tenth, but the son of former heavyweight contender Mike “The Bounty” Hunter refused to yield, even when a thudding left hand prompted the two-minute onslaught to close the bout, punctuated only when Clancy ruled that only the ropes had saved Hunter from a knockdown and administered a count. At the end, the result was a formality, all three ringside judges seeing Usyk as the winner by a score of 117-110.