Belarus’s Sergei Liakhovich captured the WBO crown from titleholder Lamon Brewster with a mixture of speed, skill and good old plain heart in Cleveland on Saturday.
“Today is my day,” Liakhovich, 29, said.
The fight was expected to be a showcase for Brewster (33-3, 29 KOs) who had proven that his lethal punching power and rock hard chin could withstand even the obstacles of fighting on foreign turf or against the house fighter and survive.
But not on Saturday.
Before a frenzied crowd at the Wolstein Center, Liakhovich (23-1, 14 KOs) proved his chin equal to Brewster’s and out-shown the former champ with a mixture of speed and guile that led him to victory over 12 rounds despite going down in the seventh.
From the very first round Liakhovich used a right hand to the body that seemed to break down Brewster’s defense early. Occasionally left hooks finished up the job and left the American fighter wondering what was coming next.
Though Liakhovich broke ahead quickly in the contest with the same formula, many expected Brewster to counter the move and use it against the Belarusian. Especially with the canny Buddy McGirt in his corner feeding him advice.
Instead, Liakhovich used his reach to keep Brewster from landing too many shots and often fired lethal left hooks off the chin of the American. But nothing seemed to faze Brewster.
Then, in the sixth, a right to the body seemed to shake Brewster and a follow-up left hook shook even more. Sensing a kill, Liakhovich moved to finish the job and sent multiple killing blows off the Brewster’s skull. But the defending champion refused to go down.
Suddenly, the Belarusian tired and Brewster connected with his own left hook near the end of the round. Liakhovich held on in the best round of the fight.
Brewster entered the seventh round knowing he had stunned his opponent and began belting the body. Liakhovich moved back while firing few in return. Toward the end of the round a right to the head followed by several body blows dropped Liakhovich for the count at the bell. He survived.
The Belarusian’s trainer Kenny Weldon admonished him to refrain from engaging in further toe-to-toe battles.
“You can’t win inside,” Weldon screamed. “He’s too strong.”
Liakhovich must have listened to Weldon because he seldom met Brewster on macho terms. Instead he let his left jab do the hammering from there on.
In the ninth, a left hook-roundhouse right combination staggered Brewster who looked for the ropes to maintain his balance. Liakhovich moved in smartly for the attack but did not waste too many punches as he did in the sixth. From there on, it was apparent it was the Belarusian’s fight to win. And he did.
The judges scored it 115-113, 115-112, 117-110 for Liakhovich. Brewster nodded his head as the verdict was read.
“I trained real hard,” said Liakhovich who was joined by his wife for the announcement. “He’s a great champion.”
Brewster, ever the gentleman, shook his the new champion’s hand and whispered words to him.
“God’s will be done,” said Brewster, who had successfully defended his world title four times after defeating Vladimir Klitshcko in April 2004. “He’s a good fighter. We showed a lot of heart.”
Once again a heavyweight on the verge of capturing the forefront of the fight world was bogged down as Brewster was unable to fend off an inspired Liakhovich who had not fought in 16 months.
Both fighters approved a rematch after the fight.