Vasyl Lomachenko was the story on Saturday night at the recently-opened MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland.
Lomachenko, who’s at or near the top of most pound-for-pound lists, headlined a tripleheader on HBO that included appearances by Oleksandr Usyk and Oleksandr Gvozdyk.
Lomachenko, Usyk, and Gvozdyk are all from Ukraine and are managed by Egis Klimov, who also manages Sergey Kovalev.
In the first televised fight of the evening, Usyk (11-0, 10 KOs), a 2012 Olympic gold medal winner, faced off against Mike Hunter (12-0, 8 KOs).
Usyk, like Lomachenko, has been fast-tracked as a pro. Last year in his tenth pro outing, he decisioned Kryzsztof Glowacki to claim the WBO cruiserweight crown. Hunter had faced mediocre opposition throughout his career and was coming in off an 11-month layoff.
More significantly, Hunter is an arm-puncher. His “power punches” don’t have power. Against Usyk, he relied entirely on elusiveness to keep Oleksandr at bay. Usyk finally caught up to him in the last round and hurt him badly. But Hunter survived till the closing bell, losing a 117-110, 117-110, 117-110 decision.
In the second televised bout of the evening, Oleksandr Gvozdyk (12-0, 10 KOs) was matched against Yunieski Gonzalez (18-2, 14 KOs), whose previous moment in the sun was a spirited loss by decision against Jean Pascal two years ago.
Gonzalez looked like a shot fighter from the opening bell. His balance was poor and his timing was off. Gvozdyk did what he had to do, outlanding Yunieski by a lopsided 116-to-26 margin before stopping him at 2:55 of the third round.
That set the stage for Lomachenko vs. Jason Sosa.
Lomachenko, age 29, turned pro in 2013 after a decorated amateur career that included gold-medal victories at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics. In his second pro fight, he lost a split decision to Orlando Salido in a WBO 126-pound title bout. In his next outing, he won the same belt by majority decision over Gary Russell Jr. Then he moved up in weight and claimed the WBO 130-pound crown with a five-round demolition of Roman Martinez.
Entering the ring to face Sosa, Lomachenko was on the short list of best 7-and-1 (5 KOs) fighters ever.
Sosa (20-1-4, 15 KOs) had a knockout victory over Javier Fortuna on his resume but was a 20-to-1 underdog.
Lomachenko is a complete fighter. His success is keyed to a mastery of speed, angles, and footwork. But he’s also an aggressive fighter with good power who goes effectively to the head and body and puts hurt on his opponents. The fact that he’s a southpaw makes him even more difficult to beat.
Sosa tried as hard as he could against Lomachenko. But he was outclassed and found himself on the receiving end of a cruel beating, taking 275 punches to land 68. After nine rounds, Sosa’s corner did what referee Kenny Chevalier should have done earlier and stopped the fight.
“I couldn’t really execute anything,” Sosa said afterward. “He’s just a great fighter.”
As for what comes next . . .
Lomachenko-Salido was contested three years ago. Salido is now 36 years old with the wear and tear of sixty professional fights on his body. He’s also winless in his last three outings dating back to 2014. It’s logical that Lomachenko would like to avenge his only loss as a pro. But Lomachenko-Salido is no longer a must-see fight, nor would it be compelling viewing.
We’re in an age when, instead of the best fighting the best, the best too often fight the ordinary. Lomachenko appears to want to fight the best. In a well-run sport, he’d fight Mikey Garcia next.
Boxing is not a well-run sport.
Meanwhile, it’s worth recalling the words of columnist Bart Barry after Lomachenko decisioned Gary Russell Jr in his third professional bout to claim the WBO 126-pound throne: “There’s something tragicomic about a sport in which a man with a record of 24-0 is unprepared for a man with a record of 1-1.”
Lomachenko is a unique talent. But let’s not go overboard in calling a boxer with nine professional fights and a loss to Orlando Salido on his resume an all-time great.
* * *
The dictionary defines “empathy” as “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.”
It’s remarkable how little empathy most boxing fans feel for fighters. We’re happy when our guy wins and disappointed when he loses; emotions that we experience in varying degree depending on how much we cared about a particular fight to begin with. We’re more likely to be drawn into the elation of the winner than the pathos of the loser, perhaps because that’s what the television cameras are inclined to focus on.
As a general rule, television gives sports fans more close-ups of the agony of defeat in the eyes of basketball players sitting on the bench as the clock ticks down that it does of a defeated fighter sitting on his stool after a loss.
So the next time you watch a fight, here’s something to remember. These aren’t wind-up toys or rock ‘em sock ‘em robots. They aren’t computer-game figures on a monitor. These are real live people. A losing fighter hasn’t just lost a sports competition. His career and his earning potential have been damaged. And oftentimes, he has been beaten up.
To repeat: Beaten up. Try it sometime and see how you like it.
So don’t feel sorry for yourself the next time your guy loses. Feel sorry for the fighter.
Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank
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Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. His most recent book – A Hard World: An Inside Look at Another Year in Boxing – was published by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism.