The Ukrainian Dream Team hits Maryland

Photo credit: John Locher/Associated Press

Photo credit: John Locher/Associated Press

 

Last week, at a media luncheon hosted by K2 Promotions at the Palm Restaurant in downtown Los Angeles, influential manager Egis Klimas proclaimed the trio of Vasyl Lomachenko, Oleksandr Usyk and Oleksandr Gvozdyk the “Ukrainian Dream Team.” These three just happen to be the focus of the upcoming HBO telecast this Saturday night from Oxon Hill, Maryland as the Theater at MGM National Harbor opens its doors for its inaugural boxing card.

 

You might accuse Klimas – best known for managing former light heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev – of hyperbole or bias but it’s hard to deny the credentials of these three.

 

Lomachenko, who is just eight fights into his career, 7-1 (5), has been described by his promoter Bob Arum, of Top Rank Promotions as the best boxer since Muhammad Ali (now THAT is hyperbole), but, it’s clear that, early on, his prodigious amateur skills have now translated to a certain type of artistry as a professional. This isn’t just an Eastern European version of Guillermo Rigondeaux – who, like Lomachenko, had an incredible run in the unpaid ranks and captured two gold medals – but he has been able to actually entertain as a professional and is now beginning to see some commercial success. This card in Maryland is being held in a relatively small venue, which holds right around 3,000 patrons and has been sold-out for a full month. There is clear evidence that Lomachenko is building a bit of a fan-base and, at the very least, there is an appreciation of his tools that has always eluded Guillermo Rigondeaux.

 

Some will ask what the difference is between the two and it is a fair question. The possible answer would be the color of their skin but it would be a lazy premise, given Rigondeaux has never fully understood that fighting as a pro is different than boxing as an amateur. It’s not just enough to win and advance to win a medal or trophy but you have to perform with a certain flair and be entertaining. Rigondeaux has never fully grasped that concept and has doggedly believed that just winning was enough. On the flipside, Lomachenko has understood capitalism much better and has Klimas to tell him the cold, hard truth: As a foreign fighter, it’s not just enough to get your hands raised in victory – you must also do it in style.

 

Sorry, Vince Lombardi but, in boxing, winning isn’t the only thing.

 

Klimas has always been a manager who believes that scoring knockouts and being involved in exciting fights is the key to boxers who come from exotic locales to ply their trade in the States. Arum, the ultimate boxing businessman, once promoted both gifted southpaws but, long ago, stopped working with Rigondeaux, believing he was simply impossible to promote. Perhaps he was too good for his own good but he was also intractable with his demands and unwilling to realize that a key component of professional prizefighting was about putting butts in seats.

 

Lomachenko is a fighter who has been ambitious from the start. He demanded that Prospective promoters land him a title shot in his pro debut. Arum was able to get his services by compromising and getting him to agree to a championship opportunity in his second start (which turned out to be the very tainted affair versus Orlando Salido for the WBO featherweight title). Thus far Lomachenko has won titles at 126 and 130 and his manager says the goal is to win a title at lightweight by his 10th bout. He seems to have fully grasped how to fight as a pro, striking a delicate balance between boxing and yet still taking enough chances to satisfy the paying customers. Lomachenko is also now learning English, something Rigondeaux has never expressed interest in doing.

 

In Jason Sosa, 20-1-4 (15), he’s facing an honest pro, who has been able to craft a career with his willingness to listen to old pros, like his promoter J Russell Peltz, and consistently getting to work. In 2015, he performed six times – which, by today’s standards, makes him Archie Moore – and his work culminated with a majority draw against then-highly-regarded Nicholas Walters. Truth be told, most believed “Axe Man” should’ve gotten his hands raised that night but Sosa came out of this fight with a heightened confidence. Last summer, Sosa pulled the upset and stopped Javier Fortuna in the late rounds in China to capture a version of the WBA super featherweight title and defended it versus Stephen (not “A.”) Smith in Monaco this past November. Sosa isn’t the spectacular, God-gifted talented Lomachenko-type but he is solid.

 

More than that, he’s willing to face one of the most highly-regarded boxers in the sport. Expect him to give his usual honest effort but also expect Lomachenko to put on another display, as he looks for bigger and better things in his future.

 

Also on this bill is Usyk, 11-0 (10), who won the WBO cruiserweight crown, in just his 10th pro fight, by topping Krzysztof Glowacki over 12 rounds in Poland. He made his American and HBO debut against the crafty South African Thabiso Mchunu, a rather awkward dance partner, at the Forum in Inglewood, California, on Dec. 17. The fans didn’t have much patience on this evening, as boo-birds were out in the first minute of the proceedings. He didn’t make the splash that was expected but he eventually wore Mchunu down in nine frames. This time around against Michael Hunter, 12-0 (8), a 2012 U.S. Olympian, Usyk figures to have a more conventional dance partner against whom to display his skills.

 

Usyk, who fights out of the southpaw stance like his Ukrainian cohort, is also a 2012 Olympic gold medalist and is rated as the top cruiserweight by a multitude of publications.

 

Kicking off this broadcast is a solid light heavyweight scrap between Gvozdyk, 12-0 (10), and the always-game and gritty Yunieski Gonzalez, 18-2 (14). “The Nail” was last seen scoring a stoppage victory over Isaac Chilemba on the Andre Ward-Sergey Kovalev undercard in Las Vegas. This 29-year-old also comes in with a notable amateur pedigree, having captured a bronze medal in the 2012 Summer Games in Great Britain.

 

It’s being reported that the winner of this bout will then be matched with Joe Smith Jr. in a WBC title elimination bout ( currently Gvozdyk is ranked fourth, while Smith is third) but the one thing that Gonzalez has proven is, in his two losses (a disputed one to Jean Pascal and then to Vyacheslav Shabranskyy), he is anything but an easy out. This is probably the best pure match-up for this broadcast.

 

So, yes, the Ukrainians are coming; the Ukrainians are coming…

 

 

COTTO/HBO

 

I saw this tweet on Saturday afternoon, which spoke about the immediate plans of Miguel Cotto (who has not fought since losing to Saul Alvarez in November of 2015

 

 

Now, I’ve heard about the June 24 date (which is why Golden Boy Promotions hadn’t officially announced a date for the WBC 130-pound title tilt between Miguel Berchelt and Takashi Miura) but I’m told Brandon Rios still has other plans – a certain grudge match with a guy who, like him, hails from Garden City, Kansas – and, while nobody out here knows who Yuki Nonaka is, word is Yoshihiro Kamegai is/was in the running to land this assignment to face the Puerto Rican star.

 

Well, at least people out here know Kamegai.

 

 

ESPN2

 

Antonio Orozco came up big in stopping KeAndre Gibson in four rounds at the Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas, for the second edition of “Golden Boy Boxing on ESPN.” A lot had been made of Orozco – who was hospitalized with dehydration back in December, as he couldn’t even make the weigh-in for his scheduled bout with Fidel Maldonado – going back down to 140 but what was overlooked is Gibson himself hadn’t fought as a junior welterweight in his last seven bouts (weighing in at 146.25, 149 and 151 pounds in his last three outings). The last time he came in at 140 was in March of 2014.

 

From the very beginning, Gibson didn’t seem to have much in his legs and his punches lacked snap and vigor. But to Orozco’s credit, he took advantage of all this by closing the gap early and digging to the body as he got inside. A right hand to Gibson’s temple of sent him to the floor and the fight was stopped shortly afterward. It’s the best performance ‘Relentless’ has had in awhile and now he could be paired with Amir Imam in a WBC title eliminator.

 

It’s clear that Orozco has re-established himself as a junior welterweight contender, while Gibson needs to re-establish himself as a welterweight.

 

 

FINAL FLURRIES

 

WBC President Mauricio Sulaiman has confirmed that Roman Gonzalez has asked for an immediate rematch against Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, who took his 115-pound title in controversial fashion on March 18 at the Garden…Sulaiman said, via email, “We are in the process of the Board of Governors voting and will have a resolution within the following days.”…Speaking of Fidel Maldonado Jr. , he won an eight-round decision against Mohamed Rodriguez on Saturday night in his hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico…Joet Gonzalez and Emilio Sanchez showed good form  in winning this past weekend in Las Vegas…Mercito Gesta returned by decisioning the tough Gilberto Gonzalez over 10…I highly recommend “Disgraced” on Showtime, which looks back at the Dave Bliss attempted cover-up of one of his players at Baylor…I can’t wait for Showtime to do “Disgraced Again” on Art Briles and the Baylor football program…Yes, I will be going to the Lomachenko card in Maryland this week…I can be reached at k9kim@yahoo.com and I tweet (a lot) at twitter.com/steveucnlive. I also share photos of stuff at instagram.com/steveucnlive and can also be found at tsu.co/steveucnlive.

 

 

 

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