Ukrainian triple threat: Lomachenko, Usyk, Gvozdyk on HBO Boxing, Saturday 10 pm

Observers joke that Vasyl Lomachenko looks like he’s in The Matrix. It’s no joke to his challengers.

Vasyl Lomachenko has the acrobatic skills of a Cirque du Soleil performer, tossing a backflip when he wins a fight. It's helped him become of the top talents in boxing. Photo: Ed Mulholland, HBO Boxing

SAN DIEGO, April 7, 2017 – Junior lightweight Vasyl “Hi-Tech” Lomachenko from Ukraine isn’t just a good boxer. He’s so dominant he makes good fighters look average. In his most recent victory over power puncher Nicholas Walters of Jamaica last November, Walters quit after seven rounds rather than let fans watch the beatdown continue. It was predicted to be a 50-50 fight.

Get a good look at one of the top pound-for-pound boxrers in the world, super featherweight Vasyl Lomachenko. He doesn’t stay still too long. Photo: Mikey Williams, Top Rank Boxin

Footwork? Lomachenko could win “Dancing With The Stars.” Speed? Right there with Manny Pacquiao. Defense? He could teach Floyd Mayweather a thing or two. Armed with these tools, he picks an opponent apart while moving so swiftly around them, they can’t ever find the target. Observers joke that Lomachenko looks like he’s in The Matrix. It’s no joke to his challengers.

Give Jason Sosa (20-1-4 15 KOs) of New Jersey credit for facing Lomachenko this Satuday, April 8, in what is already a sold-out Theater at MGM National Harbor, a brand-new venue in the greater Washington D.C. area (Oxon Hill, Maryland). Lomachenko and Sosa are featured in a 12-round main event of a tripleheader.

Members of the "Ukrainian Dream Team" appearing on HBO Boxing Saturday (Left to Right) Oleksandr Gvozdyk, Aleksandr Usyk, Vasyl Lomachenko, Jason Sosa, and Yunieski Gonzalez. Photo: Mikey Williams, Top Rank Boxing
Members of the “Ukrainian Dream Team” appearing on HBO Boxing Saturday (Left to Right) Oleksandr Gvozdyk, Aleksandr Usyk, Vasyl Lomachenko, Jason Sosa, and Yunieski Gonzalez. Photo: Mikey Williams, Top Rank Boxing

Joining the undercard are Lomachenko’s Ukrainian stablemates and former 2012 Ukrainian Olympic boxing teammates. Aleksandr Usyk battles Mike Hunter in a 12-round cruiserweight title match-up for the opening bout. The second bout is a 10-round light heavyweight attraction between light heavyweights Oleksandr Gvozdyk and Yuniesky Gonzalez. Among the Ukrainian “Dream Team,” they own four Olympic medals: two gold for Lomachenko, one gold for Usyk and a bronze for Gvozdyk.

The card will air on HBO Boxing starting at 10 p.m. ET/PT.

Vasyl Lomachenko strengthened his case for top pound for pound ranking by dominating previously unbeaten Nicholas Walters in November. Photo: Top Rank Boxing

Lomachenko (7-1, 5 KOs) is considered the greatest amateur boxer of the modern era, and on a short list with Teofilo Stevenson of Cuba as the greater amateur boxer ever. Don’t let Loma’s thin professional record of just eight fights fool you. Unlike many amateurs, he adapted to the professional style immediately. He punches hard and with accuracy. Coupled with his speed and unmatched footwork and movement, he’s exciting to watch and hard to beat. His only loss came to Mexico’s Orlando Salido, a loss fans hope he’ll try to avenge in a rematch soon.

Sosa is riding a 20-fight win streak including a surprising draw with Walters in December 2015 and a knockout over heavily favored Javier Fortuna. Top Rank was smart from a marketing standpoint to make this matchup after the Walters fight. Walters refused to engage, and fans started booing a few rounds into the fight. Sosa has no such problem.

Sosa’s trainer and manager Raul Rivas promised as much. “Styles make fights and I will promise you that Lomachenko will have his toughest fight Saturday. Because this young man [Sosa], he’s relentless, and his heart and determination, and every fight he gets better,: said Rivas at the pre-fight news conference earlier this week.

Rivas also knows his man is the underdog. Make that a 25 to 1 underdog, but who’s counting? “That’s OK. We love to be the underdog. But we definitely want the challenge … No hesitation. Yes, because as a trainer, I see flaws as well. So if my fighter stays mentally focused and we execute a game plan, it’s gonna be a fight that’s very entertaining to the public and the media. I promise you that.”

Rivas believes Sosa’s greatest asset is his mental game. “My favorite fighter is Hagler, of all time,” Rivas said. “Reason being is that his heart and will and determination would break fighters. No disrespect to Lomachenko, I believe that the fighters that he’s been matched [against], other than Gary Russell, have been fighters that Jason Sosa would’ve knocked out maybe in between four to six rounds. That’s including (Orlando) Salido, which he lost to.”

Vasyl Lomachenko (left) made weight with ease Friday; Jason Sosa took two tries but made the 130 pound limit. Photo: Mikey Williams, Top Rank Boxing

If Rivas sees flaws in Lomachenko’s approach, he’ll need to give the rest of us a full schematic drawing. It’s not hard to find video of Lomachenko performing inverted handstand push-ups worthy of any Crossfit champion and juggling and throwing backflips like a Cirque du Soleil performer, then punishing opponents from positions in the ring no one else could find. All you can hope for with Lomachenko is that he makes a grave mistake you can exploit and grab it, because he won’t make it a second time.

“You’re going to be seeing High-Tech style boxing, they’re going to be seeing something new,” promised Lomachenko. “It’s going to be a new motherboard for the Matrix.”

Lomachenko made weight at 129.6. Sosa initially came in at 130.4, then 130.2 on a quick second try. He had two hours to make weight and did so at 130 pounds.

The “Ukrainian Dream Team” in boxing, left to right: Aleksandr Usyk, Vasyl Lomachenko, and Oleksandr Gvozdyk. Photo: Mikey Williams

The two bigger men, Usyk and Gvozdyk, share a culture, language, work ethic and ambition with Lomachenko. They all train at the same Oxnard, California gym, and they are all reveling in the luxury of Southern California’s weather and lifestyle which makes it much easier to get up in the morning and train versus the cold of Kiev.

The three gold medalists keep each other accountable and keep each other company. Lomachenko’s father Anatoly trains his son, and while Usyk trains with Russ Anber who calls him “a trainer’s dream” for his ambition and focus, and Gvozdyk with Marcos Contreras now that Robert Garcia decided to stop commuting from Oxnard to his gym in Riverside on a regular basis, the senior Lomachenko is a significant influence on all of them.

Usyk says he can throw a backflip like his pal Vasyl, but only into a pool. Keep working on that, Alex.

Olksandr Gvozdyk has the toughest assignment Saturday against former Cuban amateur Yunieski Gonzalez. Photo: Mikey Williams, Top Rank Boxing

Gvozdyk (12-0, 10 KOs) has the toughest assignment of the night against the Cuban-born Gonzalez (18-2 14 KOs). The two losses on Gonzalez’s records are both disputed decisions, one to Vyacheslav Shabranskyy and the other to Jean Pascal. Gonzalez has his own impressive amateur background from the Cuban system, with more than 300 fights in his native country. The stakes are higher for Gonzalez, who’s fighting uphill after his tough breaks. Gvozdyk said his job will be to take away Gonzalez’s strengths. He’s only gone past six rounds once; in his last fight, Isaac Chilemba was forced to retire in the eighth round due to a broken hand.

Oleksandr Usyk (right) works to the body of Thabiso Mchunu. Photo: Ed Mulholland, HBO Boxing
Oleksandr Usyk (right) scored a ninth round stoppage in his last fight against Thabiso Mchunu. Photo: Ed Mulholland, HBO Boxing

Usyk (11-0, 10 KOs) appears in his second fight in the U.S. against fellow 2012 Olympian, American Michael Hunter of Las Vegas (12-0, 8 KOs). Cruiserweights are a rare breed in the U.S. Most tend to head straight for the heavyweight division. Hunter is taking a significant step up in competition facing Usyk and can’t begin to match up with the Eastern European amateur experience. He holds a minor North American WBO title, with Usyk’s WBO world title on the line. Whatever the outcome, Hunter deserves respect for taking up the challenge and coming in prepared.

Usyk dominated Poland’s Krystof Glowacki iin Gdansk to win his title in a surprise unanimous decision last September, then stopped Thabiso Mchunu at The Forum in Los Angeles in nine rounds. He got a bit of a slow start, and the impatient action oriented fans at the Forum booed him. Usyk may decide to make more of a statement this time, backflip or no backflip.

Usyk weighed in at 199.4, Hunter at 198 pounds even. Gvozdyk weighed 174.2, and Gonzalez weighed 174.8.

Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, APR, is President/Owner of the Falcon Valley Group in San Diego, California. She is a veteran boxing observer covering the Sweet Science for Communities. Read more Ringside Seat in Communities Digital News. Follow Gayle on Facebook and on Twitter @PRProSanDiego.

Please credit “Gayle Falkenthal for Communities Digital News” when quoting from or linking to this story.

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