Opening Bell: Light heavyweight landscape
PHILADELPHIA — Light heavyweight champion Oleksandr Gvozdyk made it clear after he retained the legit world title for the first time — besides just owning a sanctioning organization belt, he’s the lineal champion — that what he wants next is the opportunity to fight for other belts.
“My goal is to unify titles,” he said after defeating Doudou Ngumbu on Saturday night at the 2300 Arena.
Gvozdyk was having what looked like an easy night when Ngumbu suddenly injured his right calf in the fifth round and was unable to continue, giving Gvozdyk, who had won the first four rounds on two scorecards and three rounds on the third card, an unusual stoppage victory.
That he won the fight, however, came as no surprise given the long odds that faced Ngumbu (38-9, 14 KOs), 37, a journeyman from Congo who lives in France.
Ngumbu had lost to all of the best opponents he had previously faced, and Gvozdyk was the best of all of them. So Gvozdyk got his ‘gimme’ first defense, with which nobody should take issue considering that when he won the title from Adonis Stevenson by 11th-round knockout on Dec. 1, Stevenson suffered a severe brain injury, spent weeks in a coma and nearly died.
Easing Gvozdyk (17-0, 14 KOs), 31, a 2012 Ukrainian Olympian who fights out of Oxnard, California, back into things after that delicate situation was the appropriate move for promoter Top Rank and manager Egis Klimas.
But now “The Nail” wants a bigger fight, and the great thing for him and boxing fans is that even in a time of a fractured boxing business that more or less consists of three leagues that only do fights together from time to time — Top Rank/ESPN, Premier Boxing Champions/Showtime/Fox and Golden Boy/Matchroom Boxing/DAZN — Top Rank happens to work with most of the top light heavyweights who would provide Gvozdyk and the sport the biggest fights in the light heavyweight division.
Here’s my view on the prospect of potential foes for Gvozdyk:
Artur Beterbiev (13-0, 13 KOs): Beterbiev is scheduled to defend his belt against Radivoje “Hot Rod” Kalajdzic (24-1, 17 KOs) on May 4 (ESPN) in Stockton, California. Beterbiev is a huge puncher and the clear favorite but Kalajdzic is a legit, live underdog. The winner, especially if it’s Beterbiev, probably will get to face Gvozdyk before the end of the year in a unification fight, based on what Top Rank executives have said.
Sergey Kovalev (33-3-1, 28 KOs): Kovalev is the biggest name in the division and regained a title from Eleider “Storm” Alvarez in their Feb. 2 rematch. Kovalev’s next fight is supposed to be a mandatory defense against Anthony Yarde, which is in talks. Kovalev would be a big favorite against Yarde, and if he wins, it could set up a fight with Gvozdyk at the end of the year. One caveat: Klimas manages both of them, and though he has specifically said he would not stand in the way of the fight if both wanted it, he and Top Rank are not actively pushing for it, either. I tend to doubt it happens any time soon.
Alvarez (24-1, 12 KOs): He knocked out Kovalev to win a title in August and then lost a decision to him in the immediate rematch in February, but he is still one of the top fighters in the division. Figure he comes back to shake off the loss and then, short of a unification fight, he could be the most interesting option for Gvozdyk.
Gilberto “Zurdo” Ramirez (39-0, 25 KOs): Ramirez has a super middleweight world title but is moving up to light heavyweight for a fight with heavy underdog Tommy Karpency on April 12. Assuming Ramirez wins that fight, Top Rank has said it would look to get Ramirez a light heavyweight title shot, and he could get Gvozdyk in what would be a fascinating fight.
Dmitry Bivol (16-0, 11 KOs): Bivol did his last title defense with Matchroom Boxing and DAZN, a one-sided decision over Joe Smith Jr. on March 9. But multiple sources have told ESPN Bivol has no contractual obligations to either organization going forward, so could his team do a deal with Top Rank/ESPN? Well, before Bivol’s last fight, there were negotiations with Top Rank for a deal that did not come to fruition, but neither side closed the door for good. Also, Bivol has worked with Main Events promoter Kathy Duva on a fight-by-fight basis and there is loyalty there. Now that Duva, Kovalev’s longtime promoter, co-promotes him with Top Rank, perhaps that could grease the wheels. OK, this is a long shot, but who knows?
Performance of the weekend: Ryan Garcia
Lightweight Ryan Garcia is already a serious presence on social media with a stunning 2.4 million followers on Instagram before he’s ever had a major fight.
Ideally, his in-ring abilities will catch up to his star power, and he could be on his way after an impressive second-round demolition of “Wonder Boy” Jose Lopez on Saturday in Indio, California, where Garcia helped sell out the roughly 2,500-seat arena at the Fantasy Springs Resort Casino.
In his second fight since linking up with trainer Eddy Reynoso and joining his camp that includes Reynoso’s star pupil, unified middleweight world champion Canelo Alvarez, Garcia (18-0, 15 KOs), 20, of Victorville, California, shined. He had no trouble with onetime prospect Lopez (20-4-1, 14 KOs), 25, of Puerto Rico, hurting him in the opening round and then chopping him down to the canvas late in the second round with a series of powerful shots. After the round, Lopez’s corner threw in the towel.
It was an aggressive yet poised performance from Garcia, who dedicated the fight to his newborn daughter.
Alvarez came to the fight to support his new protégé and liked what he saw.
“He’s learning a lot and I’m very impressed because he’s the kind of fighter who does what he does in the gym, in the ring, and he did that (against Lopez),” Alvarez said. “I think he’s the best prospect today.”
The next step: Garcia, the 2017 ESPN prospect of the year, said in the ring after the fight that he hopes to return on May 4 to fight on the Alvarez-Daniel Jacobs undercard at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. Before the fight, Golden Boy Promotions said that was likely, as long as Garcia won and didn’t get injured. He won and didn’t get injured so that is the likely next spot to see Garcia, who also fought on Alvarez’s undercard in December.
Disappointment of the weekend: Egidijus Kavaliauskas
Welterweight contender “Mean Machine” Egidijus Kavaliauskas is the mandatory challenger for world titlist Terence Crawford and went into his co-feature on the Gvozdyk-Ngumbu card hoping to make the statement that, “Yes, I deserve the shot and you should want to watch me fight Crawford.”
Kavaliauskas (21-0-1, 17 KOs), 30, failed to deliver on both fronts in a snoozer of a fight with Philadelphia hometown fighter Ray Robinson (24-3-1, 12 KOs), 33, that wound up a majority draw with two judges scoring it 95-95 and one giving it to Robinson 97-93. The prevailing public/media opinion was that Kavaliauskas clearly deserved the nod — I had it 98-92 in his favor — but it was such a bad fight and such a pedestrian performance from Kavaliauskas that nobody quite seemed to have the energy to get up in arms about the decision.
Even for those who thought Kavaliauskas, a two-time Olympian from Lithuania, won handily, he did nothing to create demand for a fight with Crawford (who fights Amir Khan on April 20), and even less to make anyone think that even if he gets a fight with Crawford, he has a legit chance to win.
Fights you might have missed
Saturday at Indio, Calif.
Junior flyweight Angel Acosta (20-1, 20 KOs) KO8 Ganigan Lopez (35-9, 19 KOs), retains a world title.
Acosta, 28, of Puerto Rico, retained his 108-pound title for the second time as he battered former titlist Lopez, 37, a southpaw from Mexico. Acosta is one of boxing’s biggest punchers, pound-for-pound, and also a crowd-pleaser. He didn’t stray from that style against Lopez, who tried to stay on the move to avoid big punches. But Acosta eventually tracked him down, blasted him with a left hook and continued to bang away as Lopez hung on for dear life and eventually went down to all fours. He was done and was counted out by referee Raul Caiz Jr. at 1 minute, 55 seconds.
Welterweight Antonio Orozco (28-1, 17 KOs) W10 Jose Rodriguez (25-13-1, 13 KOs), scores: 99-91, 97-93 (twice).
Orozco, 31, of San Diego, is a longtime junior welterweight contender who has often struggled making weight. He fought at 142 pounds (slightly over the 140-pound division limit) in his first bout since September, when he got dropped twice, cut and took a beating in a one-sided-but-action-packed decision loss to junior welterweight world titlist Jose Ramirez. Orozco, in his first fight being trained by Hall of Famer Freddie Roach, was matched softly with journeyman Rodriguez, 32, of Mexico, and cruised to the decision.
Saturday at Liverpool, England
Junior middleweight Liam Smith (27-2-1, 15 KOs) TKO5 Sam Eggington (24-6, 15 KOs).
Former junior middleweight world titlist Smith, 30, fought in his hometown in his first bout since losing a decision in a spirited effort challenging Jaime Munguia for his world title in July. Smith had no problems with Eggington, 25, of England, who is best known for stopping former two-division titleholder Paulie Malignaggi and sending him into retirement in 2017. Smith won despite saying after the bout that he had come into the fight with various injuries, including a bum right hand. Still, Smith, the older brother of super middleweight titlist Callum Smith, handled Eggington easily, badly swelling his right eye and pounding him until referee Robert Williams stopped it at 2 minutes of the fifth round.
Friday at Trujillo Alto, Puerto Rico
Lightweight Roman “Rocky” Martinez (30-3-3, 18 KOs) KO8 William Gonzalez (30-11, 26 KOs).
Former three-time junior lightweight world titlist Martinez had not boxed since losing his belt to Vasyl Lomachenko by brutal fifth-round knockout in June 2016. Martinez made his return by moving up to lightweight and had a hard fight with Gonzalez, whom he eventually dropped with a combination in the eighth round, prompting the referee to wave it off at 1 minute, 3 seconds. Gonzalez, 38, of Nicaragua, lost his fifth fight in a row.