Ukraine’s Lomachenko knocks out Martinez for WBO title
NEW YORK — Vasyl Lomachenko turned a Puerto Rican celebration into a Ukrainian holiday with a brutal knockout of Rocky Martinez to take the WBO junior lightweight title Saturday night.
On the eve of Puerto Rico Day, two-time Olympic gold medalist Lomachenko was dominant. Scoring with vicious left-handed leads, he connected on four straight, including a precise uppercut in the fifth round. Lomachenko followed that with a stunning right that flattened Martinez, who remained on the canvas for several moments.
“I came to do my job, I did my job very well tonight,” Lomachenko said before dedicating the win to “the greatest man who ever laced up gloves, Muhammad Ali.”
Lomachenko, 129 pounds, didn’t exactly ruin the evening for the heavily Puerto Rican crowd that saw Felix Verdejo also score a fifth-round knockout earlier. But he sure gave his loud if outnumbered countrymen in the crowd of 4,545 at the Theater at Madison Square Garden a thrill in improving to 6-1 as a pro with four knockouts.
He even did a back flip to punctuate the rout.
“I think anybody who follows boxing would see this performance and realize they have seen the birth of a superstar,” promoter Bob Arum said.
Lomachenko won Olympic gold in 2008 and 2012 — he has tattoos honoring those victories on each bicep — and beat Gary Russell two years ago for the WBO featherweight crown. At 28, he is a rising star in Top Rank’s stable, and HBO was eager to showcase him Saturday night.
The three-time world amateur champion is 28 and has come to the professional party late, but he’s making the most of it.
Martinez, 33, fell to 29-3-2. He has held the WBO belt twice.
“I couldn’t see his hands,” Martinez said.
Verdejo celebrated Puerto Rico Day a few hours early with a brutal beating of Juan Jose Martinez.
The 23-year-old Verdejo came off two lackluster victories, albeit unanimous decisions. He admitted heading into the bout he needs to impress at the Garden to set up some lucrative lightweight fights.
Did he ever, stopping Martinez 2:40 into the fifth round.
In what has become a tradition for Puerto Rican fighters started by such champions as Felix Trinidad and Miguel Cotto, Verdejo dominated his Mexican opponent with sharp rights and precise jabs. No punch was sharper or more damaging than a massive right late in the fifth round.
The unbeaten Verdejo then set upon Martinez against the ropes and pummeled him until referee Michael Ortega stopped it.
Verdejo now is 22-0 with 15 knockouts and has become the Caribbean island’s hottest prospect. This was one of his most impressive victories, perhaps helped by Martinez’s style that made him an easy target.
“He was tailor made for me, he stood in front of me, right there. It was my kind of fight,” Verdejo said.
Verdejo, 134 pounds, opened a cut under Martinez’s right eye in the third round as the heavily Puerto Rican crowd of 4,545 in the Theater at Madison Square Garden cheered lustily.
They cheered even louder at the end, then Verdejo grabbed a Puerto Rico flag and waved it in the ring.
Why was Verdejo so good this time?
“I trained a lot harder and I have adjusted to the pressure I felt in previous fights,” he said. “I lost my focus in those fights, and I had to work much harder in this fight to regain it.”
Martinez, 133 pounds, fell to 25-3.
Chinese star Zou Shiming had no trouble with his teenage opponent, outclassing Jozsef Atjai of Hungary to set up some bigger flyweight fights.
The two-time Olympic gold medalist and three-time world champion was in such control through the 10 rounds that he was smirking and sticking out his chin at his opponent in the later stages. One of China’s most popular athletes — an audience of perhaps 20 million was expected to watch the fight on TV there — the 35-year-old Zou was making his U.S. debut.
He beat Atjai 100-89 on all three cards to improve his record to 8-1 as a pro. That includes a loss in his only world title attempt, to Annat Ruenroeng for the IBF flyweight crown in March 2015.
Atjai (15-3) didn’t look like a man in his fourth fight this year. He had plenty of energy, but applied it to running, not boxing.
“My competitor’s objective was to stand to the last minute of the fight,” Zou said. “He was afraid of the competition.”