NEW YORK — Pound-for-pound king Vasiliy Lomachenko had accomplished so much in his first dozen pro fights by winning world titles in three weight classes and setting a variety of all-time boxing records along the way, but there was one thing that had eluded him: unifying belts.
But the brilliant Lomachenko can now check that box off his bucket list.
Lomachenko scored two knockdowns in the 11th round and methodically dominated Jose Pedraza to unify two lightweight world titles on Saturday night in the main event of the Top Rank Boxing on ESPN card at the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden.
The sellout crowd of 5,312 cheered wildly when Lomachenko decked Pedraza twice in the penultimate round to put the cherry on top of his overwhelming display. In the end, one judge scored the fight 119-107 and the two other judges each had it 117-109. ESPN had it 118-108 for Lomachenko, who, like Pedraza, was making his first title defense.
“It was my dream to unify titles,” Lomachenko said. “It was my next goal. I can now focus on my next chapter.”
Lomachenko (12-1, 9 KOs), 30, the two-time Olympic gold medalist from Ukraine, was fighting for the first time since May 12 in the main arena at Madison Square Garden, where he survived a sixth-round knockdown and knocked out Jorge Linares in the 10th round to win a lightweight world title in his first appearance in the division. He accomplished that despite tearing the labrum in his right shoulder when he dislocated it and then popped it back into place during the second round.
Soon after the fight, Lomachenko underwent surgery to repair the injury, which he and his doctor pronounced healed, allowing him to take the fight with Pedraza.
He showed no issues with the shoulder and threw his right hand liberally.
“I didn’t have a problem. I’m healthy, 100 percent,” Lomachenko said. “[Pedraza is] a veteran. He did a very good job, and I respect Pedraza and his team.”
Stephen A. Smith says José Pedraza was the “inferior fighter” vs. Vasiliy Lomachenko but should have done more than try to survive.
Besides the knockdowns, Lomachenko dominated in terms of throwing and landing punches against a game but ineffective Pedraza (25-2, 12 KOs), 29, of Puerto Rico.
“I am happy with my performance,” Pedraza said through an interpreter. “I went 12 rounds with the best fighter in the world. I knew what we were going up against. I thought it was a close fight until the knockdowns. At the end of the day, I am proud of what I did.”
According to CompuBox punch stats, Lomachenko landed 240 of 738 punches (33 percent) while Pedraza landed a woeful 111 of 931 (12 percent).
“I thought Lomachenko was very, very good,” Top Rank chairman Bob Arum said. “He’s coming off a layoff and the injury, but his father told me after the fight that the shoulder was terrific. It took him time to get into gear. He’s human. I think he’ll be even better next time.”
The fight began slowly with the fighters sizing each other up, but Lomachenko connected with a clean left hand, followed by a body shot late in the round. While Lomachenko, a southpaw, stayed busy in the second round and connected with his left hand, Pedraza was also busy but missed almost everything, as he was out of range and coming up short of the target.
Lomachenko knocked Pedraza off balance with a left hand in the third round and then Pedraza switched to a southpaw stance in the fourth round. It did not help. Lomachenko easily adjusted and landed a right hook and kept a jab in his face.
Pedraza was extremely busy in the fifth round and perhaps Lomachenko was taking a bit of breather, but it was Pedraza’s best round of the fight.
Lomachenko had a big eighth round, landing an assortment of punches from all angles, including a flush straight left hand that had Pedraza off balance and seemingly frustrated and backing up.
Lomachenko continued to regularly land his straight left hand in the ninth round, once again forcing Pedraza to back up.
Pedraza landed combinations in the 10th round, and one shot elicited a nod from Lomachenko as if to say that he had indeed been caught with a solid punch.
Lomachenko had a huge 11th round, scoring two knockdowns and nearly stopping Pedraza.
He hurt Pedraza with a left hand and went after him. He landed left after left as well as uppercuts and had Pedraza in deep trouble and reeling.
Pedraza was trying to roll with the shots, but Lomachenko was catching him and finally put him on the mat with a with a right hand to the body as Pedraza took a knee. Lomachenko continued to pound him in the long flurry before landing a left hand to the body to drop him for the second time late in the round.
Lomachenko continued to go after him in the 12th round, but Pedraza showed a big heart and made it to the final bell.
Pedraza suffered his second loss but went the distance this time. When he lost his junior lightweight world title, it came by seventh-round knockout to Gervonta Davis in January 2017. He was out of the ring for 14 months but then signed with Top Rank, moved up in weight and won a world title by unanimous decision over Raymundo Beltran on Aug. 25 knowing the winner of the fight would get Lomachenko next.
“I said before the fight I thought Pedraza, with his style, would give Loma some trouble,” Arum said. “Pedraza fought a very intelligent fight and showed courage and smarts, and I just really enjoyed the fight. I told Pedraza and his father after the fight that even though he didn’t win, he didn’t harm himself and that there were other big fights out there for him. Maybe Pedraza against Teofimo Lopez (the top prospect who won on the undercard by sensational first-round knockout). It would sell the Garden out.”
Lomachenko, who also has won world titles at featherweight and junior lightweight, likely will get another unification fight next year. Arum said he could potentially fight Mexico’s Miguel Berchelt (35-1, 31 KOs), 27, a junior lightweight world titlist interested in moving up in weight to challenge him. But he also said a likely opponent — either next or the fight after — would be the winner of the vacant lightweight title fight between Richard Commey (27-2, 24 KOs), 31, of Ghana, and Isa Chaniev (13-1, 6 KOs), 26, of Russia. They are supposed to fight Feb. 2 on ESPN on the undercard of the rematch between light heavyweight titlist Eleider Alvarez and former titlist Sergey Kovalev, although Commey-Chaniev has not been made official yet.
But facing that winner would give Lomachenko a chance at acquiring a third lightweight title.
“I think he’ll fight in May,” Arum said. “Loma only wants challenges. He doesn’t want walkovers.”
While there are possible — and makeable — fights with Berchelt and the Commey-Chaniev winner, Lomachenko has one opponent in mind whom he really wants to fight: Mikey Garcia, the fellow pound-for-pound star who also holds a lightweight title.
But Garcia is moving up to welterweight to challenge Errol Spence Jr. on March 16 and is also with Premier Boxing Champions, making the fight extraordinarily difficult to make due to promotional and network issues. But Loma is ever the optimist.
“Maybe next year, we can make a fight with Mikey Garcia,” he said.
The technical storage or access is strictly necessary for the legitimate purpose of enabling the use of a specific service explicitly requested by the subscriber or user, or for the sole purpose of carrying out the transmission of a communication over an electronic communications network.
The technical storage or access is necessary for the legitimate purpose of storing preferences that are not requested by the subscriber or user.
The technical storage or access that is used exclusively for statistical purposes.The technical storage or access that is used exclusively for anonymous statistical purposes. Without a subpoena, voluntary compliance on the part of your Internet Service Provider, or additional records from a third party, information stored or retrieved for this purpose alone cannot usually be used to identify you.
The technical storage or access is required to create user profiles to send advertising, or to track the user on a website or across several websites for similar marketing purposes.