Come April 8, boxing fans in the Greater D.C. will be going insane over Ukraine.
A super featherweight title clash between Vasyl Lomachenko – a two-time Olympic Gold medalist for Ukraine - and Camden (NJ) knockout artist Jason Sosa was already on the books to headline at the brand new MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland on the date. The HBO-televised main event now tops a live tripleheader featuring Ukraine boxers in all three legs of the broadcast, it was announced Thursday.
Serving in the co-feature, unbeaten cruiserweight champion Oleksandr Usyk – who won Olympic Gold for Ukraine in 2012 – returns to HBO as he defends versus Mike Hunter. Opening the telecast, Oleksandr Gvozdyk makes his network debut as he faces veteran light heavyweight Yunieski Gonzalez.
”Top Rank is very proud to present these two compelling co-main event championship fights featuring Oleksandr Usyk, with K2 Promotions, and Oleksandr Gvozdyk," said Hall of Fame promoter Bob Arum in a statement released through the Top Rank press office. "In a historic first, HBO World Championship Boxing will present three title fights, featuring three Ukrainian champions defending their titles, and within eyesight of the Nation's Capital.”
Lomachenko (7-1, 5KOs) has spent all but one bout of his entire pro career on HBO and its Pay-Per-View arm. Widely regarded as one of the greatest in amateur boxing history, the 29-year old southpaw wasted no time making his mark in the pro ranks. His lone loss came in an effort to claim a featherweight title in just his second pro bout, dropping a close decision to Orlando Salido whom was overweight and had to forfeit his title on the scales, and flirted with disqualification for an assortment of fouls over the course of their March ’14 battle.
Three months later came his eventual title win, outboxing Gary Russell Jr. over 12 rounds to win the vacant featherweight belt. Back-to-back PPV undercard appearances followed, with his last three bouts all airing live on HBO’s flagship station including headlining attractions in each of his past two starts – a 5th round knockout of Roman Martinez to win the 130 lb. title in June, followed by his manhandling of former featherweight titlist Nicholas Walters last November.
Often to be found in attendance at his bouts has been his countryman and good friend in Usyk. Now they finally get to share a stage together for the first time since their respective Gold medal runs in the 2012 London Olympics.
“I’m very happy to fight on the same card with Vasyl Lomachenko and Oleksandr Gvozdyk, this is something we’ve been talking about since we were amateurs -- to have three members of the 2012 Ukrainian Olympic Team in the same event," said Usyk (11-0, 10KOs), who makes the second defense of his cruiserweight title. “It’s fantastic to be able to do this.
“Michael Hunter is a tough, undefeated opponent and I’m certain that this will be a great show for the fans in attendance and those watching on HBO.”
Those very same subscribers were able to get a good look at Usyk in his last start, making his network debut last December in scoring a 9th round stoppage of Thabiso Mchunu. The bout came on the undercard of Bernard Hopkins’ last ever ring appearance, though a sad ending for the former two-division world champion as he was knocked out in nine rounds by Joe Smith Jr.
Usyk’s appearance came courtesy of his promoter, K2 Promotions. The company’s managing director, Tom Loeffler has a stellar reputation for being among the easiest with whom to conduct business. This particular occasion was no exception.
“We’re very excited to bring Oleksandr back to the United States and for this world title defense to be telecast on HBO,” said Loeffler. “Both Oleksandr and Michael Hunter were 2012 Olympians who are undefeated as professionals. This is the second cruiserweight world title fight HBO has telecast recently and we’re honored to work with Peter Nelson and HBO on showcasing this division.
Not since the epic battle between James Toney and Vasily Jirov in 2003 has the cruiserweight division been showcased on HBO and we’re very proud to present fans entertaining fights in this weight class.”
Gvozdyk (12-0, 10KOs) hasn’t quite raced to the top as quickly as his countrymen, but the 29-year old is well on his way to catching up with them. The biggest win of his young career was posted in his most recent bout, stopping perennial Top 10 contender Isaac Chilemba in eight rounds last November.
In Gonzalez he has yet another tough light heavyweight to contend with, but actually welcomes such a test.
“I'm happy to know the name of my next opponent. He is a strong fighter and a new challenge for me,” said Gvozdyk. “Thanks to Top Rank and HBO to making this happen.
Gonzalez (18-2, 14KOs) hopes the third time is a charm for his appearing in HBO-televised bouts. The Miami-based Cuban was considered the victim of horrific ringside officiating as he dropped a hotly contested 10-round decision to Jean Pascal in July ’15. The network thought enough of his performance to bring him back on its Latino arm, but dropped a hard-fought decision to Vyacheslav Shabranskyy in Dec. ’15.
Two wins have followed, both in stay busy bouts as he once again steps up in class to take on a Top 10 light heavyweight.
“I'm very happy to be back on HBO thanks to Joe DeGuardia’s Star Boxing, and my management team," said Gonzalez. "I'm training hard at Mundo Boxing Gym and I'm going to be ready to win this fight”
The event will mark the second boxing show to take place at the newly erected venue, which opened its doors to the public just last December.