Vasiliy Lomachenko made his pitch for a lightweight title shot with a masterclass performance that showed why he was for years regarded as boxing’s pound-for-pound best.
The two-time Olympic gold medalist and three-weight champion from Ukraine won nearly every round against Richard Commey on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden, dropping the hard-hitting Ghanaian in the seventh before cruising to a unanimous-decision win by scores of 117-110, 119-108 and 119-108. (The Guardian had it 119-108.)
Lomachenko (16-2, 11 KOs), a former champion at featherweight, junior lightweight and lightweight, raced out to an early lead as the gulf in hand speed, footwork and overall ringcraft between the fighters was apparent from the start of the second round after a feeling-out first.
Commey (30-4, 27 KOs), the 34-year-old from Accra who held the IBF’s version of the lightweight title in 2019, attempted to use the jab to keep his opponent’s blinding attacks at bay, but was sent reeling backward into the ropes by a stinging combination near the end of the second that ignited the crowd of 8,555 mostly Lomachenko supporters that packed the lower bowl of the Garden’s big room.
The Ukrainian southpaw, whose ability to control distance and create angles with balletic footwork evoke the bullet-time origins of his initial nickname (‘The Matrix’, since usurped by the equally evocative ‘Hi-Tech’), continued to heat up in the third and fourth, landing crisp combinations to the head and body. The overhand left in particular found a home with alarming frequency as the blows took their toll and Commey’s workrate began to wane.
The audience buzzed in anticipation in the sixth when Lomachenko trapped Commey in a neutral corner and battered away, looking to close the show with a knockout. But the wounded Ghanaian fought back valiantly, bringing the fight to the center of the ring and landing body shots until the bell.
Then came the seventh, when Lomachenko badly mistreated his opponent with shots to the head and body thrown from all angles, pouring on the punishment until he finally dumped his foe to the canvas with a concussive left hook. After Commey beat the count and the referee permitted him to continue, Lomachenko twice urged his opponent’s corner to stop the fight from the center of the ring before the end of the round.
“I saw his situation,” Lomachenko said. “It was very hard for him. That’s why I said: ‘Hey, stop the fight.’ He is a true warrior. He has a big heart and we continue and we show for people 12 great rounds.”
With the durable Commey fighting on sheer grit and not much else, the only question over the closing frames was whether Lomachenko could finish matters inside the distance. The Ghanaian did bravely make it to the final bell, but only after spending the 12th round in full-blown survival mode, clinching and wrapping up and generally holding on for dear life.
“I think the round I dropped down, I just took my eyes off him for a second and that’s it,” a tearful Commey said afterwards. “He’s a great fighter.”
The Compubox punch statistics gave quantitative context to Lomachenko’s dominance: he landed 248 of 554 total punches (45%), including 188 of 323 power shots (58%). Commey connected on just 73 of 614 blows (12%), absorbing more shots during the gruesome seventh (36) than in any other round of his career.
The 33-year-old Lomachenko, who turned professional after an extraordinary amateur career where he won 396 of 397 fights and Olympic golds at the Beijing and London Games in different weight classes, is looking to fight his way back into the championship picture in the talent-rich 135lb weight class after losing his IBF, WBA and WBO title straps to Teófimo López last year by an uncontroversial decision in Las Vegas. López’s reign proved short-lived as the 24-year-old Brooklyn native lost the belts on his first defense in a major upset to Australia’s George Kambosos Jr last month.
After Saturday’s fight, Lomachenko said he would happily travel to Australia if it meant a shot at Kambosos and a chance to resume the pursuit of his long-held goal: unifying all four major lightweight titles. “I will go anywhere I need to go to fight him,” he said. “I need this chance. And if God gives me this chance I’ll take it.”
If not Kambosos, there will be no shortage of opportunity for Lomachenko in a crowded lightweight division that’s been among the sport’s hottest of late, including potential fights with WBC champion Devin Haney, three-weight titleholder Gervonta Davis or social-media sensation Ryan Garcia.
“I said before I don’t like talking about myself,” Lomachenko said. “We have in this weight division we have a lot of great fighters. We have a lot of top fighters. So we can organize a lot of great fights in the future.”
The co-main event proved far shorter as rising American heavyweight contender Jared Anderson scored a second-round TKO of Oleksandr Teslenko, improving to 11-0 with 11 knockouts.
Anderson, who answered the bell in a southpaw stance before switching back to orthodox, dropped the Ukrainian with a vicious combination upstairs midway through the second. Teslenko beat the count but looked on shaky legs and the referee waved it off at the 1:33 mark.
Shortly after, WBC heavyweight champion Tyson Fury made a surprise appearance to celebrate the birthday of longtime promoter Bob Arum, who turned 90 on Wednesday. After emerging from the tunnel to roars from the crowd, Fury climbed through the ropes and sang three songs from the ring: Happy Birthday, then He’s A Jolly Good Fellow followed by an off-key rendition of Don McLean’s American Pie.
Afterward, Fury descended to greet Arum before crossing paths at ringside with Oleksandr Usyk, the Ukrainian heavyweight who holds the other three major title belts in the division and was in attendance to support his countryman in the main event. The brief encounter appeared friendly and, one can hope, bodes well for a four-belt unification fight between the pair to determine an undisputed heavyweight champion for the first time in more than two decades.