Former light heavyweight world champion Oleksandr Gvozdyk may have retired from boxing last month but that does not mean he is not still keenly interested in the careers of his close friends Vasiliy Lomachenko, the unified lightweight world champion, and heavyweight contender and former undisputed cruiserweight champion Oleksandr Usyk.
Although Gvozdyk has never followed boxing closely, other than to pay some attention to fighters in his division who might have served as future opponents, he has always followed the careers of his gold medal-winning teammates on the 2012 Ukrainian Olympic squad.
Gvozdyk quietly retired at age 33 last month with little fanfare, eight months after losing his title by 10th-round knockout to Artur Beterbiev in a unification showdown in Philadelphia and plans to look at opportunities in the business world, but he has every intention of being present when Lomachenko squares off Teofimo Lopez Jr. to unify their 135-pound belts.
Top Rank promoter Bob Arum is hoping to put that highly anticipated fight on Sept. 19 at a site to be determined, ideally with at least some fans allowed to attend while practicing social distancing. It was originally in discussions for May 30 at Madison Square Garden in New York but was never finalized due to the coronavirus pandemic, and both fighters passed on the opportunity to have an interim fight because they only have eyes for each other.
Wherever that fight takes place Gvozdyk plans to be there in person to see Lomachenko (14-1, 10 KOs), who many regard as the No. 1 boxer in the world pound-for-pound, face Lopez (15-0, 12 KOs), one of the sport’s most exciting and explosive rising stars.
As close as he is to Lomachenko, Gvozdyk said he does not discount Lopez’s chances to defeat him.
“You have to give a lot to Lopez but he has never faced really tough opposition like Lomachenko did,” Gvozdyk told BoxingScene.com. “But Lopez is very dangerous. He can hit and he can fight. But my opinion if he can’t finish Lomachenko in the first five rounds, later it will be a problem for Teofimo.
“He is very dangerous in the beginning of the fight because he can hit and maybe he can catch Lomachenko. But he doesn’t, he will start losing hope and what happens in the second half of the fight? Lomachenko starts picking him apart little by little. I haven’t spoken personally with Lomachenko on what he’s going to do (in the fight) but it’s not going to be a fast start from Lomachenko. I don’t think so. He’s going to take his time to bring him into the later rounds and he knows how to do it very well and I think he will. And in the second half of the fight he will start doing his job because Lomachenko is experienced. He has a lot of 12-round fights and he can do 20 rounds. He never gets tired. Teofimo, yes, he is super tough. He’s big. But after the first five or six rounds he becomes like a regular fighter from what I saw.”
Gvozdyk said that is the case even though he believes Lopez has not yet faced top opposition other than Richard Commey, whom he knocked out in the second round to win his belt in December on the undercard of Terence Crawford’s welterweight world title defense against Egidijus Kavaliauskas at Madison Square Garden.
“When you are fighting lower level opposition you can demonstrate all your best skills, but against an opponent like Lomachenko it’s a completely different story,” Gvozdyk said. “So he’s not going to let you do what you want. He’s going to punish you for your mistakes. I get it -- Teofimo is really dangerous. He can hit and Lomachenko has to be cautious, but he’s not Richard Commey. Richard Commey is a tough fighter, don’t get me wrong. But Lomachenko is on a different level.
“I’m not saying Lomachenko is going to kill Lopez. No, not at all. The fight is intriguing. It’s a big, interesting fight which I will be really curious to watch.”
As for Usyk (17-0, 13 KOs), Gvozdyk is interested to see how his pal adjusts from going from the cruiserweight division, which he dominated en route to winning the World Boxing Super Series tournament in 2018 to become undisputed champion, to the heavyweight division.
Usyk, who looms as one of unified heavyweight titleholder Anthony Joshua’s mandatory challengers, has been limited to just one fight in his new division due to a biceps injury. In his heavyweight debut, which took place last October, Usyk stopped the experienced Chazz Witherspoon when he retired on his stool after the seventh round.
Gvozdyk believes in Usyk’s skills but does have some concerns about the size difference he would face against top heavyweights such as Joshua, Tyson Fury, Deontay Wilder and Dillian Whyte. Before Usyk gets a chance to fight for a world title, he is due to face perennial contender Dereck Chisora this fall in the United Kingdom.
“I think it’s becoming harder and harder to move up from the smaller weight classes (to heavyweight) because the heavyweights are becoming bigger and bigger,” Gvozdyk said.
“If you look back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, the heavyweights were much smaller then right now. So, of course, it will be difficult to compete with those (bigger) guys. When you fight a big guy when you have the skills of his last opponent (Witherspoon), yes, it’s one picture. But when you have a guy who is Olympic champion who is much taller like Joshua, and who has a much longer range, it becomes really complicated, so I don’t know.
“I know Usyk has really good skills, so he will definitely be able to compete with those guys. But I want to see his upcoming fight with Chisora, who is not that big. But he can fight. He has heart. He is not going to give up. I believe Oleksandr can make it but it definitely is not going to be easy.”
Dan Rafael was ESPN.com's senior boxing writer for fifteen years, and covered the sport for five years at USA Today. He was the 2013 BWAA Nat Fleischer Award winner for excellence in boxing journalism.