By Keith Idec
NEW YORK – Vasiliy Lomachenko almost knocked out another lightweight champion with a body shot at Madison Square Garden.
Unlike Jorge Linares, Jose Pedraza survived Lomachenko’s onslaught late in their 135-pound title unification fight and went the distance with one of the best boxers in the sport Saturday night. Lomachenko knocked down Pedraza twice by landing body shots in the 11th round and won a unanimous decision in the main event of an eight-bout card that drew a capacity crowd of 5,312 to The Theater at Madison Square Garden.
Judges Joe Pasquale (117-109), Tom Schreck (119-107) and Steve Weisfeld (117-109) scored their fight for Ukraine’s Lomachenko (12-1, 9 KOs). Though one-sided on the scorecards, Lomachenko-Pedraza mostly amounted to a tactical, uneventful fight, other than the 11th round.
The 30-year-old Lomachenko (12-1, 9 KOs) made the first defense of the WBA lightweight title he won by knocking out Venezuela’s Linares (45-4, 28 KOs) with a body shot in the 10th round of their May 12 bout at Madison Square Garden. The two-time Olympic gold medalist also won the WBO 135-pound crown from Puerto Rico’s Pedraza (25-2, 12 KOs) in Lomachenko’s first fight since having surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder six months ago.
“It was my dream to unify the titles,” Lomachenko said. “It was my next goal. I can now focus on my next chapter. … He’s a veteran. He did a very good job, and I respect Pedraza and his team.”
Lomachenko landed 240-of-738 overall punches, more than twice as many shots as Pedraza (111-of-931), according to CompuBox’s unofficial statistics.
Lomachenko connected on 158-of-345 power punches, as opposed to 80-of-425 for Pedraza. He also out-jabbed Pedraza (82-of-393 to 31-of-506).
Pedraza performed reasonably well. He just got out-boxed by a very talented tactician.
“I am happy with my performance tonight,” said Pedraza, who won the 10th round on all three cards, and the second and fifth rounds on two of the three cards. “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.”
Pedraza also lost the last time he headlined a card in New York. Gervonta Davis (20-0, 19 KOs) stopped him in the seventh round of that January 2017 fight at Barclays Center in Brooklyn to take the IBF junior lightweight title from him.
The 29-year-old Pedraza signed with Bob Arum’s Top Rank Inc. following a lengthy break, won three straight fights and secured a shot at Lomachenko by winning the WBO 135-pound championship from Ray Beltran on August 25 in Glendale, Arizona. Pedraza dropped Phoenix’s Beltran (35-8-1, 21 KOs) in the 11th round and won a 12-round unanimous decision.
On Saturday night, Pedraza suffered two 11th-round knockdowns and spent most of the 12th round staying away from Lomachenko, so that he could make it to the final bell.
Lomachenko finally landed a left that buzzed Pedraza just before the halfway point of the 11th round. Pedraza moved his head and his legs as much as he could, but Lomachenko sent him to the canvas twice by landing body shots in the 11th – first a right hand and later a left.
Pedraza reached his feet both times and made it to the end of the round.
Pedraza blasted Lomachenko with a thudding right to the body when there was just under two minutes to go in the 10th round. Pedraza later landed a few more of those hard rights to Lomachenko’s body in what was perhaps his best round of the fight.
Lomachenko landed a right uppercut and a straight left hand late in the ninth round. That combination backed up Pedraza, but he wasn’t hurt.
Earlier in the ninth, Lomachenko caught Pedraza with a right hook as Pedraza attempted to move away from him.
With Pedraza backed against the ropes, Lomachenko unloaded a straight left that landed flush just prior to the halfway point of the eighth round. Pedraza fired back after taking that shot and kept Lomachenko from following up.
Lomachenko clipped Pedraza with a combination just after the midway point of the seventh round, which drew a response from the crowd. Pedraza slipped several subsequent shots from Lomachenko.
Backed against the ropes, Pedraza drilled Lomachenko with a right hand about 1:10 into the sixth round.
Pedraza hit Lomachenko with a short right inside when there was approximately 1:15 to go in the fifth round. The challenger connected to Lomachenko’s body several times during the fifth round as well.
Pedraza switched to a southpaw stance early in the fourth round. Lomachenko connected with two right hooks just following the halfway point of the fourth round.
Toward the end of the fourth, Lomachenko drilled Pedraza with an overhand left, as Pedraza moved toward the ropes.
A left-right combination by Lomachenko knocked Pedraza off balance with about 50 seconds to go in the third round.
Like the first round, the second round lacked action. Lomachenko connected with two solid left hands, though, that seemed to win him the round.
Lomachenko and Pedraza spent almost all of the first round feinting and missing. Lomachenko landed the one significant shot of those three minutes when his straight left hand drilled Pedraza late in it.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.