By Thomas Gerbasi
NEW YORK - The night before the Puerto Rican Day Parade, Vasyl Lomachenko made Madison Square Garden’s Theater a mini-Ukraine, thrilling a crowd of 4,545 with a master class against Rocky Martinez before scoring a chilling knockout in the fifth round that earned him the WBO junior lightweight title.
With the victory, which lifts the 28-year-old’s record to 6-1 with 4 KOs, Lomachenko has now won two world titles in just seven pro fights, adding the 130-pound crown to his 126-pound WBO title.
The crowd seemed split down the middle at the start, each side alternating chants for their man. Lomachenko got off to a good start offensively and defensively, shooting in and out with his punches as Martinez tried to solve the Ukrainian puzzle.
By round two, it appeared that it was going to be an uphill battle for Martinez (29-3-2, 17 KOs), as Lomachenko was always one step ahead with his accurate shots and gone before Martinez could respond. And this was with Lomachenko standing just inches away.
Martinez upped his work rate in the third, only to pay for it with each retort from the two-time Olympic gold medalist, who punctuated the round with a straight shot to the face that briefly staggered the 130-pound champion.
Soon, Lomachenko’s straight left was hurting Martinez every time it landed, and while the Vega Baja native wasn’t backing away, he wasn’t concerning the challenger too much either.
In the fifth, Lomachenko went on the attack, and after staggering Martinez with a left uppercut, a single and frightening right hook sent the Puerto Rican crashing to the deck, where he was counted out at 1:09 of the round.
ON THE UNDERCARD
After two less than thrilling outings, rising Puerto Rican star Felix Verdejo got the knockout he wanted, finishing Mexico's Juan Jose Martinez in the fifth round, retaining his WBO Latino lightweight title in the process.
The 23-year-old Verdejo took his time getting acclimated to his opponent in the opening round, and Martinez was content to let the San Juan native lead the dance as the fight began.
Martinez got more aggressive in the second and third, but he wasn't fast enough to trouble Verdejo, who also began opening up more, drawing roars from the crowd with each power shot landed.
By round four, Martinez' face was marked up and he had tasted Verdejo's power, causing him to be a little more careful with his rushes, and having already cut his foe, the Puerto Rican started targeting Martinez' body.
But in the fifth, Verdejo put it all together, and after peppering Martinez for much of the round, a right hand hit paydirt and staggered the Mexico City native. A furious barrage of unanswered shots followed, with referee Mike Ortega calling a stop to the bout at the 2:40 mark.
With the win, Verdejo moves to 22-0 with 15 KOs; Martinez, who had not lost for nearly two years, falls to 25-3 with 17 KOs.
Zou Shiming's defense of his WBO international flyweight title was a painful exercise to witness thanks to a bizarre game plan from Hungary's Jozsef Ajtai, but the two-time Olympic gold medalist from China dealt with it and logged his eighth pro win by way of a 10-round unanimous decision.
Scores for Shiming, now 8-1 with 2 KOs, all read 100-89. Ajtai falls to 15-3 with 10 KOs.
Ajtai's wild, awkward style was the complete opposite of Shiming's well-schooled technical attack, but the Guizhou native's jab still allowed him to control the opening frames of the fight as the crowd got restless with Ajtai's largely defensive game plan.
Shiming's pressure opened up some opportunities when he trapped Ajtai against the ropes or in the corner, but he wasn't able to consistently land on his foe, whose strategy was growing more and more puzzling with each round.
By the midway point of the fight, the only consolation was that it was only ten rounds and that referee Ron Lipton, who warned Ajtai several times for holding, was starting to take control of the bout.
In the sixth, Ajtai nearly tackled Shiming after eating a flurry in the corner, and Lipton docked him a point. That didn't ignite any sort of fire in Ajtai, who got back on his bicycle, hoping to potshot his way to a victory. He even danced in the middle of the ring after the round, perhaps thinking that the fight was going according to plan. It wasn't.
To his credit, Shiming kept moving forward while trying to make a fight of it. He was alone in this quest, but he'll take the win.