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Oleksandr Gvozdyk’s Opponent Didn’t Have a Leg to Stand On

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  • Oleksandr Gvozdyk’s Opponent Didn’t Have a Leg to Stand On

    By Bernard Fernandez

    PHILADELPHIA – It is a fairly common practice in boxing for a newly minted world champion to make his first title defense against an opponent who might be considered a bit of a soft touch, particularly if he rose to the top of his alphabet fiefdom by dethroning an especially dangerous predecessor.

    If one oddsmaker is to be believed, WBC light heavyweight champ Oleksandr Gvozdyk’s first defense of the belt he lifted last Dec. 1, on an 11th-round knockout of the long-reigning and favored Adonis Stevenson – arguably the hardest-hitting 175-pound ruler since Michael Moorer, or maybe even all the way back to Bob Foster – was easier than most such ritualistic demonstrations of superiority. So dismissive was one sports book linemaker of Doudou Ngumbu’s chances against Gvozdyk that the champion opened as an -8000 wagering choice, meaning a bettor would have to put up $8,000 on the 31-year-old Ukrainian in order to win $100. The message sent by such an absurdly wide line was clear: as an aspirant to displace Gvozdyk, Doudou, a native of the Democratic Republic of Congo now living in France, was, well, more like doo-doo.

    It would be unfair to Ngumbu (38-9, 14 KOs), who at 37 was getting his first, and undoubtedly last, shot at a bejeweled belt, to point out that his official fifth-round technical-knockout loss, at the sold-out 2300 Arena here, came about without a punch being landed by Gvozdyk (17-0, 14 KOs), whose victory was all but assured from the moment contracts were signed. To his credit, Ngumbu was trying his darndest to cash that lottery ticket, although his darndest never was going to be good enough to pull off an upset twice as unlikely as Buster Douglas over Mike Tyson. But when Ngumbu, his face contorted in pain, began hopping around on his left (good) leg, what was already a long and weird night became stranger still.

    Referee Eric Dali appeared to be momentarily flummoxed by Ngumbu’s impersonation of a one-legged Easter bunny. Dali first called time to allow the challenger time to recover, ruling an accidental foul had occurred, even though Ngumbu’s distress had not been caused by a punch from Gvozdyk, legal or otherwise. What followed was a scene straight out of the fight game’s theater of the absurd, with Dali, Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission executive director Greg Sirb, the ring physician and members of Ngumbu’s corner team, none of whom apparently spoke English, bunching up on the ring apron to decide what determination needed to be made.

    It finally was decided that Ngumbu had suffered a torn Achilles tendon, an injury more serious than a cramp or pulled calf muscle, which would have been bad enough. Gvozdyk, a bronze medalist at the 2012 London Olympics, was awarded a less-than-satisfying win by stoppage, after an elapsed time of 58 seconds.

    “(Gvozdyk) didn’t even hit him,” Sirb noted. “That’s a cheap KO. There was no foul. (Ngumbu) was trying to avoid a punch, and he obviously hurt himself trying to twist away. He wound up tearing his Achilles tendon. That’s nasty. You could see it. He couldn’t put any pressure on his right leg.”

    For Gvozdyk, whose celebration of the take-down of Stevenson was muted when the stricken champion had to be rushed to a nearby hospital where he underwent surgery for two brain bleeds and was placed in an induced coma (Stevenson is, thankfully, recovering, but his boxing career is over), another ending to a winning fight ended in an unexpected manner.

    “I’m satisfied I won. I keep my title,” he said in his dressing room, apparently unaware of the extent or legitimacy of Ngumbu’s injury. “How it happened, I’m definitely not satisfied with. Probably the people who came are not happy. It’s important to make your fans happy. I tried to do my best in this fight. What happened was not my fault. I guess the guy just came to get a paycheck. I don’t know. I don’t want to insult him.

    “Maybe something happened. I don’t know. I don’t feel I hurt him. For a second time something screwed up my celebration. I really thought the fight would go longer and be more exciting. I was just starting to accelerate.”

    For numbers-crunchers interested in such things, Gvozdyk landed 47 of 204 punches (23 percent) to just 18 of 108 (17 percent) for Ngumbu, who went in as the WBC’s eighth-rated light heavyweight contender. But while winning and losing is always of paramount consideration, how either outcome is achieved also matters, and Gvozdyk did not win with the flourish he and his many supporters in the standing-room-only crowd of 1,350 or so had anticipated. That opened the door for a couple of snide remarks from at least one interested onlooker.

    Philadelphia’s Jesse Hart, a two-time world title challenger as a super middleweight who is planning to move up to light heavyweight, is a member of the Top Rank promotional stable, as is Gvozdyk, and he said he could and would eventually capitalize on the openings he saw against the champion that the limited Ngumbu was unable to.

    “(Gvozdyk) fought down to the kid’s level,” Hart said, although, at 37, few would characterize Ngumbu as a kid at this late stage of his career. “He should have gotten him out of there within the first four rounds.”

    Nor was the ESPN-televised lead-in to the main event -- Philly welterweight “The New” Ray Robinson (24-3-1, 12 KOs) vs. Egidijus Kavaliauskas (21-0-1, 17 KOs), a Ukrainian now fighting out of Oxnard, Calif. -- particularly compelling, although it did provide a symposium for debate on the vicissitudes of how to score a boxing match. One judge’s scorecard had Robinson winning by 97-93, while the other two saw the fight as a 95-95 standoff – a majority draw.

    For those who place a high value on slick boxing technique, the mobile, jab-flicking Robinson deserved a clear-cut victory. One ringside writer had him winning nine of the 10 rounds. ESPN boxing writer Dan Rafael went way over to the other side, giving nine rounds to the continually stalking Kavaliauskas, a -1800 favorite.

    Despite the fact that seven of the 11 bouts on the card ended inside the distance, three of which were one-round quickies, fans who came early and stayed late must have felt like they had attended a double-feature at their local movie theater, with Dr. Zhivago followed by Lawrence of Arabia, with a half-hour intermission in between. With the first bout getting underway at 5:30 p.m. EDT, and Gvozdyk-Ngumbu wrapping up near midnight, the 6½-hour marathon tested the endurance, and possibly the bladder capacities of fans who helped pass the time with multiple trips to the beer concession stand.

    The audience, reflecting the global lineup of fighters, was a blend of many nationalities and cultures. Including those representatives who pledged allegiance to two flags – like Ngumbu, who was born in the Congo and became a naturalized French citizen – countries represented were Ukraine, Mexico, Malaysia, Uzbekistan, Japan, Canada, Cameroon, Ghana, Kazakhstan, Lithuania, France, Congo, Guatemala and Puerto Rico, although the last is technically an unincorporated territory of the United States. The loudest contingent appeared to be Ukrainians and Ukrainian-Americans, not surprising in that 20,000 or so such residents of the U.S. can be found in the Eastern seaboard corridor from metropolitan New York to Philadelphia and many are rabid boxing buffs. From the first round on, Gvozdyk backers shouted “Gvozdyk! Gvozdyk!,” which for the phonetically challenged sounds very much like Vod-zik. By decibel level, the Ukrainians seemed more plentiful and louder than Philly patrons, who made themselves known with their off-key renditions of “Fly, Eagles, Fly,” the local NFL team’s fight song.

    In other action:

    *Kudratillo Abdukakhorov (16-0, 9 KOs) of Malaysia by way of his native Uzbekistan scored a unanimous, 12-round decision over Japan’s Keita Obara (20-4-1, 18 KOs) in an IBF welterweight elimination bout.

    *Super middleweight Christian Mbilli (14-0, 13 KOs), from Montreal by way of his native Cameroon, saw his knockout streak ended as he settled for an eight-round, unanimous decision over Mexico’s Humberto Gutierrez (33-8-2, 18 KOs).

    *Juan Ruiz (22-4, 14 KOs) of Mexico came away with a fourth-round TKO victory over Ghana’s Fredrick Lawson (27-2, 21 KOs) in their scheduled eight-round super welterweight bout.

    *Super featherweight Joshafat Ortiz (6-0, 4 KOs), a Puerto Rican based in Reading, Pa., needed just one of the six scheduled rounds to put away James Thomas (6-5, 6 KOs), of Grand Rapids, Mich.

    *Popular Philadelphia heavyweight Sonny Conto (2-0, 2 KOs), a recent addition to the Top Rank lineup, bombed out Omar Acosta (1-6, 1 KO) of Hereford, Texas, in one round and will next be seen on June 15 in Las Vegas on the undercard of a show headlined by Tyson Fury against Tom Schwarz.

    *Jeremy Adorno, a lanky super bantamweight from Allentown, Pa., by way of Puerto Rico, made his pro debut by pitching a four-round shutout at Sebastian Baltazar (1-4), from Tacoma, Wash., by way of his native Guatemala.

    *Super featherweight Donald Smith (9-0, 6 KO), a southpaw from Philly, seemed headed to a four-round unanimous decision over Jose Antonio Martinez (11-18, 6 KOs) when he turned out the lights on the Mexican, now residing in Albequerque, N.M., with an overhand left late in the final round.

    Bernard Fernandez is the retired boxing writer for the Philadelphia Daily News. He is a five-term former president of the Boxing Writers Association of America, an inductee into the Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Atlantic City Boxing Halls of Fame and the recipient of the Nat Fleischer Award for Excellence in Boxing Journalism and the Barney Nagler Award for Long and Meritorious Service to Boxing.

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