At the bell ending the fifth round of their Saturday night fight, Jason Sosa said something in Vasyl Lomachenko’s ear. On the HBO broadcast, Jim Lampley described whatever the challenger warbled to Lomachenko, the junior-lightweight champion, as trash-talking, and it probably was; boxing drives people to all sorts of strange decisions.
Lomachenko, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, was HBO’s fighter of the year for 2016. He may well be the best boxer on the planet, and is almost certainly the most skilled. Up until Sosa whispered his sweet somethings, the Ukrainian, fighting at the MGM National Harbor in a theater packed with his countrymen, was living up to his reputation as somebody not to be messed with by anybody his own size. Afterwards, the beating went beyond the merely physical.
Being an old guy, I would liken what Lomachenko proceeded to do to Sosa to what Mike Tyson did to Tyrell Biggs in their 1987 fight. In 1984, Biggs had talked trash to Tyson when both were amateurs vying for a slot on the U.S. national boxing team. Biggs got the Olympic nod, and at some point along the way to his gold medal mocked Tyson, an alternate, in front of other fighters on the USA team for failing to make the squad.
When they met again as pros, Tyson was the world champ and the baddest man on the planet, and in the early rounds it was clear Biggs didn’t deserve to be in the same ring. Because of words spoken years earlier and at a pre-fight press conference, though, rather than put Biggs away with head shots, Tyson opted to attack the body and keep the fight going, because he “wanted [Biggs] to pay with his health.”
From the Los Angeles Times’ writeup of Tyson/Biggs:
The pounding to Biggs’ body was particularly awful. “I knew I had him in the third round because when I hit the body, he was making these noises,” Tyson said.
What kind of noises?
“Something like a woman screaming,” Tyson said.
Three decades later, Lomachenko seemed to similarly want Sosa to pay for his words with his health, and also his pride. In the sixth round, the first after Sosa spoke out of turn, he came at Lomachenko with an off-balance rush in what turned out to be yet another failed attempt to make meaningful contact with his opponent. With Baryshnikov-like aplomb, Lomachenko leaped out of harm’s way, than took a few seconds to make matador moves, humiliating his overmatched foe.
He was still landing lots and lots of blows, too: By CompuBox’s count, Lomachenko connected with nearly four times as many punches as Sosa by night’s end.
The one-two of physical and emotional pain infliction peaked just before the end of the 8th round, when Lomachenko hit Sosa with a savage left to the gut, then grabbed his own stomach and imitated a man who’d, well, just taken a savage left to the gut.
Fight fans are a bloodthirsty lot, but nobody in the casino theater booed when Sosa, who was never knocked down, didn’t get off his stool after the 9th round, ending the fight. Take away Lomachenko’s punching, and the level of torment they’d witnessed on this night was still about as brutal as boxing gets.