OXON HILL, Md. — Oleksandr Usyk took a few rounds to get going, but when he did, he took over and punished the very game Michael Hunter Jr. on Saturday night on the inaugural card at the new MGM National Harbor. In the end, Usyk, who had a huge 12th round and nearly scored a knockout, won a unanimous decision and retained his cruiserweight world title for the second time.
All three judges scored the fight 117-110 for Usyk, the crowd favorite among the sold-out crowd of 2,828, most of whom were Ukrainian and there to support their countrymen — main event fighter Vasyl Lomachenko, Usyk and Oleksandr Gvozdyk. ESPN.com also had Usyk winning 118-109 in a fight that took place on the undercard of junior lightweight world titleholder Lomachenko’s defense against former titlist Jason Sosa.
“I’m very happy with my performance,” Usyk said. “I did what I wanted to do. He took a lot of punches. I thought maybe they would stop the fight (in the 12th round). I’d love to fight any of the titleholders, any time, any place.”
The fight began to heat up in the third round with some fierce exchanges. Hunter was taking a big step up in opposition but handled it well in the early going. He pumped his jab and caught Usyk with it often. He also appeared a little quicker and was able to move away from many incoming punches.
Hunter was warned by referee Bill Clancy for landing a low blow in the fifth round, but after a few moments to shake it off, Usyk came storming back. He had a big round, landing several clean left hands. He was all over Hunter as the crowd stood and cheered.
“The low blows didn’t really both me. It was annoying however,” Usyk said. “He was trying to hold, and I knew he would do that, so I worked in the gym on keeping him off me and keeping my distance to extend my arms.”
Usyk (12-0, 10 KOs), who won the title in his 10th fight, the division record for fewest needed to win a world title, continued to lay damage on Hunter in the sixth round, forcing him to the ropes with hard shots while Hunter’s corner yelled for him to get out of the way.
Usyk backed Hunter up with a combination to the head in the seventh round that seemed to wobble him, but Hunter came right back, as he did throughout the fight.
There were several times that Hunter (12-1, 8 KOs), a 2012 U.S. Olympian, looked like he was on the verge of being knocked down, but he managed to stay upright.
Usyk, a 30-year-old southpaw, who won the 2012 Olympic heavyweight gold medal for Ukraine, closed the show impressively with a huge 12th round in which he batted Hunter nearly senseless but could not get the stoppage. He rocked Hunter, 28, of Las Vegas and the son of 1990s heavyweight contender Mike “The Bounty” Hunter, with a left hand that snapped his head back, and he continued to pound away. Usyk was credited with a knockdown by Clancy when he drilled Hunter into the ropes, which held him up.
Clancy was looking close as Usyk continued to land almost at will, but Hunter refused to go down, though he took tremendous punishment until the final bell rang.
Usyk’s dominance was illustrated in the CompuBox punch statistics. He landed 321 of 905 punches (36 percent), and Hunter landed 190 of 794 shots (24 percent).
“No excuses, I lost the fight, no issue with the scorecards,” Hunter said. “I need to stay more active. I’d love to fight him again. It was a great fight, and he’s a great champion.”
Gvozdyk crushes Gonzalez
Light heavyweight contender Oleksandr Gvozdyk (13-0, 11 KOs), a 2012 Ukrainian Olympic bronze medalist and good friend to Lomachenko and Usyk, destroyed fringe contender Yunieski Gonzalez (18-3, 14 KOs) in a third-round knockout victory.
Gvozdyk, 29, took his time and then got rolling in the third round as he landed almost at will. A minute into the round he landed a tremendous right hand that dropped Gonzalez. Later in the round he landed another clean shot that had Gonzalez essentially out on his feet and wobbling.
Moments later, Gvozdyk landed another right hand to the head that dropped Gonzalez, 31, face first, and as his corner was throwing in the towel, referee Harvey Dock waved off the fight at 2 minutes, 55 seconds.
“He was one of the best fighters I ever fought, amateur or professional,” Gvozdyk said. “He was very strong. Once I got him hurt, I just kept throwing punches. I wanted to get him out of there.”
Gvozdyk has quickly established himself as a top-10 contender, having in 2016 scored knockout wins against former world title challengers Nadjib Mohammedi, Tommy Karpency and Isaac Chilemba in his biggest win in November. And then came the knockout of Gonzalez, a former standout amateur from Cuba, who defected and lives in Miami.
Gvozdyk is now in position to possibly face Joe Smith Jr. (23-1, 19 KOs) in a world-title eliminator recently ordered, although it remains to be seen if the camps will make the fight.
Junior welterweight Mike Reed (22-0, 12 KOs) put in a workmanlike effort in a dominant decision victory against Reyes Sanchez (26-10-2, 15 KOs).
Reed, 24, of Waldorf, Maryland, didn’t do anything fancy but ground down Sanchez with a steady attack to win 99-91 on all three scorecards. Seconds before the end of the sixth round, he had Sanchez reeling from a series of clean shots but could not put him away as the round ended. Reed continued to take it to Sanchez, 31, of Mexico, but he stood up to many clean punches.
Philadelphia super middleweight Jesse Hart (22-0, 18 KOs), the son of 1970s middleweight contender Eugene “Cyclone” Hart, hammered Alan Campa (16-3, 11 KOs) relentlessly in a fifth-round knockout victory.
Hart, 27, pasted Campa, 24, of Mexico, with shots in the first round and appeared to have him hurt, but Campa hung in there, taking a lot of punishment to the body and head. He repeatedly rocked Campa with left hands. Finally, in the fifth round, with Hart battering Campa, his corner threw in the towel, and referee Brent Bovell waved off the fight at 1 minute, 44 seconds.
Hart is the No. 1 contender for the 168-pound world title held by Gilberto “Zurdo” Ramirez, and he is expected to get a shot at the belt later this year. He wants him next, assuming Ramirez retains the belt against Max Bursak on April 22.
“I am going to call Top Rank on Monday and tell them I want ‘Zurdo.’ I’m gonna knock him out,” Hart said. “I’m gonna take good care of him. It’s my turn. I’m taking a flight April 22 to Carson, California, and I’m going to tell him to his face. I want that fight next.”
Hyattsville, Maryland, junior welterweight Patrick Harris (11-0, 7 KOs), 22, was forced to go the distance despite laying a beating on Omar Garcia (6-7, 1 KO), 33, of Mexico, who took tremendous punishment from Harris’ two-handed attack but never went down. In the end, Harris won every round 80-72 on all three scorecards.
Welterweight Egidijus Kavaliauskas, a two-time Lithuanian Olympian and one of boxing’s best up-and-coming talents, destroyed Ramses Agaton (17-3-3, 9 KOs) by fourth-round knockout in a one-sided bout that will go down in history as the first-ever at the MGM National Harbor.
Kavaliauskas (16-0, 13 KOs), 28, known as “The Mean Machine,” looked awfully mean in the third round as he scored two knockdowns. He badly hurt Agaton, 27, of Mexico, with a right hand to the head and followed with an onslaught of punches to drop him for the first time. Later in the round he connected with another right hand followed by another series of shots to send him to the canvas for the second time.
Kavaliauskas continued to dominate in the fourth round before landing a clean straight right hand that dropped Agaton flat on his back as referee Bovell counted him out at 2 minutes, 58 seconds.
“I was looking for that punch the entire fight, the straight hand to the chin, Kavaliauskas said. “It just felt sweet. It landed really hard.”