Vasyl Lomachenko defended his WBO featherweight title with style Saturday night, stopping Gamalier Rodriguez in the ninth round on the undercard of Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s fight with Manny Pacquiao.
Leo Santa Cruz also pounded out a one-sided victory over Jose Cayetano in his featherweight debut while celebrities and wealthy boxing fans filed into the MGM Grand Garden Arena for the most anticipated main event in several years.
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Lomachenko (4-1, 2 KOs) got the pay-per-view portion of the card off to an impressive start with a virtuoso boxing exhibition against the Puerto Rican challenger.
The two-time Olympic gold medalist from Ukraine battered Rodriguez (25-3-3) with hand speed, footwork, combinations and relentless work, eventually breaking down the game challenger. Rodriguez, who was unbeaten in his last 18 consecutive fights, was penalized twice for low blows by referee Robert Byrd, who waved off the fight in the ninth when Rodriguez stayed on one knee deep into the count.
The official stoppage was 50 seconds into the round for Lomachenko, who overcame Rodriguez’s roughhouse tactics. Lomachenko was beaten by similar strategies in his second pro fight, with Orlando Salido throwing low blows on the way to a narrow win in Lomachenko’s first title shot.
”This is experience, only experience,” Lomachenko said in English.
Lomachenko showed off his skill and athleticism throughout the middle rounds, landing a body shot that unfocused Rodriguez’s eyes in the fifth. Rodriguez took a knee in the seventh and again in the ninth after a precise combination from Lomachenko, who is eager to unify the featherweight belts before moving up.
”Anyone with a title belt in my division, that’s who I want to fight,” Lomachenko said through a translator. ”I agree that I have to fight someone notable next.”
Santa Cruz (30-0-1) won titles in two weight classes before moving up to featherweight. The Los Angeles-area fighter was a huge favorite against Cayetano, who had little to offer but resilience in a one-sided bout.
”He was able to take a lot of punishment,” Santa Cruz said. ”I hit him in the head. I hit him in the body, and he never went down. I did the best I could in a new weight class. I want big fights now, just like the fans want.”