PHILADELPHIA -- Coming into the first defense of his light heavyweight world title, many wondered if Oleksandr Gvozdyk would be able to put aside the near-tragedy of his title-winning effort on Dec. 1 against Adonis Stevenson. As it turned out, there was no need for concern.
Gvozdyk scored a fifth-round stoppage victory when Doudou Ngumbu could not continue because of a right calf injury in the fifth round on Saturday night in the main event of the Top Rank Boxing on ESPN card before a sold-out, standing-room crowd of about 1,350 at the 2300 Arena.
Gvozdyk appeared to handle Ngumbu with little issue before the stoppage but was not thrilled with the way the fight went and the unusual ending.
"It wasn't what I expected, but I did my best," Gvozdyk said. "Sometimes, this happens [in boxing]. It is what it is."
Gvozdyk started well when he nailed Ngumbu with a solid right hand in the first round, during which Ngumbu showed the style that was expected -- an awkward one with a lot of herky-jerky movement.
Gvozdyk got through with a left hook in the fourth round and later with a right, but he had trouble landing combinations because Ngumbu was moving so much.
Gvozdyk continued to stalk him in the fifth round when Ngumbu suddenly came up limping. Ngumbu injured his right calf and grabbed onto the ropes to steady himself.
For whatever reason, referee Eric Dali gave him time to recover, ruling an accidental foul, even though there was no contact and the fight should have been stopped. Eventually, Dali stopped the fight at 58 seconds when it was clear Ngumbu could not walk off the injury.
Ngumbu (38-9, 14 KOs), 37, a Congo native living in France, eventually sat down in his corner and began to cry because of his disappointment with the outcome.
According to CompuBox statistics, Gvozdyk landed 47 of 204 punches (23 percent) and Ngumbu landed only 18 of 108 (17 percent).
Ngumbu viewed the fight as his first and probably only shot at a world title. It was a fight he took so seriously that he also broke down in tears at the previous day's fighter meeting with the ESPN broadcast crew. Asked about the importance of the bout, he explained that it would mean he could better financially support his mother and other family members still in Congo, as well as his wife and children in France.
Gvozdyk, nicknamed "The Nail," won the title when he traveled in December to Quebec City, the home region of long-reigning world champion Adonis Stevenson, and rallied for a brutal, 11th-round knockout victory. Stevenson had suffered a catastrophic brain injury and was rushed to the hospital, where he had surgery, spent weeks in a coma and nearly died.
The Oxnard, California-based Gvozdyk (17-0, 14 KOs), 31, a 2012 Ukrainian Olympian, entered the defense against Ngumbu having been peppered in the days leading up to the fight with questions about his state of mind given that difficult situation. But while he wished Stevenson well and was happy that his previous opponent is recovering, Gvozdyk insisted it would have no impact on how he went about his business in the ring in his second fight with trainer Teddy Atlas.
The fight came on the same day that there was good news from the Stevenson camp. His promoter, Yvon Michel, was ringside and told ESPN that Stevenson was allowed to go home for the weekend for the first time from the rehabilitation center he has been in. He will return to the rehab center during the week but continue to go home on the weekend, Michel said.
Before the fight, Gvozdyk declined to discuss the possible major fights for him with a victory. But now they are possible -- and likely to be easily made -- because Top Rank also promotes fellow world titleholder Artur Beterbiev (13-0, 13 KOs), who will defend his belt against Radivoje "Hot Rod" Kalajdzic (24-1, 17 KOs) on May 4, and co-promotes titlist Sergey Kovalev (33-3-1, 28 KOs), the biggest name in the division.
Top Rank also promotes super middleweight titlist Gilberto "Zurdo" Ramirez (39-0, 25 KOs), who is moving up to light heavyweight on April 12, and co-promotes former light heavyweight titlist Eleider "Storm" Alvarez (24-1, 12 KOs), who lost his belt to Kovalev in their rematch on Feb. 2.
So, Gvozdyk will not lack for notable opposition, and Top Rank said it is likely there will be at least one unification fight before the end of the year. That is what he wants.
"My goal is to unify titles," he said. "I will wait to see what my team tells me to do next."