By Frank Lotierzo
It’s hard to imagine a megafight featuring one fighter who is a veteran of seven total pro bouts. However, the upcoming junior lightweight bout between WBO title holder Vasyl Lomachenko 6-1 (4) and former WBA featherweight title holder Nicholas Walters 26-0-1 (21) is just that…a mega attraction. The bout, televised on HBO, will take place on November 26th from The Chelsea inside The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas.
Lomachenko and Walters (pictured) are both promoted by Top Rank. They were to cross paths before but the bout blew up over money. Bob Arum, the head man at Top Rank, had an oral commitment from both to fight this past February, but things fell through when Walters requested more money.
Lomachenko-Walters is a great match-up between a phenom in Lomachenko, who is a tremendous technician with fast hands and footwork reminiscent of the late Hector Camacho. Lomachenko is a two-time Olympic gold medalist from Ukraine who compiled a 399-1 record as an amateur and hasn’t been spoon-fed since turning pro in 2013. In addition to that, most don’t realize that an amateur with 400 fights is almost an eight round pro going into his debut. In Lomachenko’s second pro bout he fought for the title but fell a little short via split decision against veteran Orlando Salido who sported a record of 40-12-2 (28) at the time, and who came in overweight. With Salido winning, the title remained vacant due to him coming in 2 1/4 pounds over the featherweight limit. Lomachenko, 28, rebounded from that defeat to win high profile bouts over Gary Russell Jr. and Roman Martinez to win belts in two weight classes.
Walters, from Jamaica, has dynamite in both hands. His signature win came against the tough and hard punching Nonito Donaire via a sixth round TKO. Walters, 30, was stripped of his belt when he failed to make weight before defeating Miguel Marriaga in June of last year. Then he fought to a draw in a bout that any observer with eyes thought he won versus Jason Sosa this past December. Despite the Sosa debacle, Walters is dangerous and by leaps and bounds the hardest puncher and most formidable fighter that Lomachenko has gone near as a pro.
Heading into the bout Lomachenko will garner most of the attention because of his style and flash. His speed of hand and foot along with the way he puts his punches together to the head and body from either lead, make him unique. At ring center there’s nothing he can’t do and it’s phenomenal how quickly he can transition and pivot from offense to defense and then back to attacking. It’s impressive to see him cut loose and open up offensively and at the same time remain just out of his opponent’s range to counter him back — although, I don’t think Walters will be quite as stymied or intimidated by that as were Lomachenko’s former opponents. Vasyl can also fight going forward and back and, if need be, side-to-side as well. And believe me, it’s a real task trying to get to a guy who is igniting minor explosions in your face while on the move. Sometimes he does things and will move without much purpose other than to occupy the opponent, but to date it has kept most of his adversaries off of him.
As for Walters, his reach and long arms, if he can remain centered, could nullify Lomachenko’s speed and combination punching — being that a clean jab in the midst of the exchange will blunt Vasyl’s rhythm enough to force him to either stand and finish the exchange or transition to a defensive posture before the right hand and left-hooks from Walters find a home. Walters will no doubt push the fight, but he mustn’t follow. His aggression has to be effective and send the message to Lomachenko that there’s a price to pay when trying to explode in spurts offensively. At the same time, he’ll need to induce Lomachenko into leading some so he can really get the clean shot in the midst of Vasyl launching his attack.
The confrontation is the classic boxer versus fighter/puncher. Great lateral movement along with fast hands and speed is hard to offset. But there are ways to deal with it if you have big power and know how to deliver it, and I believe Nicholas Walters has the power and means to deliver it. The fight is very difficult to handicap with any degree of certainty, but here’s what we do know…..Lomachenko can box his rear-end off. No doubt his speed, combination punching and angles will be bothersome to Walters, in the early going at the very least. We also know that Walters has range and reach and has no issue when it comes to letting his hands go — and he can crack with either hand.
What we’re not sure of, or at least I’m not, is how Lomachenko will hold up mentally if he can’t discourage or frustrate Walters. Sure, the Salido fight rushed Vasyl to graduate high school, but Salido, although strong, isn’t a big puncher. And that lack of finishing power allowed Lomachenko to come up for air without the worriment of being hurt once he realized he was going to have to go the distance. Against Walters he won’t have that luxury and will need to be on alert from bell-to-bell because Nicholas can hurt him with one clean shot. Depending on how Lomachenko holds up to that will go a long way in determining the outcome.
On the flip side, Walters hasn’t seen anything like Lomachenko. Vasyl has the capacity to out-box Walters and even embarrass him if he becomes too anxious. What if Walters is still a full step behind by the midpoint of the bout? Will he become frustrated and just look for one punch, which would be a colossal mistake? I don’t think he will, but I don’t know. And if Walters lands his Sunday punch and Lomachenko shrugs it off, then what?
I’ve read where Lomachenko has a great chin, but I need to see more before I jump on that bandwagon. So my questions are, how good will Lomachenko hold up to Walters’ Sunday best and how easily, if at all, can Lomanchenko take Walters to boxing school? If you know the answer to either one of those questions, then you know who will win the fight.
It’s too early to pick the winner, but I think Lomachenko hydrates to be the exponentially bigger guy and that’s a nice advantage for him. Also, as talented as he is, I’m not sure he’s as off-the-chart great as many others do. I respect Vasyl for his willingness to take the biggest risk out there, but I think Walters is also fighting with a chip on his shoulder and sees Lomachenko in the same vein that Roberto Duran saw Sugar Ray Leonard before their first fight. And when you take that into account along with the style clash and the level at which they both fight, it has to be a great bout from a technical and action-packed vantage point.
Frank Lotierzo can be reached at GlovedFist@Gmail.com