MIKEY GARCIA AND LOMACHENKO — With the re-emergence of Mikey Garcia 36-0 (30), much of the talk in many boxing circles has centered on him facing WBO junior lightweight champ Vasyl Lomachenko 7-1 (5), perhaps later this year for Garcia’s WBC lightweight title. Both have publicly addressed the prospect and say they’re all for meeting at 135. A matchup between them would be pairing two of the top-5 best pound for pound fighters in boxing. Many wouldn’t put Mikey Garcia in the top-5, but I would vehemently argue that he belongs there.
When conversation involving Garcia and Lomachenko (pictured) is bandied about, someone invariably says that Mikey and Vasyl are two of the best technical boxers in the sport. And then someone will voice an agreement with that thought and it will go unchallenged. That is until now.
Recently, I was very gratified to hear Paulie Malignaggi tell an audience that Mikey Garcia wasn’t “athletic,” but was a great technician. Paulie never spoke truer words. And what he meant by that is that Garcia’s style isn’t athletic. Mikey wins by imposing sound boxing basics on his opponents, and then takes advantage when they reach for him with a punch or an attempt to clinch – or, when they go outside his high guard, trying to hit him. Everything Garcia does is done with a purpose in order to set up the next punching sequence without getting hit or, at the worst, remaining in position to defend and counter.
Garcia’s high guard with his elbows tucked to his sides forces his opponent to have to punch around his hands because the path to go at him straight is sealed. And when they go to punch around his guard, they’re open for him to punch inside of their arms — which lends to his accuracy always being terrific and landing clean and flush with his finishing shots. And they are the shots that get fighters out, the ones they don’t see.
Garcia stylistically is very reminiscent of Alexis Arguello of the late seventies and early eighties and vintage Donald Curry circa 1980-85. He makes no mistakes, never gets reckless or wild, applies sustained subtle pressures and forces his opponents into doing something they shouldn’t. Add to that he is a very hard puncher and always hits the target dead on. Like Arguello and Curry, Mikey Garcia is the quintessential boxer-puncher and is clearly the best textbook boxer currently fighting.
Vasyl Lomachenko, who many wrongly view as a technical marvel, may be one of the best fighters in boxing, but he is no fundamental genius. Lomachenko’s strength basically comes down to his speed and athleticism and, most importantly, his great footwork and positioning. In boxing, grace and athleticism are always mistaken for boxing ability. Muhammad Ali and Roy Jones are the poster boy examples. Yes, Muhammad and Roy were almost impossible to hit and were a sight to behold when they were at their best and the ring was their playground. However, they were not really outstanding boxers fundamentally. You’d never teach anyone to fight like them. And if you watched them closely, once they lost their warp speed and reflexes they were not that hard to hit with even rudimentary punches.
Well, to a large degree the same applies to Lomachenko. Vasyl’s biggest asset is his speed and footwork. He attacks in waves and flurries once he picks his spot. But due to his magnificent footwork and legs, he usually positions himself on the opponent’s blind side, as it is applied in many martial arts and specifically Wing Chun. Lomachenko, like the late Hector Camacho, forces his opponents to reach and punch across their body in order to hit him. And this depletes their power and reduces their accuracy. But because he is so fast and in and out, to the right, then the left, occasionally the center, they can’t get a read on him.
During his last bout with Nicholas Walters, Lomachenko flurried, then stood in front of him with his hands by his side, and Walters missed him. That’s not fundamental defense or boxing the way it is taught. What that is is physical brilliance and athleticism. Yes, Vasyl has decent boxing basics and his head and upper-body feints are terrific and very disruptive to his opponents, but he is not a technical wizard, not even close. Imagine Lomachenko with average speed and footwork? He would get tattooed by his opponents if he tried some of the things he currently gets away with at age 28.
Fighters like Ali, Jones and Lomachenko are often tagged as being great boxers, but great is stretching it. They were/are tremendous athletes who boxed and moved well, with much of their effectiveness grounded to their speed, legs and reflexes…which cannot be taught or acquired. Once Ali and Jones aged and lost some of their quickness, we saw how they weren’t all that difficult to hit cleanly. The same will no doubt happen to Lomachenko if he fights into his late thirties and forties. Conversely, Mikey Garcia’s success is more tied to him being methodical and his executing the way it’s supposed to be done in the ring. Mikey’s style and way of fighting stands the test of time better than Lomachenko’s, but if he fights long enough he’ll likely run into his Aaron Pryor or maybe even Lomachenko.
The great thing about a Garcia vs. Lomachenko clash is that both of them are vulnerable to the other’s style. Fighters like Garcia can become flustered by fighters with blinding speed who are all over the place, who fight in an unconventional style that defies boxing logic and principles. On the other hand, athletic fighters like Lomachenko can come unglued by opponents who don’t fall for their feints and subterfuges to get them out of position or their hands down, leaving them vulnerable. If Garcia and Lomachenko do meet, neither one will get the clean shots at the other that they’re used to getting. Mikey will have to step out of himself a little, and Vasyl will have to be more imaginative in a conventional way.
However, don’t ever say that Mikey Garcia and Vasyl Lomachenko are technical wizards. One does everything right and it usually turns out in his favor. And the other defies the way it’s supposed to be done in the ring and — with the exception of his second pro fight — it has worked out right for him too.
Flashy fighters with grace aren’t always technically good boxers. And fighters who punch hard, like Roberto Duran and Sonny Liston, are much better boxers than they ever get credit for.
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Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com