LOMACHENKO MANIA — In over 50 years of being obsessed by and closely following the sport of boxing I’ve never seen anything like the Vasyl Lomachenko fandom, by both those whose boxing aptitude and opinion I value and others I don’t think so much of. It’s mind boggling how so many are over the top for Lomachenko, as if we’ve never seen an off-the-chart talented fighter or murderous puncher before in professional boxing.
There’s plenty of time to laud Lomachenko as the top pound for pound fighter. I’m not that far away from doing it, but I’m not yet on board with those who have already done so. Yet some have already cemented him an all-time great who would’ve beat past legendary champs weighing between 126 and 135.
Stop it. Look, I get it, the guy has a great future and is phenomenally skilled and looks unbeatable but I’m sorry, I heard this said about George Foreman before he fought Muhammad Ali, Roy Jones before his second fight with Antonio Tarver and Mike Tyson before he fought James “Buster” Douglas….just to name a few. Then we found out Foreman had a little bit of a stamina deficiency, Tyson wasn’t nearly the same fighter when things didn’t go his way, and Jones didn’t have an all-world chin. Foreman made it to 40-0, Tyson made it to 37-0 and Jones made it all the way to 49-1 (loss was by DQ) before they were proven to be mortal. To assume that Lomachenko, who has reached 8-1, has no flaws in his game and will never lose another fight is more than a reach; it’s lunacy.
I know Foreman and Tyson were completely different stylistically than Lomachenko but they looked even more unbeatable during their prime and it was thought they’d never lose a fight. At one point in their careers, Foreman and Tyson — as is the case with Lomachenko now — won every hypothetical match up with every past great who came before them. With the hindsight of their careers complete, Foreman is no doubt in the top half of the top-10 of the all-time great heavyweights and Tyson resides at the lower half or right outside the top-10. But neither was unbeatable. After Roy Jones beat John Ruiz it was thought he was greater than Sugar Ray Robinson. Try and make that argument today. There’s a reason why a waiting period is in place before inducting athletes into the hall of fame…and the reason is because it’s impossible to get an accurate read on an athlete until their career is complete and can be put into a more clear perspective.
Boxing’s gloved era began circa 1867-70, and in over 150 years (with the possible exception of Floyd Mayweather, mostly due to his brilliant management), there hasn’t been one legitimate past great who was so untouchable that we never found out how good he took a punch or if he could come back to win a fight he was losing. Do boxing fans remember how unbeatable Roy Jones looked circa 1989-2003? Is Lomachenko winning fights and rounds as easily as Roy once did? I don’t think so. Has Lomachenko jogged past greats as easily as Jones did Bernard Hopkins and James Toney, two certifiable great fighters, in his 4th and 5th years as a pro….or looked like a house cat playing with a church mouse against an opponent who was 50 pounds heavier than any opponent he had ever fought – the way Jones did against John Ruiz?
I’ve seen it written where Lomachenko would’ve defeated Salvador Sanchez at featherweight, Floyd Mayweather at junior lightweight and even Roberto Duran at lightweight — a division he hasn’t fought in yet. Last I checked Sanchez and Mayweather would’ve been overwhelming favorites against any featherweight or junior lightweight Vasyl has faced. What I’m telling you is he might be the best and most gifted potentially, but he hasn’t defeated one near great opponent and that’s the acid test for every great fighter. Until he compiles a signature win, he’s not there, despite having beaten one outstanding and undefeated title-holder in Nicholas Walters.
After nine pro bouts and not even being undefeated, I have to accept one of two things: (1) those deeming Lomachenko an all-time great already know that he has a first tier chin and mental constitution that will bring him back from the brink of defeat, like Sugar Ray Leonard rallying back to beat Thomas Hearns in their first fight or Larry Holmes rallying to stop Earnie Shavers after being left for dead on the ring floor. I have no idea what the answer is and neither do you, yet. Or (2) you believe Lomachenko is so terrific and ahead of every other fighter that no one will ever test him or put him down. I just don’t believe that.
Many are basing their opinion on his potential, and it looks unlimited. However, a fighter with nearly four hundred amateur fights with monumental experience fighting internationally, who won two Olympic gold medals, is yet on the level of an eight-round pro when he makes his pro debut. On top of that, Lomachenko is already 29 years old and fighters in the lighter weight classes are usually on the slight decline when they reach his age, so how much better do you think he’s going to get? He hasn’t been through the mill so he may not be there yet, but the biggest gain he’ll make going forward is inwardly regarding his confidence. That’s not to be overlooked, but it’s not going to be dramatic because he’s been fighting so long.
I’ll cede Vasyl Lomachenko is a once in a generation talent, but is he a better prospect than Hector Camacho was at 21? Sure it’s easy to say that he’s better now. Because of Camacho’s character flaws he never became all that most everyone believed he would. But during his early tenure as champ, Camacho was winning title bouts without getting touched. Camacho’s footwork was every bit as good as Lomachenko’s, he was faster and won his fights against upper-tier opposition just as easily until he began partying morning, noon and night. If Lomachenko has a chin equal to Camacho’s, that will say a lot for him but we don’t know the answer to that at this time.
This isn’t meant to pour cold water on all that Lomachenko has accomplished. He’s ignited interest in boxing and says he wants to fight the best of the best and I love that. He has some nice wins on his record three and a half years into his pro career but the hype is over the top considering his brief tenure. Less than a month ago some boxing fans were proclaiming Gennady Golovkin could not only beat Marvin Hagler, but perhaps stop him because he punched so hard. Then he looked ordinary winning a closely contested bout against Daniel Jacobs and now those same media members and fans are picking him to lose to Canelo Alvarez, which was unheard of before he fought Jacobs.
The point here is to try to put our enthusiasm for any fighter — regardless of talent level and even spectacular performances — in perspective. No fighter gets a free ride to greatness. Let’s wait until Vasyl Lomachenko handles some bumps in the road while facing fellow p4p fighters before making grandiose statements about him.
Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank
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Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com