The fandom is over the top with the emergence of boxing’s next must-see fighter. He is Vasyl Lomachenko 9-1 (7), the current holder of the WBO junior lightweight title. This past weekend Lomachenko completely dominated an outclassed Miguel Marriaga 25-3 (21) who withdrew from the fight after the seventh round. Prior to fighting Vasyl, Marriaga lost a unanimous decision to Oscar Valdez for the WBO featherweight title, a fight in which he had his moments. The same can’t be said pertaining to his showing against Lomachenko. Then again, in the ring the size disparity between Lomachenko and Marriaga resembled the difference between Sonny Liston and Floyd Patterson, that’s how much bigger Lomachenko looked.
The hysteria over Lomachenko is understandable, to a degree. He’s extremely quick of hand and foot, perhaps he has the best footwork and placement in boxing, he’s a southpaw, and though he is not a hard puncher, he’s physically stronger than most believe that he is. He manipulates his opponents into reaching and lunging for him and makes them miss. He usually keeps his hands up and elbows tight to his body unless he’s mocking his opponent. Vasyl is very confident in his ability and what he can do in the ring. You can’t rush things against him and when you miss you can’t flurry trying to make up the lost ground or he’ll counter the crap out of you. Lomachenko is more athletic and unconventional than anything else. Couple that with his great reflexes and instincts and you’ve got your work cut out if you’re facing him.
Yes, there have been other fighters about whom many of those things could be said – the likes of Hector Camacho, Pernell Whitaker and Roy Jones. But the hysteria over Lomachenko is far more reaching than it was for those three along with a few others. And much of the reason for that is because in less than 10 pro bouts he’s captured two world titles, and with the exception of his lone defeat against Orlando Salido, those bouts haven’t been closely contested. And strangely there are boxing observers around already proclaiming that after beating nine fighters, he’s an all-time great, yet you’re a hater if you mention the fighter who beat him to refute it. Political hypocrites have nothing on boxing’s best hypocrites.
That said, let’s get one thing straight that has gone completely under the radar: Vasyl Lomachenko isn’t your average 10-bout pro – he’s actually more experienced in almost every way than his opponents to date with the exception of Salido who ironically is the only fighter to beat him.
What I’m going to say will make many reading this shake their head and I get it, but it just so happens that there’s a dimension to boxing that most fans and media members either weren’t exposed to or just overlook. What’s gone unmentioned during Lomachenko’s ascent is that amateur boxers who travel the globe fighting the best each country has to offer are damn near 8-round pros. Take the headgear off and they’d be just fine confronting mid-level professionals.
Instead of turning pro at 17 or 18 and feasting on tomato cans for four years, Lomachenko turned pro at 26. He gained his vast experience fighting amateur at the international level, winning a gold medal at two different Olympics. Amateurs with 100 fights start off fighting 6/8-rounders when they turn pro. Lomachenko had 397 fights….and I’ll bet at least 50 of those were against international opposition. A super-skilled amateur with a ton of International/Olympic experience can live with most fringe contenders for six to eight rounds right out of the gate. Exhibit A would be Lomachenko versus Salido, who had 55 bouts when they met.
Back in 1960 when Cassius Clay was getting ready for his pro debut, after slightly over a hundred amateur fights, he sparred heavyweight champion Ingemar Johansson who was getting ready to defend the title in a rematch with Floyd Patterson. Those who watched Clay and Johansson spar for three rounds suggested that perhaps Clay should be defending the title against Patterson instead of Johansson.
Lomachenko, because of all the rounds he fought as an amateur, while no doubt training with pros during that time, actually had more experience than his last opponent, Miguel Marriaga. Add to that, his skillset is remarkable, so I wasn’t shocked by the way he owned every minute of the fight. There’s a strong chance that many of the fighters Lomachenko fought during the end of his amateur career were far superior to every pro opponent Marriaga fought with the exceptions of Oscar Valdez and Nicholas Walters, the two fighters who defeated him before he fought Lomachenko.
Fighting amateur is a steppingstone to the pros. And fighters that win multiple gold medals are easily better fighters and technicians than middle of the road pros. Had Cuba’s Felix Savon, a three time gold medalist, turned pro as a cruiserweight at the height of his amateur standing, is it a stretch to envision him holding a title after 10 bouts? I don’t think so at all. I remember after Teofilo Stevenson won his second Olympic gold medal in 1976, there was interest in him fighting Muhammad Ali who was the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world. Apparently the boxing world forgot how Evander Holyfield, a bronze medalist at the 1984 Games, won the cruiserweight title in just his 12th bout, beating a savage beast in Dwight Muhammad Qawi over 15 rounds.
What Lomachenko is doing is rare, reserved for special fighters. Right now Lomachenko looks like the genuine article and we’ll soon know how special he truly is….but the almost school crush praise over him is becoming nauseating. Yes, I think it’ll take a special fighter with an overload of strength and physicality to beat Lomachenko at 130, but can we at least see him in with another special fighter, to which there are a few hovering around his weight?
At this time Lomachenko holds the WBO 130-pound title……Miguel Berchelt 32-1 (28) holds the WBC title, Jezreel Corrales 22-1 (8) holds the WBA title, and Gervonta Davis 18-0 (17) holds the IBF title. On the heels of Vasyl’s 10th bout, I would pick him to beat every other title holder at 130 without reservation, aside from Gervonta Davis. Davis can hit, he’s energetic, puts his shots together in multiples and doesn’t lack for confidence. If forced to pick between Lomachenko and Davis, I would go with Lomachenko because he’s more mature in the ring and also has more experience, even though Gervonta has fought eight more times as a pro.
The reality is that Lomachenko may not be fully pushed to fight his best until he’s at lightweight staring across the ring at a tall physical freak in Robert Easter, an offensive mechanic in Jorge Linares or the best technician in boxing, Mikey Garcia. When Lomachenko has a couple of them on his record in the win column, I’ll be blown away, especially if he does it in a manner where it’s not competitive. However, doing it in fewer than 15 fights won’t be what stands out to me.
The arrival of Vasyl Lomachenko has stimulated boxing and that’s great. But keep in mind the next time he fights that he was defeated by the best fighter he’s been in with, and that he is far more mature and experienced than his 10 bouts indicate. Also, he isn’t going to get any better and he’s not unbeatable. Lastly, although it’s certainly plausible that he may retire as one of the greats, it’s way too early for that conversation.
Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com
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