Vasiliy Lomachenko is limited. He’s mortal. He’s short, and his punching power isn’t otherworldly. He doesn’t so much conquer as he assimilates. At 31 years old, and in his third weight class, he has to convince opponents that he’s the better man, rather than have it be a simple statement of fact.
The question seems to be: does that diminish him compared to other fighters? Perhaps the question should be: Who fucking cares?
Last Saturday night, Vasiliy Lomachenko (14-1, 10 KO) marched into the O2 Arena in London, U.K. and won (officially) 10 or 11 rounds against 2012 Olympic Gold Medalist Luke Campbell (20-3, 16 KO) on ESPN+. The bout was contested for one of the lightweight alphabet straps, so Lomachenko could “unificate,” but it didn’t matter much. It never does. No one is lining up to see Loma add another belt that could be stripped next week. They’re in the stands to see something special.
Vasiliy Lomachenko is something special, but it isn’t what we always want. Luke Campbell is a damn good lightweight with an impressive amateur pedigree, but at the upper echelons of the pro game, he’s proven to be merely ‘good.’ A good lightweight, even a big one with a gold medal isn’t enough to beat a great fighter. And class matters. All other things being equal, it’s the only thing that matters. If you wanted to see Luke Campbell get blown out, you watched the wrong card.
The early rounds followed a script, Lomachenko would absorb what Campbell could do, and then Campbell would bring in a new wrinkle. The fresh tactic would be effective until it wasn’t. Rinse. Lather. Repeat. But hidden amongst this was Lomachenko adding a different wrinkle in response to Campbell. It was never the same, but it was always enough to steer Campbell back to an original point.
If you’re my age, the best pitcher you ever saw was likely Pedro Martinez. I say that as a full-blown Braves homer and a zealot of the church of Maddux. But Pedro had 4-5 pitches, and he had 3 arm angles, and he had 2-3 speeds for each pitch. And that’s what Vasiliy Lomachenko has.
By the late rounds, Lomachenko has so thoroughly confounded your idea of space, time, and angles that you don’t know what he might do. It’s not just his punches, it’s not just his footwork, and it’s not just his speed. It’s all of them being adjusted at all times.
The most salient note I took all night was in round 5: “Loma almost took a huge left cross to land his. But he didn’t.”
It didn’t get much better for Luke Campbell. He fought bravely, but was always overmatched, and the degree to which that was obvious became more notable as the fight’s second half progressed. Vasiliy Lomachenko didn’t just beat Luke Campbell, he rendered him inert. There were plenty of dangerous moments, but not so many as it felt like the tide had shifted. By the end, the cards, all widely in Lomachenko’s favor, were perfunctory.
The Lomachenko Hi-Wire act will continue on for as long as it must. No one is lining up to see small fighters take on bums (ask Gary Russell Jr.), and even if that was a viable path, Lomachenko gives the impression that he’s not interested in it. The Richard Commey vs Teofimo Lopez winner is a damn good fight. In fact, Loma versus Devin Haney, or Shakur Stevenson is fun too. Or Oscar Valdez, or Miguel Berchelt, or Gervonta Davis, or … Yeah, that covers a few classes. The man to beat Lomachenko won’t just be bigger, he’ll present a wrinkle that hasn’t been dealt with prior. It’s all well and good to hit like a truck, but when your opponent is signaling Olé! from your 7 o’clock by the time your punch would’ve landed, does it matter?
We can compare Lomachenko to fighters current and past in weight classes too numerous to mention, but I think some of us are missing the point. Lomachenko being special in no way detracts from Naoya Inoue being special, or Floyd Mayweather, or any fucking body else, for that matter. He is special, and we’ve got him for a limited amount of time. I want to see someone beat him again just so I can see the lengths to which he’ll go to not be beaten. It’s the performances we’ll remember so much more than the records, so don’t rob yourself of enjoying seeing them in real-time.
(Photo by Dave Thompson/Route One)