Those unfamiliar with Vasyl Lomachenko could be justifiably confused by HBO’s promo for his title defense against Jason Sosa (20-1-4) on Saturday.
The spot does nothing to hide the WBO world featherweight champ’s modest 7-1 record. Yet, HBO announcer Jim Lampley is heard referring to Lomachenko as “The Picasso of Boxing;” commentator Max Kellerman insists the Ukrainian southpaw is his “favorite;” and boxing legend Roy Jones Jr. asserts that Lomachenko has “all of the tools to be the best fighter on the planet.”
The promo isn’t completely off base. It just can’t convey Lomachenko’s entire body of work, which includes over 400 total fights and just two blemishes (if you can even call them that).
The first came as an amateur in 2007, when he was out-scored by Russia’s Albert Selimov in the featherweight finals of the AIBA World Boxing Championships. Seven years later, in just his second pro fight, Lomachenko lost again—a controversial split decision in favor of veteran Orlando Salido, who failed to make weight and connected a few low blows to boot.
The truth is that Lomachenko avenged his loss to Selimov twice, ultimately compiling 396 amateur wins, two Olympic gold medals, two world championship titles, and a European crown before turning pro in 2013. And as far as the Salido fight is concerned, it was a foolishly ambitious matchup at such an early stage in his pro career.
Besides, the 29-year-old Lomachenko has been nothing short of sensational ever since.
“He is the most technically astute fighter that I’ve ever seen,” said Top Rank’s Bob Arum, who is promoting Saturday’s fight at the MGM National Harbor near Baltimore. “I mean this guy does things in his training like I’ve never seen before. And in the ring, it is almost like a clinic, the way he performs, and the way he sets up his opponents for knockouts. He just almost hypnotizes opponents.”
Yes, Arum has a vested interest in Lomachenko, but he’s not lying. The blonde, brooding, five-foot-six technician has a mesmerizing quality in the ring, which Arum credits to Lomachenko’s father/trainer Anatoly.
“The father is the complete boss in that situation,” Arum said. “He kept him in the amateurs for a relatively long time, where he was the best amateur ever in the history of boxing.”
To truly understand Arum’s affinity, it’s best to watch Lomachenko at two different speeds.
In real time, his lightning quick hands are visibly overwhelming his opponents, who have only milliseconds of respite during his three- and four-punch combinations. Not only does Lomachenko land 7.8 jabs per round (fifth among active boxers according to CompuBox), but he’s precise enough to connect on 49.5% of all power punches (second among all active boxers).
He works so swiftly that it’s not uncommon to see Lomachenko unveiling a new combination as his opponent is only beginning to react to the previous flurry.
But it’s in slow motion where Lomachenko’s biggest advantage stands out.
After taking dance lessons in his youth at the insistence of Anatoly, Lomachenko’s footwork has become both unique and unparalleled. He lateral movements are fast enough to evoke Allen Iverson’s crossover, and Lomachenko has an uncanny ability to reposition himself in the most confusing and unorthodox ways.
Not only does this set Lomachenko up for a variety of attacks, but it also makes him nearly impossible to punch. Opponents have landed only 16.8% of their punches against the man known as “Hi-Tech”—14.3% lower than the CompuBox average and the lowest among all active professionals.
Coupled with his own offensive prowess, Lomachenko’s defense and footwork have given him a +20.9 plus-minus rating, easily the best among active boxers (Mikey Garcia is second at +16.2), and the best since Floyd Mayweather Jr. boasted a +24.5 rating, according to CompuBox. (Plus-minus rating is the difference between a fighter’s connection percentage and that of his or her opponents’).
At the amateur level, such a differential would make a boxer unbeatable. Amateur judges are simply trying to score clean punches, without any regard for power.
But what’s made Lomachenko’s ascent in the professional ranks so unique is that he’s blended that amateur style with his burgeoning power, which is why five of his seven wins have come by knockout.
“I just think that he is a phenomenon,” Arum said. “People are now waiting for his fights because they picked up on it and they just want to see that performance. It’s not like a usual fight.”
Lomachenko does add more flare than the typical Eastern European amateur-turned pro. He blesses himself, punctuates victories with backflips, and in his last fight—against a highly-rated Nicholas Walters—Lomachenko quietly taunted the previously undefeated Jamaican by standing flat footed at the center of the ring with his hands dropped to his sides. Walters, wisely, did not take the bait and his corner ultimately threw in the towel after the seventh round.
If Lomachenko has any problem, it might be a lack of competition. Walters was thought to be a great test, but ultimately proved to be easy work for Lomachenko.
Should he beat Sosa—an accomplished fighter not to be overlooked—Lomachenko could drop back down to flyweight to face the likes of Leo Santa Cruz or Carl Frampton. But the more intriguing opportunities might be at lightweight or even super lightweight.
“If he beats Sosa,” Arum explained, “there’s [English WBO lightweight champion Terry] Flanagan, there’s [undefeated American Mikey] Garcia, certainly. Salido—the one fight he lost as a professional, when he wasn’t prepared and still should have won—he could fight Salido again.
“There’s a host of 130-pound, 135-pound fighters coming up,” Arum continued. “I think he has a lot of very good opponents and maybe next year sometime, we can even put him in with [Manny] Pacquiao.”
Boxing fans would certainly push for a matchup with Garcia, who is perhaps Lomachenko’s closest comparable, statistically speaking. But networks like HBO would not be able to turn down any potential meeting between a legend like Pacquiao and boxing’s biggest talent.
Whether or not that talent can make Lomachenko boxing’s biggest star is debatable. Americans will remain unimpressed by his reputation as an amateur, but if he can continue to be this dominant as a professional, there’s no reason Lomachenko can’t earn top dollar for fights against Garcia or even Pacquiao.
“Obviously him not being an American and having fought all these amateur fights outside this country, it’s been an obstacle,” Arum said. “But it’s not an obstacle that isn’t being met because more and more people are talking about him. More and more commentators are commentating about him. In the short professional career he’s had, he’s made a tremendous splash.”
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