Could Walters' Decision to Quit Against Lomachenko Have a Lasting Impact on Combat Sports?
Often-maligned boxing promoter Bob Arum has seen it all in the world of pugilism. Supervising his 2,000 th boxing event on Saturday night, Arum's latest superstar client Vasyl Lomachenko wowed the world with an effortlessly dominant performance against Nicholas Walters—leading Arum to claim his Ukrainian understudy is a "modern master" of the boxing ring.
Comments like that could be seen as typical promotional hyperbole, but Lomachenko does indeed appear to be that good since moving to the professional ranks following a glittering amateur career which saw him win Olympic gold in 2008 and 2012, gold at the World Championships in 2009 and 2011, as well as gold in the European Championships in 2008. The 28-year-old southpaw truly is something special.
Walters, who possesses serious punching power for someone fighting at featherweight (or, in this case, junior lightweight), was expected to be a stern test for Lomachenko and a good gauge to see how much of the hysteria surrounding the European was warranted. Walking into the fight with an undefeated record and 21 of his 26 wins coming by way of knockout, Walters simply didn't look up to scratch when contesting Lomachenko for his WBO junior lightweight title.
It was a sparring match screened on pay-per-view for Lomachenko. He embarrassed the Jamaican, teaching him a boxing lesson throughout the seven rounds this "contest" lasted in a true virtuoso performance. Peppering Walters with the entirety of his extraordinary punching repertoire while masterfully weaving in and out of danger to show off his impressive defensive skills, Lomachenko wasn't troubled in the slightest by the usually-imposing Walters.
The dominance produced by Lomachenko proved too much for Walters. While sat on the stool awaiting the go-ahead for the eighth round, Walters and his corner requested referee Tony Weeks' intervention and call a stop to proceedings. Weeks had asked Walters himself whether he wanted to continue or not—his response? "No, I don't want to continue." No mas.
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There was very little evidence of any superficial damage inflicted on Walters, nor any distinguishable lacerations on his face after being soundly outclassed by Lomachenko. While I'm sure he had suffered from the array of punches he endured, it appeared Walters' heart, will to fight and boxer's ego had taken a battering the worst. But, we're merely spectators in this—who are we to know how he truly felt in the fight?
The crowd in attendance at The Cosmopolitan booed at Walters' decision to call it quits—especially when he told HBO boxing analyst Max Kellerman that he hadn't suffered an injury. In an attempt to reason with the chagrin-fuelled crowd, Walters said: "It wasn't about quitting, right? If you look at the last round he caught me with some pretty good shots. I was hanging on just to survive the round. It would be stupid to continue."
If Walters honestly felt he would have suffered unnecessary damage in the following rounds, that would indeed be a bit stupid. In an age where concern for fighter safety is becoming increasingly prominent in combat sports, you could argue Walters was simply taking responsibility for his health.
Walters' decision was met with fierce criticism from both journalists and fans. Being seen to "quit" in a fight is one of combat sport's unspoken cardinal sins. Fighters are expected to continue until the bitter end. Walters did indeed retire from a world title fight in between rounds, but should he be harangued for making a decision he claims to have made for his wellbeing in the heat of the moment?
Given the immediacy of the coma-inducing bleed on the skull suffered by Nick Blackwell against Chris Eubank Jr. earlier in 2016—an injury incurred despite Blackwell appearing to be totally fine and one which forced the former's retirement, flaring up again recently as he got hurt while sparring—you would like to think Walters' reasoning would at least be respected, even if you don't necessarily believe him. You can't champion the moves made to promote fighter safety, such as Chris Eubank Sr.'s actions, but then criticise others for supposedly looking out for their own wellbeing.
Lomachenko wasn't exactly sympathetic toward Walters after the fight, telling reporters: "After the fifth round, I really enjoyed that. He said he was a warrior and how he would do this and that in the build-up. But, what did he really do? He's a good fighter, really strong, but he stood there and made it easy for me. My goal is to be the number one pound-for-pound fighter in the world. I had my plan and I knew it would take about for rounds—then I went to work on in him. In the end, he just quit."
"We watched a modern master, a magician in action tonight," Arum told reporters. "It surprised me he [Walters] quit, but Walters was going to get knocked out. Lomachenko worked the kid out and was going to stop him in the next round."
If Arum could see the writing on the wall, I'm sure Walters did too as Lomachenko was stepping things up yet another gear. A criticism aimed at Walters is about how he talked himself up ahead of the fight before quitting on Saturday. That's called fight promotion.
The outpouring of anger we have seen since the fight could set a negative precedent. While I can't say I totally believe Walters' excuse for quitting on his stool, I am in no place to say he is outright lying and lambast him for retiring from a fight. No fighter will ever want to be tarnished as a yeller-belly quitter like Walters and that attitude could well land someone in a whole world of bother if they know they are hurt in a fight.
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So what's next for the Ukrainian? With a record of 8-1 boxing fans will be eager to see more of the man who has fought no more than three times in one year—with an emerging pattern of two fights a year. This is something Arum called "bullshit," so hopefully we can see more of this expert at work.
Lomachenko's sole loss was to Orlando Salido in a bid to make history by winning a world championship in only his second professional fight. That attempt ended in failure, with a hesitant Lomachenko losing out on a split decision in a fight mired by controversy. Salido weighed in heavy for his fight and was stripped of the title, while referee Laurence Cole allowed Salido to land a bizarre amount of foul punches in a perfect example of poor officiating. A competitor as esteemed as Lomachenko would certainly want to get that win back.
However, a bigger fight for Lomachenko could well be on the horizon in 2017—one Manny Pacquiao. Arum touted this fight in the days leading up to Saturday, telling reporters: "Lomachenko has a huge upside. This is the second world title in as many divisions in seven professional fights—that has never happened before, and he is going to win more world titles as he goes up in weight and there are going to be very interesting guys for him to fight.
"It is not beyond the realm of possibility that he and Manny [Pacquiao] could fight sometime next year. Lomachenko wants challenges and he is a tremendous talent. His upside is enormous and a lot of people are watching him—not just boxing fans—because he is an unbelievable talent. They see him on You Tube and on HBO and have said what an unbelievable talent he is."
A Lomachenko vs. Pacquiao match-up would certainly produce big numbers and victory for the Ukrainian southpaw would certainly fast-track his rise to superstardom while bolstering his position in the pound-for-pound stakes. However, judging by the performance put on Saturday night, Lomachenko is must-see TV no matter who he fights.
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