IT is quite difficult to imagine a pro boxer being past his prime after only 16 paid contests.
Then again, the case of Ukrainian Vasyl Lomachenko is different: here is a guy who has been hitting the sandbag since he was a toddler and whose amateur career encompassed two Olympics and nearly 400 fights. Lomachenko overstayed in the amateur game, which explains why not a few thought he would not last long in the pro game when he finally decided to turn pro in November 2013.
Fully cognizant of the popular belief that boxers who stayed too long in the amateur game are likely to burn out early in the pro ranks, Lomachenko hit the ground running in the punch-for-pay business.
Lomachenko became a world champion in only his third pro fight, beating Gary Russell Jr. in June 2014 for the vacant WBO featherweight (126 lbs.) title. In only his seventh fight, Lomachenko captured his second division title when he stopped Roman Martinez in June 2016 for the WBO super featherweight (130 lbs.) diadem. Just three years later, in May 2018, Lomachenko added a third division crown by stopping Jorge Linares for the WBA lightweight (135 lbs.) tiara. Lomachenko etched his name in the record books by becoming the fastest boxer to win three division crowns, needing only 12 fights to do so.
For all his unbelievable acceleration, not a few noted that Lomachenko started showing dents in his armor as he moved up in weight.
Make no mistake, Lomachenko was virtually untouchable as a featherweight, displaying a variety of offensive skills as he toyed with the best 126-pounders in the world. He was still pretty effective as a super featherweight (130 lbs.), even forcing notable names like Nicholas Walters and Guillermo Rigondeaux to quit out of frustration.
It was in the lightweight (135 lbs.) division where Lomachenko started to show his mortality. In his maiden appearance as a lightweight in 2018, a cocky Lomachenko, arguably thinking that he was still fighting small guys, walked straight into a right hand by Linares. The punch landed smack on Lomachenko’s kisser and deposited him straight to the canvas. Lomachenko beat the count and went on to stop Linares with a body shot in round ten, but it became clear that he was in for some tough opposition in the lightweight division. Linares was supposed to be a shot fighter, but his right hand nearly toppled Lomachenko.
Lomachenko struggled again in his next fight at lightweight, looking pedestrian as he won a decision win over Luke Campbell in August 2019 for the combined WBC, WBA, and WBO lightweight crowns. Campbell used his advantages in height and reach to keep Lomachenko off-balanced in the early rounds. Lomachenko actually landed only one punch in the opening round as he struggled to get close to the bigger Campbell.
Lomachenko went inactive for the next fourteen months after the Campbell fight due to the coronavirus pandemic. He finally resurfaced in the ring on October 17 only to drop a unanimous decision to IBF counterpart Teofimo Lopez.
As in the Campbell fight, Lomachenko struggled to find his range against Lopez. Noticeably taller and heftier, Lopez came out boxing in the early rounds and kept Lomachenko at a safe distance with his left jab. Lopez easily took the first seven rounds as Lomachenko offered token resistance.
Lomachenko’s strategy apparently included taking the fight to the middle rounds and waiting for Lopez to pant like a dog. However, when Lopez finally showed signs of fatigue in the eighth round, Lomachenko still failed to go full throttle on offense. Lomachenko continued to punch in spurts, perhaps wary of an ambush from Lopez’s vaunted right hand.
Lomachenko needed a knockout in the 12th and final round to salvage a victory. Lopez still beat Lomachenko to the punch and even hurt him in the dying seconds.
The decision was unanimous for Lopez, with judge Julie Lederman even giving Lomachenko only one round (119-109) in her scorecard. This writer scored it 116-112 for Lopez.
Lomachenko disclosed after the fight that he injured his right shoulder and that it prevented him from throwing right hooks. Lomachenko is a natural right-hander and is just a converted southpaw, making his right hand a lethal weapon.
But while it is easy to use the shoulder injury as an excuse, most observers noted Lomachenko’s failure to handle the bigger fighters in the lightweight class as the primary reason behind his surprise loss. As a featherweight, Lomachenko was poetry in motion, dazzling foes with an assortment of offensive/defensive moves. But against bigger and heavier foes like Lopez, Lomachenko struggled to find his rhythm. While Lomachenko easily sidestepped the wild lunges of small fighters in the featherweight class, a simple push from Lopez kept him off-balanced throughout the fight. Lopez outmuscled and outworked the smaller Lomachenko.
Lomachenko saw his pro record dip to 14-2 with 10 knockouts following the loss. The debacle was only Lomachenko’s second defeat since dropping a decision to Mexican Orlando Salido in his second pro fight in March 2014.
The loss to Lopez, though, may be the most revealing. While Lomachenko promised to return, he may want to think if he still wants to establish permanent residency in the lightweight division. He is clearly undersized in the division and his three fights at 135-pounds serve as Exhibit A.
There is also the lingering, if not pesky thought, that Lomachenko may be past his prime. Lomachenko is only 32 years old, but this is a guy who has figured in nearly 400 bouts as an amateur and who was predictably in a hurry to win all available titles in the pro ranks because he knew from the outset that he was fighting on borrowed time.
Lomachenko has a lot of pondering to do as he recovers from shoulder surgery. Doctors have promised a full recovery, but they are only talking about the physical aspect. The biggest challenge for Lomachenko is to overcome the psychological scars Lopez inflicted upon him.