Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Vasiliy Lomachenko continues endless pursuit of undisputed greatness after falling short a second time

Ever since he first arrived upon the scene of his third division in 2018, Vasiliy Lomachenko has made it his mission to pursue one dream (and one dream only) to put a capstone on his unique and historic career: an undisputed championship. 

Already considered among the greatest amateur boxers in history after winning a pair of Olympic gold medals for his native Ukraine, Lomachenko (17-3, 11 KOs) only continued his pursuit of greatness upon turning pro. He won a world title in just his third pro fight, added a second division title by his seventh fight and then authored an incredible four-fight stretch (ending in 2017) where his opponents all quit on their stool (briefly labeling him as “No-mas-chenko” by adoring fans and media). 

The only problem for Lomachenko was that he became so dominant at 126 and 130 pounds that the other champions refused to fight him, which derailed his dream of becoming a four-belt, undisputed champion. That’s the reason why Lomachenko moved up so quickly to lightweight in just his 12th fight, in a weight class admittedly over his head in terms of size and effectiveness of his power. 

Lomachenko is so great, however, that it barely seemed to matter. He secured almost unanimous approval as pound-for-pound king yet went on to see his dream of collecting all four titles come up short twice — both times in disputed decisions against unbeaten champions (Teofimo Lopez Jr., Devin Haney) who looked poised to use the breakthrough victory to become household names. 

The biggest difference between then and now is that the two men who barely defeated Lomachenko at lightweight have now come and gone after physically outgrowing the division. But the diminutive Lomachenko is still here and his desire at age 36 to achieve his dream, just as his window of opportunity appears to slowly be closing, couldn’t be stronger.  

Lomachenko returns on Saturday, in Perth, Australia, when he challenges native hero George Kambosos Jr. (21-2, 10 KOs) for the IBF title that was vacated when Haney moved up to 140 pounds last fall. The fight has been titled “Road to Redemption,” which is not only aimed at Lomachenko but the fact that Kambosos, the division’s former unified king following his 2021 upset of Lopez, dropped a pair of title losses to Haney the following year. 

“I was a man who wanted to take the world,” Lomacheko said during Top Rank’s pre-fight documentary series. “I was very close with undisputed but I can’t because I lose in the lightweight and [the loss] took my dream, took my goal. I wouldn’t like to finish on that note.”

Lomachenko’s 2020 loss to Lopez was much closer than the scorecards intimated, as the shifty southpaw furiously rallied over the second half but came up short (and, admittedly, started too late). But it was the fight last May for Haney’s undisputed title that saw the majority of observers believe Lomachenko had done enough and that age had yet to rob him of his superiority. 

“I had a chance [against Haney], I lose this chance,” Lomachenko said. “On the paper, I am not an undisputed world champion but, inside, if we talk with Teofimo, it was close. But if we are talking with Haney, it was not a close fight. I understand that I won this fight. People know and understand about this robbery.”

Not only does this weekend’s fight, which will air live on Sunday in Australia, present Lomachenko with an opportunity to get back into the title mix should he capture the IBF crown, it would put him on the fast track — according to Hall-of-Fame promoter Bob Arum — to getting a final shot at his undisputed dreams in the near future. 

Arum, the CEO and founder of Top Rank, told Sky Sports this week that a Lomachenko victory could propel him into an immediate title unification bout with unbeaten, WBC champion Shakur Stevenson, whose recent run as a three-division champion allowed him to pass Lomachenko into the top10 of the P4P. 

Two major hurdles — aside from the fact that Lomachenko, a 7-to-1 betting favorite, must first conquer the upset-minded Kambosos — remain surrounding Stevenson, however. He must first defend his WBC title on July 6 against Artem Harutyunyan (12-1, 7 KOs) and then must decide, at the conclusion of his Top Rank deal, whether to re-sign with the promotion or seek bigger offers elsewhere (including PBC, where star WBA champion Gervonta Davis resides). 

“So, if Lomachenko wins, and Shakur wins, then for the fall [we] do a Lomachenko-Shakur fight,” Arum said. “Every serious boxing fan will be watching that in awe, between two great technicians fighting for a unified title. Let’s see what happens. Kambosos is very good. Even though he doesn’t come from Perth, he’s fighting on home territory, which means something.”

To Lomachenko’s credit, even though his undisputed dream has been talked about for years, he refuses to look past the challenge ahead of him before lining up potential fights with any of the other champions, whether it be Stevenson, Davis or whomever ends up claiming the still-vacant WBO strap. 

“I’m just looking forward to the IBF title,” Lomachenko said at Wednesday’s final press conference. “I need to take my title, and then after that, I can think about my future.”

Of Lomachenko’s 20 pro fights, an incredible 16 have been contested for at least one recognized world title. This was the same boxer who only signed with Arum under the promise he would have a shot at competing for a championship in his pro debut (he was ultimately forced to wait for his second pro fight, which he lost by disputed decision). 

So, when Lomachenko thinks about the last remaining goal on his boxing to-do list, it becomes easy to understand why the idea of an undisputed championship gives him so much motivation and pride. 

“In the professional boxing, we have four belts [per division],” Lomachenko said. “We can’t be talking about four different world champions. We can’t. In boxing, we have only one champion, it’s the undisputed world champion.”

And when he thinks back at how hard it used to be to get other champions to agree to face him, there remains a certain twinkle of motivation in Lomachenko’s eye when he talks about his age, and the fact that he’s fighting in a division above his preferred weight, which has suddenly given everyone confidence that he might be for the taking. 

“I remember a time when I was the man and nobody wanted to fight,” Lomachenko said. “Now, of course, everyone wants to fight me because I became a year older. But, right now, I still feel dangerous. I still have my speed, my power, my conditioning. I just want to show my best.”

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