Nine Notes on a Fight: Vasyl Lomachenko beats Gary Russell Jr

Stephen Dunn

Vasyl Lomachenko proved he's the real deal with last night's win over Gary Russell Jr. How important a fighter is the amateur legend and pro phenom going to be?

I saw the writer J.M. Coetzee speak at Wolfson College, Oxford, recently. ‘I consider myself to be using rather than reflecting reality,' he read from an unpublished work. Coetzee is a favourite of mine. When we meet afterwards, words fail me--or do I fail words?--when he signs a copy of his work. It is desperately embarrassing. ‘In times of intense ideological pressure like the present,' writes Coetzee in ‘The Novel Today' (1987), ‘when the space in which the novel and history normally coexist like two cows on the same pasture, each minding its own business, is squeezed to almost nothing, the novel, it seems to me, has only two options: supplementarity or rivalry.' Coetzee's work identifies dynamic tensions in narrative allegory, which needs not point simply to historical reality, in his formulation, but can question rather the validity of that reality itself. When Coetzee reads from his latest novel, The Childhood of Jesus, a strip of light shines through a ceiling-window, is magnified into an eloquence, and blinds me sitting in the eighth row back. The voice continues, productively disembodied.

*

Sport is not allegory, but it is imbued with symbolic value nonetheless. The implication behind much commentary, whether conscious or not, is that style tells us something about national character. Often, even when performance diverges from pronouncement, that hallucination of meaning remains. A fighter of Mexican ethnicity thus becomes characteristically Mexican no matter what; or, to be stiff, monotonous, and robotic, is also to be Eastern European. Fluidity is American. This should remind us: a furiously embodied process does not preclude furiously textual readings.

*

Vasyl Lomachenko wears blue gloves with yellow trim, and his black shorts--curiously lacking a belt protector, it seems--also hold an emblem of Ukrainian colour. He does not fight in the Ukraine, not in these troubled times, and not when history waits on undercards in half-filled auditoria, but he fights for Ukraine, as Ukraine, seems to be the implication. Lomachenko is East displaced in West, Ukraine exiled in America, removed from the mother tongue, exporting his goods--which include fast hands, a heavy body attack, and footwork designed to exploit each reach of the ring's small geography--for economic gain, provided a platform his talents should transcend. Stylistically, Lomachenko is the new Eastern Europe, some mongrel combination of hungry capitalism pared down by Soviet scarcity, all flash muscle allied with dogged order.

*

And Gary Russell, Jr.? Well, he is America, obviously, and the ‘U.S.A., U.S.A.' chants that broke occasionally through the Stub Hub Center in Carson, California, on Saturday night, seemed to admit as such, even as Russell, Jr. was beaten repeatedly to the punch by Lomachenko, and even after Russell, Jr. had surely done far less to endear himself to the watching crowd than his aforementioned opponent, who sought to inflict damage by doing more than barking and shadowboxing thin air. Yes, Russell, Jr. is America, and America as chance: fast and young and mythic and hopeful, dreamily so, the fighter-as-nation, the nation-as-dream, though dreamed perhaps by those institutions which exist in mechanical silence, which exert pressure in apparent absentia, which create in the same way that rainwater erodes, under cover of darkness. Construct without reason, fact without evidence, Russell, Jr.'s actual skillset could best be described before this bout by the initials of his most frequent opponent: T.B.A.

*

A majority decision. 114-114.

Was Lisa Giampa like me before Coetzee, blind in the presence of dazzling sunlight, senseless to all but disembodied sound? Gary Russell, Jr. decided in the fifth to throw with abandon, as though sheer multitude--no matter how misplaced that multitude might be--could win him the fight. Before the bout, Russell, Jr.'s speed had been declared his joker in the pack. With more than half remaining, and puzzled already by the innumerable angles from which Lomachenko throws, Russell, Jr. had displayed his full hand. But even in rounds where Lomachenko held his cards tight to his chest, the few signs he offered--an up-jab here, a counter to the body there--were nonetheless far more definitive. In the sixth, which saw Russell, Jr. flashing combinations onto everything but skin, one emphatic jab proved enough for Lomachenko to take the round. This action was not close. All Russell, Jr. could do was strive for the illusion thereof.

But Lisa Giampa saw a draw. 114-114.

*

That footwork: languidly concentrated, approximately precise, based on the absolute balance between left and right, together with the knowledge that a perfect square yet holds an abundance of angles within its rigid sides. That footwork: in the corner of your eye, outside Russell, Jr.'s reach, dictating the pace of the fight. That footwork: forcing Russell, Jr. to move in straight lines, letting Lomachenko thrash him in curves. A beating on the diagonal, perhaps.

*

In times of intense commercial pressure like these, when the space between reality and fiction is nothing but a blur, and the representation of sport has come to be almost as dominant as its actuality, there remains the possibility that in the occasional meeting of fictions, a clearer reality will emerge.

*

There is an ethical violence about allegory that is perhaps more troubling than the literal one of boxing. Any narrative stratagem that refuses the possibility of the simultaneity of compliance and contradiction, that insists instead upon a message or meaning at which all signification arrives, is necessarily a limiting one. No wonder Borges was so wary about football, with its tendency toward allegorical nationalism--the reading of the team as nation, Pele as Brazil, Messi as Argentina--and complicity with larger institutions. Boxing no longer holds the symbolic significance of its cultural heyday, but simulacra, as in football, reigns supreme: Esse Est Percipi, to be is to be perceived, as the title of a Borges short story goes. Gary Russell, Jr. had not been before Saturday night. He had only been perceived.

*

Here is one prediction: Russell, Jr. will have a fair career, and win a paper title, but never amount to what had once been suggested. Yes, Russell, Jr.'s hands are fast, but they are fast only in a decorative sense: worse fighters than Lomachenko will also punch down the centre of pitter-patter combinations thrown with little menace. With his short arms and slight physique, Russell, Jr. will always stand at an obvious disadvantage. His chin is good, and the heart is there, but his upside might just have been announced. As expected, it took an opponent, not an acronym, to do so.

And here is another: Vasyl Lomachenko will be the star his talent suggests, however long his professional career lasts. A possible bout with Guillermo Rigondeaux might just involve the two most skilled fighters in amateur boxing history, while Lomachenko's willingness to throw might also draw the Cuban into greater action. Lomachenko is not easily marketable--he does not speak English, he refuses the probability of pretty knockouts against uncompetitive cans--but then he is also that rarest commodity in sport today: a reality, not a fiction.

X
Log In Sign Up

forgot?
Log In Sign Up

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

By becoming a registered user, you are also agreeing to our Terms and confirming that you have read our Privacy Policy.

Join Bad Left Hook

You must be a member of Bad Left Hook to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Bad Left Hook. You should read them.

Join Bad Left Hook

You must be a member of Bad Left Hook to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Bad Left Hook. You should read them.

Spinner.vc97ec6e

Authenticating

Great!

Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.

tracking_pixel_5349_tracker