I have been on the Vasyl Lomachenko bandwagon for some time, but even I was unconvinced that he would have a seamless transition into the pro ranks.
A two-time Olympian gold medalist and one-time recipient of the Val Barker Trophy, two golds and a silver at the World Amateur Championships and the AIBA 'World Series of Boxing' champion, the multi-faceted Ukrainian stylist came into the pro ranks on a wave of hype from boxing hardcore's hoping he would be the next big thing in the pro ranks.
Slow down guys and gals. Even though Lomachenko wants to move fast--and he has, challenging for a 'world' title in his second bout and winning one in his third--he is still a work-in-progress.
That much was evident on the undercard to Mayweather-Pacquiao.
After figuring out the game Gamalier Rodriguez in the first two rounds, Lomachenko proceeded to pick apart the Puerto Rican challenger with staggering skill that belied his lack of pro experience.
It also showed the naivety of a fighter still only a few years removed from the unpaid ranks.
If Lomachenko thought he was being smart by pointing out every foul committed upon his person to referee Robert Byrd then he was wrong. After a while it just got frustrating, and while I don't think any fighter should have to suffer in silence--as Lomachenko did against Orlando Salido in his first world title challenge--the fact that Lomachenko could have got on with the job without needing to complain did cause a start-stop in the action. He needs to find a happy medium between saying nothing and getting worn down, and saying too much and wearing down his audience.
When Lomachenko was on last night he was really on. He's a unique stylist that blends the skilled boxer-puncher style of previous Eastern European exports such as Yuri Arbachakov and Orzubek Nazarov with a roguish approach to spinning his opponent in circles and smacking them about that brings to mind Jeff Fenech. When he wants to up his punch output he is remarkably similar to the latter, as the talented Ukrainian tends to mix in pitter-patter shots with the occasional sharp dig, perhaps a product of easily-damaged hands (Lomachenko suffered a broken hand in his bout prior to this against Thai Chonlatarn Piriyapinyo). Which is funnily enough an issue Welsh southpaw Joe Calzaghe--another stylist Lomachenko brings to mind--suffered with and combated by mixing up his offensive approach.
A blend of Arbachakov, Nazarov, Fenech and Calzaghe certainly sounds like a conundrum for any potential opponent, and Lomachenko is certainly that. But he still has to truly find himself in my opinion, which may sound a bizarre criticism to level at a fighter with such a wealth of amateur experience who is already fighting at a high level in the professional game, but a criticism I think is more than fair given he has already shown a want to improve.
He also showed a want to fight the best available opposition going forward, which pleased Max Kellerman to no end.
So, not the perfect fighter just yet but certainly one with the potential to engage in some interesting scraps going forward. But who should he fight next?
What I want to see
I said a few times in the build-up to Mayweather vs. Pacquiao that although it didn't make monetary sense to stack the under-card, if Lomachenko was to have faced off with WBA featherweight titlist Nicholas Walters as a supporting act to the super fight then I would have been as excited to see that as I was to see the two biggest starts in the sport.
But now I think about it, that fight can wait. Though many big fights have been spoiled by waiting to long to make them (in particular another potentially huge and telling featherweight clash between Juan Manuel Lopez and Yuriorkis Gamboa, incidentally like Lomachenko and Walters both promoted by Bob Arum's Top Rank Promotions at the time) I'm happy for this one to brew for a little longer.
As I said before, Lomachenko still has a little more seasoning to get under his belt. He is already seen as arguably the best featherweight in the world--a claim given extra weight by Gary Russell Jr blasting Jhonny Gonzalez to win the WBC title after Lomachenko had dealt with him with little hassle--but there are plenty of good contender-types out there for him to gain more experience and find the most comfortable style of output for his exceptional talent.
Walters has punched his way onto the scene by living up to his moniker of 'Axe Man'. Still, although Walters looks a beastly figure, as well as having a nuanced style that utilises an impressive jab and previously underrated defence, he has but two world class wins to his name. And those were against faded fighters mostly known for fighting in the lower weight classes.
There are rumours already that Walters is looking to dance with the Devil (that is be advised by Al Haymon) so it may be the case that when Lomachenko and the powerful Jamaican finally face off it won't be for featherweight supremacy, but further down the line when they're more established world-level forces and have grown into the higher weight classes. And personally I am fine with that.
If Lomachenko is to fight someone next other than Walters, I would look to a veteran with a degree of slickness who comes to fight as well, and who won't be over awed by Lomachenko's reputation. Rodriguez wasn't too respectful of Lomachenko and gave it a go early on, but was quickly found out as having had no plan b.
The World Boxing Organisation are known for having questionable rankings and challengers at the best of times, but scanning down their top ten I find the perfect opponent for Lomachenko who fits the bill. And coincidentally he was the man who was first thought as the front runner to face Lomachenko on May 2nd.
That man is the very crafty Simpiwe Vetyeka, who previously challenged Hozumi Hasegawa for the WBC bantamweight title, and grew into a top-quality featherweight who finally dethroned longtime champion Chris John, as well as stopping the incredibly durable Daud Yordan. Not only a man who is known for upsetting the apple cart, Vetyeka has never having been stopped in his 30 fight professional career.
He's probably deserving as well seeing as some fans thought he was given a raw deal against Nonito Donaire, which was his last loss and relieved him of his WBA featherweight title.
Who he will probably fight next
I can see Vetyeka getting the next shot at Lomachenko. He was slotted in previously, and I doubt the piggy bank will be as stretched to accommodate superstars of Mayweather and Pacquiao's calibre next time out, so perhaps that is the next fighter who will try and decode the boxing computer that is Vasyl Lomachenko.
What about you, BLH community members? Who do you want to see Lomachenko face off with next?