clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

HBO boxing preview: Roman Martinez vs Vasyl Lomachenko

Vasyl Lomachenko looks to become a two-division titleholder in his seventh pro fight when he faces Roman Martinez on Saturday night.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Scott Christ is the managing editor of Bad Left Hook and has been covering boxing for SB Nation since 2006.

This Saturday night on HBO (10 p.m. ET), Roman "Rocky" Martinez will defend his WBO super featherweight title in the main event against Vasyl Lomachenko, with Felix Verdejo in the co-feature against Juan Jose Martinez.

Here's a look at the matchups.

Roman Martinez vs Vasyl Lomachenko

Roman Martinez

Roman Martinez v Miguel Beltran Jr. Photo by Jeff Bottari/Getty Images

Record: 29-2-3 (17 KO) ... Streak: D1 ... Last 5: 3-1-1 ... Last 10: 6-2-2 ... Stance: Orthodox ... Height/Reach: 5'8" / 67" ... Age: 33

Thoughts: A good fighter, a three-time titleholder, and perhaps overmatched here, even though he's a top super featherweight. Puerto Rico's "Rocky" Martinez is one of many fighters who are good but not elite.

If you look at Martinez's best opponents, he's done OK, but has never totally separated himself from the pack. He won his first world title in 2009 against Nicky Cook, who was a decent fighter but a pretty weak titleholder. He defended against Feider Viloria and Gonzalo Munguia, not exactly top contenders, before he was upset in Glasgow by Ricky Burns in 2010. With the benefit of hindsight and more knowledge about the fighters, it wasn't as big an upset as it seemed then.

Martinez got that belt back by beating Miguel Beltran Jr in 2012, a solid win, and went to a draw with Juan Carlos Burgos in his first defense. He beat Diego Magdaleno, then lost the belt to Mikey Garcia in 2013. Last year, he beat Orlando Salido in Puerto Rico to again regain that belt, and drew with Salido in a September rematch.

His best opponents have been Burns, Garcia, and Salido. He's 1-2-1 in four fights against those opponents. His best win is the first fight with Salido, quite clearly, and after that you're talking Beltran and Magdaleno.

He's a good, solid B-grade fighter. The one time he was matched up against someone with true A skills, he was knocked out by Garcia. He did drop Garcia with a counter right in the second round, but other than that he was pretty sorely outclassed.

And that's more the level of matchup he has here. Styles make fights, and whereas Martinez is well-equipped to bang and battle with Salido, Garcia, a fighter with superior craft and skill, gave him fits and put him away in eight. Lomachenko is far closer to Garcia than he is to Salido.

Vasyl Lomachenko

Vasyl Lomachenko v Gamalier Rodriguez Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

Record: 5-1 (3 KO) ... Streak: W4 ... Last 5: 4-1 ... Last 10: 5-1 ... Stance: Southpaw ... Height/Reach: 5'7" / 65½" ... Age: 28

Thoughts: The sometimes outlandish fawning over Lomachenko can be a bit tiresome, at least to me. But I do not argue with the fact that he's a supremely skilled boxer, with excellent footwork, remarkable instincts, and an intelligence that, to me, is natural -- obviously, he's had to learn the things he knows, but the ability to learn the way he has is unusual. Few fighters have that capacity.

But there have been many savants in boxing history, none of them unbeatable, even #TBE himself, another fighter I consider someone who just has the capacity to learn and apply knowledge and technique that even most with the physical ability to do similar things just don't possess. Lomachenko got a rude welcome to the pro game in his second fight, roughed up and edged out by hardscrabble veteran Orlando Salido.

That was Lomachenko daring to be great, though. A close loss to someone like Salido in your second professional fight is not evidence that you're short of great; trying to beat him and nearly doing so in your second pro fight is evidence you probably are. And in his third fight, he outboxed Gary Russell Jr over 12 rounds to win the WBO featherweight title.

Since then, Lomachenko has coasted against Chonlatarn Piriyapinyo (UD-12), Gamalier Rodriguez (KO-9), and Romulo Koasicha (KO-10). None of those opponents were near Lomachenko's level, and it showed, as he handled each with ease. An offer was made to Nicholas Walters, who wanted more money than Top Rank was willing to give him. So Lomachenko, still wanting to be great, moves up to 130 to face Rocky Martinez.

On paper, there isn't much that Martinez does better than Lomachenko, if anything. He's not even really a better puncher, and Lomachenko isn't exactly a powerhouse slugger, either. But Martinez has the high-level experience that nobody else on Lomachenko's record other than Salido has possessed, including Russell and all his physical gifts.

Matchup Grade: B. It's not Lomachenko's fault that his skills make me think this might wind up looking like a mismatch; on paper, it's good matchmaking, and if you think of Lomachenko as a normal fighter or even a normal blue chip prospect, it's amazing that he'll fight Martinez in his seventh pro bout. But Lomachenko is not normal; he was advanced coming out of the amateurs, and he's even more so at this point. I honestly expect he will have very little trouble with Martinez, but that's only because he's the fighter that he is. Top Rank couldn't be asked to have given him much tougher of an opponent at 126 or 130. There just aren't many available.

Felix Verdejo vs Juan Jose Martinez

Felix Verdejo

Terence Crawford v Hank Lundy Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Record: 21-0 (14 KO) ... Streak: W21 ... Last 5: 5-0 ... Last 10: 10-0 ... Stance: Orthodox ... Height/Reach: 5'9" / 71½" ... Age: 23

Thoughts: Verdejo fought in the 2012 Olympics as a 19 year old, and won two fights before losing to Lomachenko in a fight that wasn't terribly one-sided by Lomachenko standards, a 14-9 score. I thought almost as soon as I saw him in action in the first round against Panama's Jose Huertas, "OK, this kid is a pro prospect." I didn't have any notion that he was going to go too far in the Olympics, and when he was matched with Lomachenko I actually thought he'd do worse, but he was a clear pro prospect.

And he's still a great pro prospect, even if the hype has sort of faded a bit of late. His HBO debut in February, a win over overmatched Brazilian William Silva, was a bit of a chore, going 10 rounds and not featuring much urgency from the young Puerto Rican. He repeated that in April against Jose Luis Rodriguez, in a UniMás main event in San Juan. And we saw a similar performance last June, too, when he faced Ivan Najera, a fellow unbeaten prospect, but not one thought to be on Verdejo's level (and he wasn't, and isn't).

Now, that's three of his last four fights where you might have been left saying, "What's the big deal with this kid?" But also consider that he's not really losing rounds, let alone the fights. He's cruising to victory in these fights, getting rounds, never in any danger.

Our own Radu, on the other hand, sees reason for legitimate concern in Verdejo's performances:

"I've been massively deflated by watching his latest performances. Something has clearly happened to Felix Verdejo along with the left hand troubles. Either his hand is giving him more trouble than he is telling us, or he's been out of the gym for a long while and he's still rusty, or perhaps the very slight increase in opposition is having an effect, or maybe there's just something distracting him in his personal life. ... Both his plan of attack and his plan of defense are very one-dimensional, as effective as they might be."

Still, I have downgraded him slightly myself. Whereas once I saw him as an A-grade prospect, I now would say he's about an B+, maybe a bit better, but also maybe a bit worse. I think that's fair enough -- I still see that potential, and think he's already a good fighter, but maybe he doesn't have quite the ceiling we thought before.

Juan Jose Martinez

Promociones del Pueblo

Record: 25-2 (17 KO) ... Streak: W6 ... Last 5: 5-0 ... Last 10: 9-1 ... Stance: Orthodox ... Height/Reach: 5'6" / 69" ... Age: 30

Thoughts: "Piquet" is the exact same level of opponent that Verdejo has been facing lately, a little smaller than Verdejo, certainly less skilled, and without much by way of résumé.

The toughest fighter that Martinez has faced thus far is probably Rey Bautista. Those two met in Dubai in September 2014, with Bautista winning a seven-round technical majority decision. Recently, he has faced and beaten veterans John Carlo Aparicio, Jairo Lopez, and Edgar Puerta.

Watching a few of Martinez's fights on YouTube, there's really nothing that stands out as anything that should trouble Verdejo. At worst for Felix, this should be another 9-1 or 10-0 rout. At best, he'll step up the energy a little and get this guy out in impressive fashion.

Matchup Grade: D+. Despite the wisdom at Top Rank, it does feel as though Verdejo should be fighting someone better than this by now. The fact is, we've seen Verdejo beat guys like this, rather handily, and there's no reason to think we'll learn anything new about him in this fight.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Bad Left Hook Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of all your global boxing news from Bad Left Hook