With Saturday night’s one-sided win over Guillermo Rigondeaux, and the 2017 retirements of both Floyd Mayweather and Andre Ward, it’s time to accept that it’s no longer just about hype, no longer just about anyone — network or promoter — trying to create a star.
Vasyl Lomachenko is boxing’s best fighter, pound-for-pound.
Lomachenko (10-1, 8 KO) forced his fourth straight opponent to quit, as Rigondeaux (17-1, 11 KO) couldn’t do anything with the Ukrainian, who felt out the first round before toying with the Cuban amateur legend and professional world champion, himself without question one of the sport’s ten best pound-for-pound coming into the fight.
Sure, Rigondeaux is 37, and sure, he was moving up two weight classes. But if Rigondeaux won’t blame the weight — and he doesn’t — then we shouldn’t either. (Though in fairness, Lomachenko himself said he doesn’t feel it’s that big of a win because Rigondeaux wasn’t fighting at his best weight.)
As good as Rigondeaux is, especially defensively, nobody should really be able to do to him what Lomachenko did. But Lomachenko did it, and he did it with ease.
According to CompuBox, Rigondeaux landed 15 of 178 punches in six rounds, an absurdly low 8.4% connect rate. That includes 10 of 114 (8.8%) of his jabs, and 5 of 64 (7.8%) of his power shots. Off the top of my head, I can remember the southpaw landing one decent left hand in the fight, and even that seemed more a grazing blow than anything.
Making what Lomachenko did even more amazing also shows up in the punch stats. He didn’t maul Rigondeaux himself, landing a paltry 16.2% (55 of 339) of his total punches. Defensively, Rigondeaux was still doing a really good job, at least statistically.
It was the tempo and flow of the fight that mattered. Lomachenko was in total control. Rigondeaux’s punches landed by round came in at 2, 3, 2, 3, 2, and 3.
So while Lomachenko was hardly lighting up the punch stats himself (2, 12, 7, 16, 7, 11 landed by round), he was still breaking Rigondeaux’s spirit. He was still telling Rigondeaux, “You can’t do this. You can’t beat me. You’re not good enough.”
And Rigondeaux grew to believe it. As much as he might have been able to stifle Lomachenko and keep him from landing a ton of clean shots, Lomachenko allowed Rigondeaux to do even less.
Rigondeaux says he hurt his hand in the second round. Hey, he might have. But fighters hurt their hands in fights all the time. If Rigondeaux believed he had a hope of winning, he wouldn’t have quit. He didn’t believe it, so he gave up, bending to Lomachenko’s will.
"I think he’s the most unbeatable fighter I've ever had," said legendary promoter Bob Arum after Lomachenko’s win over Rigondeaux. "The only one that was different was Ali before the three-and-a-half years [he was idle]."
Even Rigondeaux’s promoter, Dino Duva of Roc Nation Sports, was in awe.
“I gave Rigo the first round, but after that it was all Lomachenko,” he said. “It just amazes me what this guy does to his opponents. He frustrates them with his athletic skills. He frustrates them so bad they don't even know what to do. He didn't even know what to do, Rigo."
Lomachenko lost his second pro fight, yes, back in 2014, when he challenged Orlando Salido for the WBO featherweight title. Salido’s rugged, pro game style was a problem for Lomachenko, a slick amateur legend with two gold medals under his belt, who had never quite learned to deal with the true rough stuff that a brawler like Salido can and will bring.
But even over the course of that fight, Lomachenko made adjustments. He made it close. He lost, but he learned, and that was the real key. Salido bullied Lomachenko, pushed him around, took advantage of his inexperience with that sort of style.
And it made Lomachenko an even better fighter than he already was coming into the paid ranks. Today, nobody’s going to bully Lomachenko. Rigondeaux tried to get rough, tried to grapple and hold, tried to get into Lomachenko’s head that way. At one point, at the end of a round, Rigondeaux continued to hold, so Lomachenko gave him a quick pop to the mush, well after the bell.
Dirty? Sure. Necessary? Not really. An indication of Lomachenko’s more experienced attitude, his confidence and his mean streak? Absolutely, and he’s better off for it. He won’t be intimidated, and he won’t be pushed.
After Salido, he beat Gary Russell Jr, who is a hell of a fighter and now a champion at featherweight. He rattled off three more wins at 126 pounds before moving up, because nobody really wanted to fight him.
Since moving to 130, he’s been a wrecking ball. Rocky Martinez was knocked flat out in five rounds. Nicholas Walters gave up after seven. Jason Sosa gave up after nine. Miguel Marriaga gave up after seven. And now Rigondeaux threw in the towel after six.
It begs the question, is he going to have to move up again? He’s the clear top dog at super featherweight. Who’s he going to fight? WBC titleholder Miguel Berchelt, a good fighter and the No. 2 man in the division, is with HBO. So is Alberto Machado, the recently-crowned WBA titleholder. So are Francisco Vargas and Mickey Roman, both winners on Saturday night’s HBO card. And Roman beat Salido, so there’s really no value right now in Lomachenko potentially avenging his only pro loss.
Arum thinks he’s good enough to not just move up to 135, but dominate the top fighters at that weight, too.
“He'll take anybody. He'll go to 135 pounds, and he'll make a joke of [Jorge] Linares. He'll make a joke of [Mikey] Garcia,” Arum said. “They're really good fighters, but this guy is super special. You've never seen anything like this. Maybe he'll go to 140, I don't know. He's going to do this to everybody.”
That’s promoter bluster, as great a quote as it is. But it’d be great to see Lomachenko try, because right now, it’s hard to imagine him being truly tested at 130, even if the other top fighters were willing or able to take him on.
We’ll see what the future holds, but for me, Lomachenko has done plenty enough to be considered the new, clear pound-for-pound ruler in boxing.