The Ukrainian boxer Vasiliy Lomachenko has won world titles at three different weights and is being mentioned in the same breath as Muhammad Ali, Marvin Hagler and Floyd Mayweather
Deep inside the O2 Arena warren of backstage corridors, where signed posters of the biggest stars to grace the venue are hung like trophies, we wait for Vasilyi Lomachenko. And we talk. And whatever the accent, the same adjectives tumble out. Sensational. Unbelievable. Special. The thing that marks him out, Tony Bellew says, is just how easy he makes it look against quality fighters. Jeff Powell, who has covered boxing for the Daily Mail for nearly 50 years, reckons Lomachenko is the best technician he has ever seen. And Bob Arum, still loudly and proudly banging the promoter’s drum with his 88th birthday looming, insists the Ukrainian belongs in the pantheon, alongside Muhammad Ali, Marvin Hagler, Sugar Ray Leonard, Floyd Mayweather, Oscar De La Hoya and Manny Pacquiao.
But when Lomachenko speaks to us, long past the witching hour, he does not want to engage. “I don’t want people to ask me if I think I am a great,” he says, his words laden with understandable fatigue. “That is down to other people to talk about and decide. My opinion doesn’t matter.”
This is a refreshing development for modern boxing, where even a six-round club fighter could teach Dale Carnegie a thing or two about salesmanship. But on Saturday 18,000 souls respectfully – and rightfully – disagreed with him. Few things unite Britain during these times of turbulence and strife, Brexit and Boris, proroguing and roguing. But whether it was from the posh seats or the bleachers the same cries could be repeatedly heard. “Loma! Loma!” and “Loma‑Chenko! Loma-Chenko”. It was an acknowledgment of sporting genius.
Powell, who has followed the sport since the day he was smuggled into Earl’s Court by his father to see Randolph Turpin defeat Sugar Ray Robinson, said he had never seen anything like it in a British ring. But it was impossible not to marvel at how Lomachenko defused the mines laid by Luke Campbell, who entered the ring with a large reach and height advantage and looked like a giant in comparison. It was how sport should be: the crowd hailing Lomachenko one minute and roaring on Campbell the next; wanting to purr at a masterclass while simultaneously craving a miracle.
True, it was not Lomachenko’s best performance. He said so himself. Probably a seven out of 10, he reckoned, although he would have to rewatch it to be sure. Yet he had still dominated one of the world’s finest lightweights by 11 rounds to one on two of the judges’ cards and by 10-2 on the other. That felt a touch harsh on Campbell, who put up a ferocious effort, but not by much.
From ringside it was especially notable how calm Lomachenko remained under fire, as well as the way he would shift his feet or head so that his opponent’s jab would frequently whistle past his ear or fall short. In his infancy as a boxer Lomachenko also learned Ukrainian dance, did gymnastics and played basketball, football and tennis, which he believes has enhanced his footwork. Watching the fighter known as “the Matrix” – so called because of the way he seems to bend time and space to his will in the ring – it was impossible to argue.
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