Vasyl Lomachenko wants to earn the title of best fighter in the world

Combat columnist
Yahoo Sports
Promoter Bob Arum feels Vasyl Lomachenko is the greatest fighter other than Muhammad Ali he’s ever promoted. (Getty)
Promoter Bob Arum feels Vasyl Lomachenko is the greatest fighter other than Muhammad Ali he’s ever promoted. (Getty)

Vasyl Lomachenko laughs out loud, a hearty, robust laugh that forces everyone around him to laugh along with him. His manager, Egis Klimas, is with him to translate, but Lomachenko, a Ukranian who came to the U.S. to seek professional boxing glory, is studying English and clearly doesn’t need Klimas to translate the question.

He was asked why he bothered to take up English; his breathtaking boxing skills alone were enough to make him a star.

He was a reported 396-1 as an amateur and won two Olympic gold medals, and two golds and a silver in the amateur world championships.

He’s 7-1 as a pro — more about that loss later — and already a world champion. Many are already calling him the best fighter in the world, though Lomachenko rejects the notion that he’s No. 1.

Until last month, most pundits had either super flyweight Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez or middleweight Gennady Golovkin as the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world. They entered a March 18 pay-per-view card at Madison Square Garden in New York a combined 82-0 with 71 knockouts.

Gonzalez, though, lost to Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, and Golovkin squeaked out a harder-than-expected victory over Daniel Jacobs.

To some, it was time for a passing of the torch. But it wasn’t for Lomachenko.

“I don’t think about that and I don’t even want to talk about it,” Lomachenko said as he prepares for a Saturday title defense of his WBO junior lightweight belt at MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland, on HBO against Jason Sosa.

“I don’t want to be ranked in a better position because someone else failed.”

He says this almost angrily, sneering. He’s been light and cheerful, laughing easily throughout most of the interview, speaking almost flawless English.

This, though, offends him. When you’ve won 404 of 406 fights you’ve taken, you get used to taking care of business yourself. You don’t need anyone else’s help.

Lomachenko, who is and always has been trained by his father, Anatoly, knows full well he’s not far away from the top. But he is adamant he doesn’t want anything given to him.

“If people say I’m the best, I want it to be because of my skills and what I do, not because of what happened with anyone else,” he said.

Amateur and pro, he’s winning 99.507389 percent of his bouts, or about as close to 100 percent as one can get. Floyd Mayweather was 49-0 as a professional and is regarded as the greatest of this generation, but not even he won that high of a percentage of his bouts when factoring in both amateur and pro.

Top Rank matchmaker Bruce Trampler has one of the shrewdest eyes for talent in the business, and is a member of the International Boxing Hall of Fame largely for that ability and his uncanny ability to fully develop boxers.

He most certainly is not one prone to hyperbole, and he tends to favor boxers from eras gone by over those from the modern group.

Ask him about a welterweight and he’ll say, “Can you really see that guy beating Tommy Hearns? Can you?”

He has no compunctions about praising Lomachenko, though.

“He could hang in any era,” he said of Lomachenko, high praise coming from a guy who often scoffs at the notion that today’s boxers match up favorably with those from the past.

Lomachenko is so gifted that he fought a 10-rounder in his pro debut, and Top Rank was trying as hard as it could to get him a title shot in that bout. He had to wait for his second fight to get it, and met Orlando Salido for the WBO featherweight title.

Vasyl Lomachenko had no answers for veteran Orlando Salido in 2014. (AP)
Vasyl Lomachenko had no answers for veteran Orlando Salido in 2014. (AP)

Salido is the polar opposite of Lomachenko, who can often be seen walking around his gym on his hands and frequently does all sorts of flips. Lomachenko is as athletic as they come, but Salido is one of those boxing lifers who has made himself a success purely on his heart and determination.

You’ve heard of fighters willing to take two to land one; Salido is willing to take 10 to land one. He’s perpetual action, and probably wings punches in his sleep.

He scored a split-decision victory over Lomachenko in a fight in which he gained so much weight after the weigh-in that he looked like a small middleweight.

Lomachenko had been around boxing for years, but had never met anyone like Salido, who knew all the tricks and exposed Lomachenko’s lack of professional experience.

It’s a fight Lomachenko could have won, but ask anyone who was at the Alamodome in San Antonio on March 1, 2014, and they’ll tell you that they fought Salido’s fight that night.

Lomachenko has moved on to bigger and better things, and Salido may forever be in his rear-view mirror. Asked about Salido, Lomachenko scoffed.

“I don’t even think about him,” Lomachenko said. “I will destroy him.”

Klimas said Salido asked for “crazy money” and that when Top Rank agreed to offer it, they changed their minds and took another fight.

“What can we do?” Klimas said. “Vasyl would love to fight him again, but he’s not fixated on Salido. There are other fights out there.”

There are many excellent fights for Lomachenko, who is better than 15-1 at most sports books to dispose of Sosa. The best, perhaps, is a lightweight bout with Mikey Garcia.

But Salido manager Sean Gibbons, a former boxer himself who has been in the business for decades, scoffs at the notion that Lomachenko is special.

He said he asked for a sizable purse since Salido is a bigger draw.

“If crazy money is $1 million, then we asked for crazy money,” said Gibbons, who is in Mexico at training camp with Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. “Salido beat his ass the last time and he made a thousand excuses: Low blows, the weight, all this [expletive]. Put the fight in The Forum [in Inglewood, California] and Salido would fill it up. Lomachenko can’t sell two tickets.”

Promoter Bob Arum has promoted many of the greatest fighters of the last half-century and ranks Lomachenko with any of them, despite the Salido fight.

Arum first promoted boxing in 1966 and his initial client was Muhammad Ali. On the list of greats he’s promoted, on skill alone, he puts Lomachenko second behind only the young version of Ali.

“This is the greatest fighter other than Ali, and by that I mean the Ali I was with when I first broke into boxing in 1966 and not the later version of Ali, I have ever promoted,” Arum said. “I have promoted a lot of great and talented fighters, but no one – none of them – could do what this guy could do.”

Vasyl Lomachenko is a heavy favorite in his fight against Jason Sosa on Saturday night. (Getty)
Vasyl Lomachenko is a heavy favorite in his fight against Jason Sosa on Saturday night. (Getty)

To refresh, in those 51 years, Arum has promoted the likes of Ali, Mayweather, Hearns, Roberto Duran, Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Julio Cesar Chavez Sr., Manny Pacquiao, Aaron Pryor, Alexis Arguello and a rafter of others.

He casts his lot with Lomachenko over all but the 1966-67 version of Ali, before he was banned from boxing for three years for refusing induction into the military.

“The whole aspect of skill in boxing, which includes the ability to land devastating punches, there has been nobody I have seen who commands distance the way this guy does,” Arum said. “People miss him by small amounts and he’s ready to come back and land something right away. Mayweather as a defensive specialist was just superb, incredible. But unlike Mayweather, Lomachenko is always in position because of his great footwork to come back after someone misses and land a couple of devastating shots.

“Sometimes, I resort to hyperbole, but this time, in the case of this kid, it’s no B.S. [Hagler] was a tremendous, fearless warrior with a great chin. Ray [Leonard] was an amazing boxer. I’ve had so many greats, but nobody has the skillset this kid has.”

Lomachenko has heard those kinds of compliments for years, and takes them in stride.

He’s not one to get too hyped about what others think of him. He knows how good he is and doesn’t need outside affirmation.

He wants all the big fights he gets, though, because he is a student of history.

“I want to leave my name in the history of boxing,” Lomachenko said. “Anytime someone brings up the subject of boxing, I want my name to be in that conversation. That’s the most important thing for me, to prove myself against time.”

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