Don’t write off Vasiliy Lomachenko just yet.
The 35-year-old former pound-for-pound king took a tumble in public perception after he lost a unanimous decision and his lightweight titles to upstart Teofimo Lopez in October 2020.
The fact he fought with a shoulder injury yet rallied in the second half to make the fight competitive? Didn’t matter. The boxing wizard from Ukraine had lost his aura of invincibility and a lot of respect.
Lomachenko will have a chance to regain much of what he lost this Saturday, when he challenges undisputed 135-pound champion Devin Haney on pay-per-view at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
If he loses, he could be finished as one of the top figures in the sport. If he wins, it will be one of the more impressive comebacks in recent memory.
“Camp was hard like always,” he said. “But I was very motivat[ed]. It was motivating because I understand it is my last chance to become undisputed. So I pushed myself in every training session. And now there are just … days left.
“He talks about the past, but It’s hard to say things about the past. You can’t change it. Even if you talk about it, you can’t change it. Only God can change it.”
Lomachenko (17-2, 11 KOs) was a star before he had his first pro fight.
The two-time Olympic champion is considered by some to be the greatest amateur boxer of all time. That’s why he was able to challenge then 126-pound titleholder Orlando Salido in his second fight, in 2014.
Lomachenko lost a split decision in part because of his veteran opponent’s roughhouse tactics but that didn’t deter him. He outclassed one opponent after another afterward to win titles in three divisions in his next 12 fights, which lifted him to the top of some pound-for-pound lists.
Then came Lopez, a fiery 23-year-old with both talent and hunger. Lomachenko didn’t show up for the first seven rounds, throwing a total of only 80 punches (11.4 per round), according to CompuBox. The inactivity allowed Lopez to build a big lead on the scorecards.
Lomachenko finally woke up down the stretch but he couldn’t climb out of the hole he had dug for himself. He lost 119-109, 117-111 and 116-112.
Afterward, the southpaw revealed that he had trained with an injury to his right shoulder. A doctor told Yahoo Sports that Lomachenko “had badly bruised the rotator cuff and chipped a piece of cartilage,” for which he had surgery days after the fight.
Lomachenko thought he deserved the decision in spite of the slow start but he was in the minority. Thus, at the age of 32, he dropped precipitously on pound-for-pound lists and became something of an afterthought.
The war in Ukraine also took a toll on his career as he served in the military. He has fought only once since Russia invaded his country early last year, outpointing Jamaine Ortiz last October to earn a shot at Haney.
What can we expect from him against one of the hottest young fighters in the game?
Lomachenko hasn’t complained about the shoulder after any of his three victories since the loss to Lopez. He looked sharp in those bouts, clearly demonstrating that he has plenty more to give even if he’s not quite what he was.
And he’s never going to be more motivated for a fight than he is for this one. He knows his career as an elite fighter is in the balance. This might be his last chance to become an undisputed champion and regain any lost respect at the same time.
The stakes couldn’t be higher for him.
“Look, I’m ready,” Lomachenko said immediately after the victory over Jamaine Ortiz. “I’m ready for any option. … You know what motivated me? Four belts.”
He said that before he and Haney reached an agreement to fight one another. That means this has been the fight he has coveted for some time, perhaps the last great opportunity in a great career.
Does he have one more special performance in him? Don’t count him out.