Lomachenko looks to chop down Axe Man
As the boxing year draws to a close with a bang rather than a whimper, James Oddy previews the mouth-watering and long gestating clash between Vasyl Lomachenko and Nicholas Walters ...
Ukrainian Vasyl Lomachenko was regarded as one of the greatest amateurs of all time when he turned pro in 2013 as a featherweight, having picked up two world championship gold medals and two Olympic gold medals while compiling a scarcely believable record of 396-1. He attempted to make history in only his second paid contest, meeting rugged Mexican Orlando Salido for the WBO title, yet came up short in a controversial split decision loss, Salido having come in overweight and ready and willing to foul.
The Lomachenko project quickly got back on track, however, after ‘Loma’ defeated the talented Gary Russell Jr in one of 2014’s best fights, meaning the Ukrainian had won a WBO world title in only his third professional fight. He then met and easily dealt with the over-matched Chonlatarn Piriyapinyo, Gamalier Rodriguez and Romulo Koasicha in successive featherweight title defences. His star continued to rise when he became a two-weight world champion in June of this year after obliterating the talented and durable Rocky Martinez in five rounds to pick up his current strap.
In contrast to his Ukrainian opponent, Jamaican Walters has had a longer road to the professional summit. Training and fighting in Panama for 19 of his first 21 pro contests against largely nondescript opponents, the ‘Axe Man’ has certainly lived up to his billing by cutting through the majority of his opponents inside the distance.
A stoppage win over solid Vic Darchinyan in May 2014 suggested he could carry his power up to world class, and his reputation as a truly dangerous fighter was confirmed when he sensationally TKO’d former pound for pound contender Nonito Donaire inside six in October the same year. Inactivity and battles with the scales, however, have led to underwhelming showings in his last two fights, although his draw against Jason Sosa last time out looks better in retrospect since the New Jersey man has subsequently captured the WBA super feather title.
Broadcast live on HBO (US) and Boxnation (UK), Lomachenko and Walters now meet in a showdown which has had the sport's hard-core fan base excited for some time. Lomachenko is arguably the world’s best boxer - almost everything he does is technically perfect. Whilst not a big puncher in the conventional sense, his speed and combinations expose boxers' heads and bodies, leaving him to land rapid, spearing shots.
The Ukrainian's footwork is a joy to behold, and allows him to either set himself to work on the inside, pivoting for angles, or to dart in and out of range from the outside. His slipping, meanwhile, can lead highly proficient fighters to look crude and untutored.
That being said, as Salido showed, Loma isn’t unbeatable. A physical, muscular, boxer puncher, Walters seeks to back his opponents up with double and triple jabs before unloading his arsenal. He does carry legitimate one punch knockout power though - particularly in that vicious right uppercut which felled both Donaire and Darchinyan. He can look a little wild when winging in his hooks, but they too can cause serious damage and, whilst he is not a defensive wizard, his conventional guard and boxing IQ allow him to work well if his opponent is foolish enough to engage with him on the inside.
As much as I like Walters, however, Lomachenko is a once in a generation type athlete. I can see the Ukrainian playing with fire and standing in the pocket, demoralising Walters by evading the majority of his barrage and unlashing stinging counter shots. I can then see Lomachenko taking it to the outside and allowing Walters to walk onto counters.
Walters will doubtless land some shots, and I feel it is almost certain he will hurt Lomachenko at least once - after all the Jamaican is simply too dangerous and talented to be contained for the full 12 rounds - and I believe the Axe Man's determination and heart will keep him coming for the full fight. However, I expect a Lomachenko unanimous decision victory, albeit with some hairy moments along the way.