Golden talent from a golden age?: Lomachenko vs Campbell preview

James Oddy
29/08/2019 7:46pm

Photo: James Chance/Getty Images

James Oddy ponders the unique talents of Vasiliy Lomachenko as he previews the Ukrainian's clash with fellow Olympic gold medallist Luke Campbell...

According to some, British boxing has been in an extended a golden age for some time. It isn’t just been the number of alphabet world titles collected by fighters from these shores which supports this belief, but the clutch of quality professional fighters arriving to compete in British rings. Terence Crawford, Gennady Golovkin, Errol Spence, Sergey Kovalev, Guillermo Rigondeaux and Oleksandr Usyk, all pound for pound talents, have taken British scalps over the past few years, all of which suggests a rising tide of power and wealth to be found at the sharp end of British boxing.

That list of elite talents will grow this Saturday at the 02 Arena, as London welcomes Boxing Monthly online’s pound-for-pound number one, Vasiliy Lomachenko (13-1, 10 KOs) to meet Hull’s Luke Campbell (20-2, 16 KOs). At stake are Lomachenko’s WBA, WBO and Ring titles, as well as the vacant WBC strap.

Although Lomachenko is part of an overall trend when it comes to his visit to the UK, it’s very hard to draw any further parallels between the Ukrainian and any other active fighter. ‘Loma’ appears to have all the hallmarks of a once in a generation talent. A two-weight Olympic gold medallist, as well as a world and European champion in the unpaid ranks, it took him only three fights into his paid career to snatch the WBO featherweight title from the mercurial Gary Russell in 2014.

He’s cut a swathe through the lighter weight classes since then, scoring a startling stoppage over Roman Martinez in 2016 to add a WBO super feather title. At that weight, the Ukrainian added two notable victories to his resume, being near punch perfect when embarrassing a then red-hot Nicholas Walters before doing likewise to another former venerated amateur in Rigondeaux. Last year Lomachenko added a further title at lightweight, in a wonderful display against the high-quality Jorge Linares.

Perhaps the best word to describe the style of the Eastern European is inventive. He has all the fundamentals down to near perfection. His footwork is beyond reproach, as he darts in and out of range, and pivots away from danger. Although not a big puncher in the conventional sense, his timing and shot selection are exquisite, often leading to eye-catching knockouts. This was in evidence in his last outing against Manchester’s Antony Crolla, who was crumpled by an unconventional right hook thrown to the top of his head.

The most telling thing about Lomachenko is the volume of top fighters who have chosen to simply give up rather than keep fighting against him. No boxer reaches world level if they have an aversion to physical pain or lack of resilience, yet Loma, relentless in attack from his ostensibly southpaw stance and very hard to hit in return, seems to leave his opponents with a feeling of haplessness. They seem to know that, even were they to box another 12 rounds, or another 120, they’d never get to him.

But no athlete is infallible. The sole blemish on Lomachenko’s pro career came in only his second fight, when he was roughed up and ‘old manned’ by Mexican war horse Orlando Salido. Salido landed low and came in heavy, but he also refused to wilt, coming forward and throwing everything he had, engaging constantly on the inside. Although its foundations lay in flouting the rules, Salido’s tactics may be those which could bring success to Luke Campbell.

But such tactics may not come naturally to the Hullensian. Campbell is a classy southpaw, with an excellent amateur pedigree, having picked up gold at the 2012 Olympics. It hasn’t all been plain sailing in the paid ranks however, since turning over in 2013. A 2015 loss to gatekeeper Yvan Mendy threw Campbell off course, and some listless displays following that raised doubts about what his ceiling was. These have since been allayed massively however; impressive wins over former world title holders / challenger Argenis Mendez, Derry Mathews and Darleys Perez preceded a gallant losing effort against Jorge Linares. A split decision, Campbell stayed with the fluid Linares and earned some additional admirers in the States in the process. The momentum was maintained with Campbell scoring a rematch win over Mendy last year.

Campbell is a high-quality operator in every area and can count himself unlucky that he hasn’t yet held a world title yet. He has a solid defence combined with intelligent footwork, a probing and accurate jab, and has shown a spiteful side when finishing fights. He is big for a lightweight and will be the bigger man in every aspect physically this weekend.

Under the tutelage of Shane McGugian, Campbell will have prepared impeccably. Unlike many of my Boxing Monthly colleagues, I think Campbell will see the final bell, and will push Lomachenko hard, using his significant height and reach advantages to keep the Ukrainian honest in the early going.

Ultimately, however, I see a lopsided points victory for Lomachenko as he begins to land his dazzling combinations whilst evading a great deal in return. Enjoy him whilst he’s on these shores. It might be some time until we see his like again.