Super hero: Vasyl Lomachenko interview
Ahead of his showdown with Guillermo Rigondeaux in December, Mark Butcher spoke to the Ukrainian phenomenon that is Vasyl Lomachenko...
There is something unearthly about the moves of Vasyl Lomachenko. At times, Lomachenko fights like a being from another dimension. The Ukrainian has been dubbed ‘The Matrix’ after the sci-fi movie franchise where Keanu Reeves’ character Neo has the gift to seamlessly avoid blows before punishing his foes with effortless offence. Lomachenko brings the fantasy to life.
Winning has been made to look effortless with stiff challenges rendered routine. With masterful reflexes and footwork, Lomachenko fights almost without error, as if he might be a computer-generated version of boxing excellence. This is not your typical prizefighter.
With just two narrow losses in over 400 competitive contests across amateur and professional codes, one wonders if pressure is even a factor for Lomachenko any more.
“Of course, I feel a pressure and have a responsibility because I don’t like to lose,” Lomachenko told BM over the phone via manager and translator Egis Klimas while preparing for his 9 December fight against Gulliermo Rigondeaux at Madison Square Garden Theater, New York.
“Most of my winnings are glorious, but every time before a bout I’m still thinking, ‘Maybe this is the fight that is going to bring me a loss?’ That is what keeps me motivated.”
Lomachenko’s amateur achievements are of the eye-rubbing variety including a barely believable 396-1 record (a loss against Albert Selimov twice avenged), double Olympic and World Amateur golds and latterly status as a two-weight professional champion within his first seven fights.
Behind the Ukrainian’s success is a fanatical discipline and unquenchable thirst for glory – his natural gifts honed by father and trainer Anatoly who has coached his son from apprentice to boxing phenomenon.
“My father’s influence on my career since amateur to professional has been so strong,” said Lomachenko, who has been sparring young hotshot Shakur Stevenson in preparation for Rigondeaux. “He is the one who started me in amateur boxing when I was a kid. He has been leading me throughout all of my life. Everything that I have gained in boxing is because of him. Everything that I do in the ring…that is what he taught me.
“I realised [the extent of my talent] when I was still a child. When my father used to put [me in] with sparring partners who were much bigger and much older than me. They had more experience, were older than me, but it wasn’t hard for me to [work them over] and beat them. That’s when I realised my capabilities and that boxing is what I would pursue for my career.
“When I was a kid, I had only one dream, I had only one thought in my head, a gold Olympic medal. That’s all I ever thought about and I never stopped those thoughts until 2008 when I won that gold medal.”
Following his amateur gold rush, Lomachenko upped his Ukrainian roots to relocate to America to challenge for a world title in only his second contest, dropping a split decision to an over-the-weight Orlando Salido who probably broke the record for low blow punchstats with his seemingly endless shots south of the border.
But the disappointment was short-lived with Lomachenko swiftly earning WBO crowns at 126lbs [Gary Russell Jr W12] and 130lbs [Roman Martinez WKO5] and notoriety as one of the pound-for-pound best fighters on the planet.
Next up is a historic fight against fellow double Olympic champion Rigondeaux in New York. The Cuban boxing icon is stepping up two weight divisions after initiating the contest through a series of barbs on social media, but Lomachenko is keen to keep his own counsel.
“I never like to predict a fight,” mused Lomachenko, who outside of boxing enjoys hunting and fishing as well as spending time with wife Elena and their two young children. “One thing I can tell you is I will try anything to win and show all the boxing fans nice, classic boxing skills. I want the fans who watch our fight to remember it for a long time.
“I don’t have any comment about Rigondeaux, really. If you want to know about Rigondeaux you are going to have to talk to him, but not with me. So far training has gone very well. We are working hard on the program that was scheduled by my father, keeping a very close look at my opponent.”
In August, Lomachenko enjoyed a chance meeting with three-weight champion and current WBC 135lbs titleist Mikey Garcia at the ESPN offices in Los Angeles. Despite the Ukrainian currently campaigning at 130lbs, and Garcia having briefly stepped up to 140lbs to eclipse Adrien Broner, the size difference was, intriguingly, negligible. Team Lomachenko believes a pay-per-view encounter with Garcia, also among the sport’s pound-for-pound best fighters, will provide their man with his defining fight.
“I always say I only want to fight elite fighters,” said Lomachenko of Garcia. “I want to fight the boxers who are the best. I want to fight the boxers who mean something in world boxing and Mikey Garcia’s name is one of those in the sport today. It would be meaningful for me to fight him.”
Boxing politics, of course, have a tendency to derail significant contests. Lomachenko’s manager Egis Klimas finds himself in the fortunate position of representing a boxing prodigy who is willing to fight all-comers, offset with frustration when potential opponents price themselves out to save face or gain capital. For many fighters, talk is cheap and convenient, yet when Lomachenko says he wants to face the best you know that he means it.
“So many promoters, so many managers are protective of their boxers,” Klimas told BM. “Some fighters win a title and are not eager to unify with the better fighters. Promoters and managers protect their [champion] from fighting a good fighter. That’s the politics. The networks are also fighting. HBO, Showtime, ESPN…’Well, if you fight on this network you can’t fight on that network’. It makes it very, very difficult for the sport.
“The Garcia fight would be really good, but again [maybe not] knowing the politics and networks. Garcia has already said, ‘Who ever is willing to fight me on Showtime, come over’. [So there it] looks like we are getting an invitation to Showtime, but is our promoter [going] to Showtime, not going to go Showtime…it’s hard. You can’t have all the best fighting the best. It’s impossible because it’s turned into a business. But for [Lomachenko] the glory means more than the money.”
Back in 2014, Lomachenko made his audacious attempt to secure a world title in only his second pro fight and fell tantalisingly short on the scorecards, with rugged Mexican Salido aided by the leniency of referee Laurence Cole who overlooked a series of eye-watering infringements. A rematch has been mooted ever since, but - with Lomachenko now fully adjusted to the pro game - the outcome would seem a foregone conclusion.
Yet fan interest remains and Salido’s advisor Sean Gibbons recently claimed his charge wasn’t made an acceptable financial offer for a rematch though, in the eyes of Team Lomachenko, the Mexican priced himself out. “That’s what I would say,” stated Klimas. ”What is a good saying in boxing? If you don’t [want] to fight anybody you say, ‘Well, they wouldn’t pay me good money’. But my question is, ‘What is good money?’ Some boxers are fighting for $100,000, $150,000 and the next fight you offer them $700,000 and they say, ‘No, that is not good money’.”
“A [Salido] rematch is really at the back of Lomachenko’s mind. Maybe it was important a year ago, but now it’s not. Salido already got old, he already got tripped. If Lomachenko stepped in the ring with Salido now boxing critics would say, ‘Well, he beat an old guy. What’s so good?’ We are not going to chase Salido, offering him crazy money, just because he needs the rematch. Everybody understands now Salido is not a competitive opponent for Lomachenko. We already forgot about him. If it happens, it happens, but we’re not chasing him.”
Lomachenko is a rare boxing beast where most superlatives are fitting; mandatory engagements and voluntary challengers almost seem like an offence to him. But if you have decimated around 400 opponents and surpassed the limits of most mortal men, a lack of a challenge probably feels insulting. Lomachenko (9-1, 7 KOs) only desires defining fights.