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Is Vasiliy Lomachenko Overrated?

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Is Vasiliy Lomachenko Overrated?

Yes, I’m aware that the title of this article may look like clickbait, but let me make something clear, I am deadly serious. The thought that Vasiliy Lomachenko might be, at least to a degree, overrated passed through my mind last Saturday as Teofimo Lopez struggled mightily to win his bout over Sandor Martin over the weekend.

While Martin is a true quality fighter, he doesn’t have heavy hands or the pedigree of Lopez. Again, Martin is a very good fighter, but as his 13 KOs in his 40 wins will attest, he’s no knockout artist. And yet still, Martin knocked Lopez down in the second and quite possibly in the seventh (although referee Ricky Martin – no vida loca included – saw it differently). Lopez may have out-landed Martin overall (by a count of 97 blows to 77), but many at ringside and from their couches at home couldn’t have been sure of the outcome when the final bell rang, and Lopez was awarded a split-decision victory (or gift as my colleague Gayle Falkenthal implied in her recap). This weak win only doubles down on the sense that Lopez really isn’t all that or the bag of chips. His loss to George Kambosos Jr. is an upset defeat that looks even worse as one ganders into their rearview and considers the way Devin Haney dismantled and completely exposed the Aussie twice in his own backyard.

I know from the back of my La-Z- Boy (this wasn’t exactly an “edge of your seat” contest) all I kept thinking at the end of the fight as Lopez’s psychodrama played out in the ring during the post-fight interview is, “This fucking guy beat Lomachenko? How?” And to be clear, he didn’t just beat Loma; he owned him – as the cards from the judges (rightly in this case) would tell you. The scores were as follows: 119-109, 117-111, and a generous (to Loma) 116-112. It really wasn’t close, and the judges actually performed well above the “three blind mice” level we have become far too accustomed to in boxing. To put it another way, they weren’t wrong.

Of course, styles make fights, and Lopez, who was certainly a bigger man in the lightweight division (it’s instructive to point out that Loma started his career as a featherweight), used his size advantage to control the fight and even bully his fabled Ukrainian opponent. This wasn’t the first time we’ve seen this either. Way back in Loma’s second fight against Orlando Salido, we saw the 33-year-old overachieving Mexican (who already had 12 losses on his record) dirty it up with Loma, frustrate him, and control most of the fight on the way to a split decision victory. Many of us (me included) gave Loma a bit of a pass after that loss. After all, it was only his second professional fight, and stepping up to a tough, grizzled veteran like Salido after your pro debut is no modest lift.

After that defeat, Loma went on a total tear before taking on Lopez, ripping off thirteen consecutive wins (nine by KO) over the next six years. All of us have been witnesses to Loma’s remarkable gifts. He is as fundamentally sound as any fighter you’ll ever see. He has blazing hand speed, impeccable footwork, and legit power. He’s also one of the best, most freakish athletes I’ve ever seen in a boxing ring. And while all that magnificence has paid off well in terms of cash and prizes, I can’t help but feel we’re all just a little too impressed by a guy who lost to two fighters that he is clearly superior to in almost every single way.

Not only that, but Loma’s lackluster win over the fine but hardly world-beating Jamaine Ortiz at the end of October was hardly the type of performance one might expect from a man routinely discussed as a P4P contender. To be honest, I can’t quite explain it. It’s not like Loma gets out of shape, acts like a headcase, or has wrecked his car twice in the last three years (sorry, Errol). He’s as dedicated as anyone ever has been to his profession and stays in shape. And to be fair to Lomachenko, he is 34 now, and he’s come up three weight classes. Maybe age is becoming a factor, and, like many fighters, his full power hasn’t followed him all the way up to his heavier division, but I can’t quite break away from the feeling that as great as Lomachenko is (and he has the quality scalps to prove it), that maybe, just maybe, he’s not as great as we think he is.

Conventional wisdom has long stated that Loma is not only one of the best fighters in his class and his era but also of all time. I take no issue with class and era but of all time? I don’t know. How can one argue that a boxer with a 17-2 record, with both of those losses coming at the gloves of clearly inferior fighters, is among the greatest ever? This isn’t a case where Loma took some bad losses at the end of his career; he lost to Salido and Lopez while in his prime.

While I don’t want to throw dirt on Loma, and I’m not arguing he isn’t a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and there may be raging successes to come as he creeps towards middle age, I do think a little perspective is in order. I suppose what I would ask of any fight fan at this point is, “Do you think those losses look better now or worse?” To me, they look worse. Maybe even a lot worse. And if I’m right and you agree with me, what does that mean for Loma’s place in history? Perhaps we should consider that and, in doing so, move him a couple of rungs down the ladder of greatness.