The Price for Praise: Vasiliy Lomachenko Defends Against Anthony Crolla

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 09: Vasiliy Lomachenko works out at Ukrainian Cultural Center on April 09, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Yong Teck Lim/Getty Images)
Vasiliy Lomachenko works out at the Ukrainian Cultural Center on April 9, 2019, in Los Angeles. (Yong Teck Lim/Getty Images)

Unified lightweight champion Vasiliy Lomachenko mesmerized Anthony “Million Dolla” Crolla over twelve one-sided rounds at Staples Center in Los Angeles, Friday night, proving again that the two-time Olympic gold medalist who in only fourteen fights has won titles in three divisions, is without question one of the pound-for-pound best fighters in the world.

You can imagine yourself reading something to that effect sometime late Friday or early Saturday can you not?

Or perhaps you expect:

Lightweight Vasiliy Lomachenko retained his WBA and WBO titles Friday night, when game but overmatched challenger, Anthony Crolla, remained on his stool for the start of the eleventh round. Lomachenko, a two-time Olympic gold medalist looked every bit the pound-for-pound talent he’s proven himself to be over his remarkable fourteen-fight career, dazzling Crolla with the angles and footwork that distinguish the Ukrainian as one of the greatest fighters to grace the ring since H—–.

What you do not expect to read about is an upset. Nor should you. Even the most devoted British fans are unlikely to wager a round on Manchester’s Crolla, though rest assured they will find, whatever the outcome Friday (of which there are two), cause to praise Crolla’s bravery in defeat. A ride or die bunch, they are—and charmingly so.

Criticism of Lomachenko? Expect it regardless of what happens against Crolla. He is in a difficult situation, after all: Lomachenko only confirms the obvious in beating Crolla, yet he will be hard pressed to confirm it just the same. Because against so overmatched an opponent, Lomachenko must defend not only his titles but his mystique, and only impossible challenges offer him a chance at the latter. Such is the price to pay for the praise—and hyperbole—that attends his deeds.

Admittedly, this is not much by way of a preview; not if a preview is supposed to examine each fighter’s path to victory, to accompany that analysis with a prediction, and to offer both with a whiff of enthusiasm. But since Crolla’s chances for victory exist mostly in the vacuum that he and Jorge Linares occupied for twenty-four rounds, and since Lomachenko’s greatest threat Friday is a possibly cavalier attitude about a fight promoter Bob Arum says “got shoved up our ass,” there is really only the outcome to predict and, well, you already know that.

That Crolla wasn’t supposed to face “LOMA,” is a detail no one should overlook in slandering the matchup. Lomachenko targeted a unification fight with IBF beltholder, Richard Commey, but that fight was postponed when Commey injured his right hand. In stepped Crolla, one of Lomachenko’s mandatory challengers, for a fight fittingly broadcast on a Friday via an app.

A fighter can only face who is available, alas. This inconvenient truth is often exploited to insulate fighters from danger. No fighter is off limits entirely, and if there was money enough on the table, and that money distributed agreeably to all parties involved, the welterweight division, heavyweight division, and Lomachenko’s own lightweight division would have undisputed champions within the next year. But in boxing “enough” and “agreeably” are impossible terms, especially when fighters overlook or ignore the fact that promoters are in their employ, not the other way around. Conceding matchmaking control entirely to promoters preserves glamorous hypothetical challenges at the expense of actual ones. Really, there may be no more fitting promotional practice in the social media era, since keeping each fighter from his nemesis stokes the arguments that more than the fights themselves seem to fuel interest in the sport.

Whatever one may say of Lomachenko, he is not hiding behind the ruse of available opponents. If he has yet to capture our attention as he did in challenging Orlando Salido in his second professional fight or rebounding from that loss at the expense of Gary Russell Jr. (on a rival promoter’s card broadcasted by a rival network, no less) it is not for lack of trying. He drove Nicholas Walters from the sport at a time when Walters was considered a real danger, humiliated Guillermo Rigondeaux, then moved to lightweight, partially unifying the division in two fights, including his off-the-canvas stoppage of Jorge Linares. If this does not make him a great fighter (and it most certainly doesn’t), it shows the desire to become one. There may be more ambitious fighters than Lomachenko, perhaps better ones, too; but if he unifies three lightweight titles in four fights, he is doing all we can ask of a fighter driven to lightweight primarily by his talent and zeal.

Days from his next fight it may be premature to speak about Lomachenko’s future opponents, but with all due respect to Crolla, that exercise, typically left to the aftermath of victory, warrants preemptive treatment here. Mikey Garcia might teach Lomachenko about the perils of the scale, as Errol Spence taught Garcia last month, but Lomachenko–Garcia ostensibly died after Garcia’s non-performance against Spence, which prompted Arum to, with obvious relish, call Garcia a mutt and dismiss a fight with Lomachenko as spoiled goods. Yet even if Garcia is no longer an option, Commey could prove hard enough to harrow Lomachenko, who has shown some vulnerability at lightweight. And there is still streaking prospect Teofimo Lopez. The twenty-one-year-old Brooklynite may not yet be ready for so stern a challenge, but a shortage of opponents for Lomachenko and Lopez’s own burgeoning popularity may accelerate the latter’s development. There is always junior welterweight, too, should Lomachenko wish to channel the superheroes for whom he shows such affinity.

There was a time when talk of Lomachenko’s future was used to deflect from his present, back when he was sharing too many rounds with the likes of Gamalier Rodriguez and Romulo Koashica while we were told he was a type of fighter who would never do such a thing. But his present shouldn’t be overlooked. At least not after Friday.

 

About Jimmy Tobin 38 Articles
Jimmy Tobin is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. His work has appeared in The Cruelest Sport, 15 Rounds, Undisputed Champion Network, Esquina Boxeo, El Malpensante, The Queensbury Rules, and The Fight Network. He teaches at George Brown College in Toronto.