By Thomas Gerbasi
At the moment, the count on a Google search of “Vasyl Lomachenko Matrix” is 7,160. It’s an impressive result for a series of videos that have found their way to YouTube and social media that celebrate the technical brilliance of a Ukrainian fighter with just seven pro bouts and little English, but who is still headlining this week’s HBO card at the nearly sold out Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, all the while creeping up the mythical pound-for-pound list.
If you wrote this up in a back room somewhere and tried to sell it, you would probably fail miserably. It’s just too far-fetched. But in a world where Gennady Golovkin and Sergey Kovalev have shattered stereotypes to become stars Stateside, it’s a reality that the 28-year-old Lomachenko is closing in on, and it doesn’t hurt that he has videos comparing him to Neo from The Matrix films that your mother is seeing on Facebook and liking.
“This is exactly what I wanted to do,” Lomachenko said through manager / translator Egis Klimas on a media teleconference to promote Saturday’s matchup against unbeaten Nicholas Walters. “I wanted to let different people know, people outside of boxing, to know me. I think the boxing game is one that people have forgotten about and they are not enjoying it as much. I want to bring back and show how interesting boxing can be.”
He laughs, amicably disputing the idea of himself as the Matrix. Instead…
“I am the motherboard.”
That might be a better description, given his ability to seemingly walk his opponents into punches, make them miss and generally force them into doing whatever he wants them to do. It’s impressive on television or through YouTube clips, but live, it’s a whole other experience. Think of a live Lomachenko experience as seeing a musical prodigy on stage, locking into a rhythm with his band at times, and then taking off on journeys where they have to use all their powers to keep up with him at others. The television cameras don’t catch all the angles he throws punches from, the footwork that always leaves him in the right spot to attack or defend, or the creativity to throw all the rules out the window and simply improvise.
For that part, he doesn’t claim any natural gifts, only the tutelage of his father, Anatoly, and the grind of hard work.
“First of all, I would like you to know that everything that I have is what my father created in me and my father put everything together into me,” he said. “Secondly, I am a workaholic – I work hard. I do not cheat myself in training, I work very hard and somehow God has given me great balance that helps me put everything together.”
To have reached this level in seven pro fights and before the age of 30 is something not seen since Kostya Tszyu beat Juan LaPorte, Livingstone Bramble and Hector Lopez in his first 11 fights before winning a world title in fight 14 when he defeated Jake Rodriguez.
And that’s still twice as long as Lomachenko took to hand Gary Russell Jr. his first pro loss and pick up world titles at 126 and 130 pounds. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that the Ukrainian could do all he wants to do in the sport and walk away before having 20 fights. But when asked if he’s seen the finish line yet, he stays non-committal, instead choosing to try and give his promoter Bob Arum and the rest of the Top Rank team a collective heart attack.
“For sure I was thinking about that, and my contract is over in six or seven months and that’s when I am thinking about finishing my career.”
He laughs, and Arum, 84 and still going strong before his 2000th event this weekend, recovered quickly.
“I would like to say this,” said Arum. “Vasyl Lomachenko is technically the best fighter that I have seen since the early Muhammad Ali. There is nobody that I have seen, and there have been a lot of great technical fighters that I have seen – Alexis Arguello was one, Floyd Mayweather certainly, Manny Pacquiao – but there has been nobody with the skills that Vasyl Lomachenko has.”
To the non-believers, it may be promoter speak, but to those who witnessed the left-right combination that ended Roman Martinez’ night in June, it’s something they’re at least thinking, if not willing to say out loud.
That’s high praise, and a big win over Jamaican power hitter Walters will only add to his current cult hero status. It’s a likely outcome, despite Walters’ status as one of the best 130-pounders in the world. Simply put, he doesn’t have what Mayweather would call the “special effects” Lomachenko has, and if he can’t land one of his bombs, it will be a long night of getting peppered, turned and frustrated.
If that’s the case, there will be more sequences added to the highlight reel, more likes on Facebook and Instagram, and more retweets of his latest exploits in the ring. But to join the legends Arum compared him to, there must be a superstar’s name on his resume. And while the promoter isn’t ready to pull the trigger yet, he’s got a name in mind.
“Lomachenko has a huge upside,” Arum said. “This is the second world title in as many divisions in seven professional fights – that has never happened before, and he is going to win more world titles as he goes up in weight and there are going to be very interesting guys for him to fight. It is not beyond the realm of possibility that he and Manny (Pacquiao) could fight sometime next year. Lomachenko wants challenges and he is a tremendous talent. His upside is enormous and a lot of people are watching him - not just boxing fans - because he is an unbelievable talent. They see him on YouTube and on HBO and have said what an unbelievable talent he is.”
Pacquiao vs. Lomachenko? It’s a fight the Ukrainian is open to – not next, as he pointed out on the conference call, but it’s clear that for someone chasing greatness, it’s inevitable. So if we’re talking in Matrix terms, this is a fighter who isn’t living in fantasy land as a media creation. Vasyl Lomachenko took the red pill.