by David P. Greisman
Nicholas Walters ran out of goodwill well before he stepped into the ring with Vasyl Lomachenko. That is a significant reason why he is enduring so much criticism for the way his fight with Lomachenko ended.
We expected much more from Walters in the two years since he burst onto the scene.
We wanted much more out of his bout with Lomachenko.
And his critics wanted much more from him than to call it a night after seven rounds. Walters knew he was losing the fight, and he either felt he had no chance of changing that — or he no longer had enough desire to keep trying to change it.
He was beaten mentally more than he was physically.
He was beaten mentally because he was physically outmatched.
Lomachenko was too fast, too skilled, too much for Walters to overcome, especially when Walters could only do so much — or, rather, so little.
Walters could barely hit Lomachenko. He rarely had much of a target. Lomachenko’s movement was speedy and tricky, a master of a craft refined over the course of nearly 400 amateur fights, only one of which ended in a loss, and who had won two Olympic gold medals and two amateur world championships and had since gone on to capture two pro world titles.
Lomachenko boxed figurative circles around Walters. Even once he stopped moving and seemed as if he was finally in range, Lomachenko would easily move away from or block most of what Walters threw.
In the fourth round, Walters sent out a jab at where Lomachenko’s head had just been. It missed by more than a foot. Lomachenko had moved to his right and diagonally, moving so far and so soon that Walters’ follow-up shot, a right cross, literally crossed his own body in a futile and feeble attempt at tracking and catching Lomachenko.
As the fifth round came to an end, Lomachenko feinted forward motion at Walters twice, then stood still, tacitly taunting Walters to try to come at him. Walters was so fully demoralized that he just stood there as well, letting the clock tick its final seconds away.
Walters did have the occasional body shot land, and a couple blows to the head that had no effect. That was it. That was a shock to his senses. Fighters in his position are so used to being so much better than their opponents. Walters couldn’t even compete with Lomachenko. This was an unfamiliar place for a fighter who’d not yet lost in the pro ranks, whose nickname of “Axe Man” referenced the fact that he had felled 21 foes in his 26 wins.
But through six, Walters had only landed 44 punches out of 230 thrown, a paltry connect rate of 19.1 percent, less than one shot out of every five hitting its target, according to CompuBox. That was an average of just seven landed punches per round, barely 33 thrown every three minutes.
His vaunted power? There had been only 86 power punches thrown through six, about 14 per round, five per minute. Just 29 of them had landed, less than five per round.
The seventh round was even worse.
Walters was credited with being just 5 of 34, including 4 of 24 with his power shots. Lomachenko, meanwhile, had moved his way inside and found even greater success there. He cranked up his activity, throwing 90 punches, landing 30, with 24 of them coming as power shots. He had undone Walters with defense, but his hand speed had also posed a threat throughout, and now he was pouring it on, rubbing it in.
Walters returned to his corner deflated, defeated and done.
“He was catching me clearly in the last round. I barely made it through the last round,” Walters said afterward in an interview with BoxingScene’s Radio Rahim. “I was out of range. I wasn’t finding my range. He was getting better and better each round. And then in the seventh round, he caught me with good body shots and he caught me with good head shots. My corner decided it would be stupid to go out there.”
Walters didn’t appear to be badly hurt, despite what he said afterward. Only he and those close to him will know for sure. He wasn’t visibly shaken enough to placate those who expect fighters to go out on their shields or at least continue until it no longer makes sense for them to go on. Walters’ decision was based on a realization and then a calculation — I can’t hit this guy, and he can now hit me whenever he wants.
He knew it hadn’t been his night thus far. He believed it was never going to be, that it was pointless to attempt to land a fight-changing shot, especially if it meant taking punishment that was far more certain.
That’s a boxer’s prerogative. He’s the one whose head and body are being hit. Fair or not, that decision is one that invites derision. Instead of waiting to see if stronger hands would make a difference, he folded altogether, then walked away from the table instead of going all-in, or rather all-out in desperation.
The first and only loss on Walters’ record came against one of the best boxers in the world. That in and of itself shouldn’t be a big deal.
But it was a disappointing ending after two years of disappointment.
Walters was little-known before 2014 except among hardcore boxing fans. Then he knocked out the faded Vic Darchinyan on the undercard of Nonito Donaire’s bout with Simpiwe Vetyeka. And then he stopped Donaire on an HBO card in October of that year.
That win should’ve propelled Walters. Instead, his next fight was delayed by an illness. Then, when it did happen, Walters came in overweight on the scales, defeating Miguel Marriaga by decision but dropping his world title. He moved up from featherweight to junior lightweight, facing Jason Sosa last December and getting robbed on the scorecards, held to a draw by judges who saw the action as much closer than most observers did. The performance looks even better in retrospect now that Sosa has gone on to accomplish more.
Walters had a chance to move beyond that. He was offered a fight with Lomachenko for a card this past June. But, maddeningly, he turned it down.
“Lomachenko is one of the better opponents that we’re gonna fight. We asked for a certain amount; they said no,” Walters said in an interview with RingTV.com in May. “They said only $550,000 was available for the fight, and I think fighting Lomachenko for $550,000 with the tax we’re gonna pay to the government and everybody, we actually go home with nothing. We took the decision; we’re not gonna fight for $550,000.”
But his promoter, Top Rank, which also handles Lomachenko, said there was no more money available from HBO. Walters sat out. Lomachenko fought Roman Martinez instead, scoring an easy knockout and winning a world title. Walters hadn’t fought at all in 2016 until this past Saturday, done in by his decision as well as HBO’s budget constrictions leading to fewer dates and tighter spending.
He finally took the Lomachenko fight — for less money — because something was better than nothing, and because of the opportunities that would be available were he to win.
Beating Lomachenko would be a difficult challenge, though, and particularly so given that Walters hadn’t been in the ring for 11 months.
“A layoff won’t even bother me,” Walters said shortly beforehand. “I wouldn’t even take the fight if I didn’t think that I was gonna be ready for the fight.”
Fighters will almost always sound optimistic before a fight. Their tunes tend to change after a loss.
“The inactivity played a toll on my body,” Walters said afterward, saying his control of range and timing weren’t there. “Everything was off tonight.”
It’s possible. It’s more likely that Lomachenko made Walters feel that way.
Now Walters must overcome his first pro defeat. Being in a packed division is a blessing and a curse. There are options available. Those options also have other options. He’ll need to hope for opportunities. He’ll likely have to take short money in order to get one.
He didn’t do himself any favors with the way he went out this past Saturday. He hadn’t done himself any favors beforehand either.
He’s suffered more damage from those choices than he did in the fight.
“Fighting Words” appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com. Pick up a copy of David’s book, “Fighting Words: The Heart and Heartbreak of Boxing,” at http://bit.ly/fightingwordsamazon or internationally at http://bit.ly/fightingwordsworldwide. Send questions/comments via email at [email protected]