Vasiliy Lomachenko is set to return to the ring May 12, and he’ll take on George Kambosos Jr. in Kambosos’ native Australia. Though Kambosos owns an impressive win over Teofimo Lopez (who beat Lomachenko in 2020), the general consensus is that he is not on Lomachenko’s level. Most expect a comfortable win for the man known as “Loma.”

Don’t worry: This isn’t the beginning of an obnoxious diatribe about how Kambosos is actually a top-level talent and that only I can see how underrated he has been. He looked well out of his depth – twice – against Devin Haney. Comparatively, a 35-year-old Loma went toe-to-toe with Haney in May 2023 and had a good case for being the deserving winner. Lomachenko is just far more skilled than the tough but limited Kambosos; it’s not hard to see why most observers believe Lomachenko will piece up his Aussie opponent.

But there’s a lingering doubt that won’t leave my mind: I’m not sure how much Lomachenko has left.

After that wickedly close, high-level 12-round lightweight bout between Haney and Lomachenko, most thought Loma had done enough to win – or at least draw. Each round was nearly dead even, but in the late rounds Lomachenko broke through, hurting Haney in the 10th and outlanding him ten-to-one in Round 11. The judges scored the fight 116-112, 115-113 and 115-113 for Haney, but the result was disputed (especially that first scorecard). Lomachenko, at age 35 and fighting a bigger man, got plenty of praise for his performance.

What slipped under the radar was that Lomachenko, already post-prime, went through some fire in the fight. Haney threw hard right hands to the body all night, connecting on more than a few particularly vicious shots. To his immense credit, Lomachenko came on stronger at the end, seeming impervious to the punishment in the moment.

But how much more did that punishment take from him? 

It’s no accident that Lomachenko will have waited a year after that battle to fight again. He is 36 now. He has had just 20 professional fights, but that tells only part of the story of his career. His amateur run is now legendary – Loma went a barely believable 396-1, taking revenge on that lone loss (twice, for good measure) – but it has added greatly to the mileage on his body.

Lomachenko’s high-energy style of feints, slides and mind-bogglingly quick combinations has prevented him from absorbing too many bad head shots, but it has taken a toll on him in a different way. He has suffered several injuries. He has fought well above his natural weight for years, which stuck out even as Lomachenko recorded clear, impressive wins over the likes of Luke Campbell and Jose Pedraza.

It is perhaps that last point that’s most relevant going forward: Lomachenko was never a knockout artist, even at the lowest weight classes he fought in. Really, it’s remarkable that he was able to hurt Haney late, given the natural size difference between the two men. Going forward, Lomachenko isn’t likely to have many short nights. More 12-rounders means more opportunities for his opponents to hit him, more punishment and greater odds of another injury.

Lomachenko is a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame. But his record doesn’t quite do his talent justice. He is 17-3 (Reddit trolls call him “Triple-L”), and there isn’t a win on his resume that glows all that much brighter than the others. His off-the-deck 10th-round TKO of Jorge Linares was incredible – a testament to his will, in addition to his skill. And his majority decision defeat of Gary Russell Jr. was probably his best win, level-wise. But there’s no marquee victory there, no close decision or late KO of another future Hall of Famer.

Lomachenko never quite found the right opponent to stretch him to his limits. Haney comes closest, but that fight was a few years after the Ukrainian’s apex. At his peak, Loma beat solid fighters so handily that he made them look worse than they deserved to. He once made four opponents quit in a row, including Guillermo Rigondeaux and Nicholas Walters, who wouldn’t fight again for more than six years. The pound-for-pound “eye test” seemed custom-made for Loma, who reigned atop many of those lists for more than a year.

With that convincing loss against Lopez in 2020, though, the run came to an abrupt end. Despite talk of a rematch after each of his three losses, Lomachenko hasn’t gotten a chance to avenge any of them. His professional legacy is more one of tremendous skill and a spell of complete supremacy than a robust body of professional work, like that of Saul “Canelo” Alvarez.

It’s unlikely, I think, that Loma is seeking a soft farewell tour. He wanted to be undisputed lightweight champion and was denied that. The hunger should still be there. If that’s true, the Kambosos fight is a setup for what comes next. Maybe a title fight with Shakur Stevenson. Maybe a rematch with Haney – although Haney said he’d never fight at 135 again, and Lomachenko simply doesn’t have the size to follow him to 140. But presumably, Lomachenko is gearing up for one last big challenge.

Is Lomachenko an aging, legendary warrior or is he a fighter finally on the cusp of that defining win several years and several weight classes deep into his career? Maybe he’s both.

In his last fight, Lomachenko still looked like a pound-for-pound fighter. If he remains one, he still has a chance to score a cathartic victory against a top opponent. If he left a bit of himself in the ring against Haney, however, it may be left eternally out of Loma’s grasp.