By Andreas Hale
We are about a week removed from Vasiliy Lomachenko’s thrilling 10th round knockout of Jorge Linares. Now that the dust has settled and the knee jerk reactions are behind us, is there any doubt that the two-time Olympic gold medalist and three division world champion inside of 12 fights is the #1 pound for pound fighter in the world?
Well, it depends on who you ask.
What Lomachenko did against the much bigger Linares was impressive. Outweighed by over 10 pounds, Lomachenko peeled himself off the canvas after a sixth round flash knockdown and cranked up the heat. His pinpoint accuracy, otherworldly footwork and deft speed eventually broke the Venezuelan’s defenses down until a perfectly placed liver punch in the 10th round put Linares down and out. The victory earned Lomachenko a world title in his third different weight class (lightweight).
While some trumpeted the arrival of Lomachenko, his detractors immediately looked at Linares’ record and question if this was the victory that should separate Lomachenko from the other two competitors for the #1 pound for pound spot: Terence Crawford and Gennady Golovkin.
To some, beating Linares isn’t all that impressive. Entering the fight, Linares boasted a 44-3 record with 27 knockouts. The three losses to Sergio Thompson, Antonio DeMarco and Juan Carlos Salgado were all by stoppage. Thompson and Salgado’s knockouts came in the 2nd and 1st rounds, respectively, while DeMarco put Linares away in the 11th round of their bout for the then-vacant WBC lightweight title. In the latter fight, Linares was ahead on the scorecards until a major cut on his nose forced the referee stoppage. As for the other two fights, Linares’ loss to Salgado ended up being Ring Magazine’s upset of the year in 2009 as Salgado caught the Venezuelan asleep at the wheel and wrecked him with a diabolical assault in the opening minutes while the Thompson loss was yet another shocker when he was stopped before he really got going.
Granted, all three losses took place over six years ago and Linares had been impressive since then. But a man with three losses on his record to lesser competition isn’t quite the guy you need to jump into the #1 pound for pound spot.
Unless, people already had Lomachenko there.
Although the Linares stoppage was impressive, it’s not Lomachenko’s finest outing. For that, once could argue that his running roughshod over fellow pound for pound fighter and two-time gold medalist Guillermo Rigondeaux could be the one. Then again, Rigondeaux had to jump up two weight classes for that fight. But then there’s his ransacking of previously unbeaten Nicholas Walters, who Lomachenko made quit on the stool after he dazzled and dominated for seven rounds. But then you can argue about how good is Walters when he had a draw with Jason Sosa and the biggest win of his career to that point was against a Nonito Donaire who was far removed from being one of the best fighters in the world when the two stepped into the ring.
Even the majority decision against Gary Russell Jr. is in question because we’re not really sure how good Russell is. And, by the way, how can Lomachenko be the top pound for pound fighter in the world when he’s only had 12 fights and lost one to Orlando Salido, who was dominated by Mikey Garcia, and also has losses to Yuriorkis Gamboa, Roman Martinez and Cristobal Cruz. among others?
As legitimate as these arguments are, that doesn’t make them right. Nor does it mean that both Golovkin and Crawford have done enough to push Lomachenko behind them. Sure, both Crawford and Golovkin have exhibited dominant tenures longer than the Ukrainian. However, the you put their best performances up against Lomachenko’s best performances against top completion, that argument loses its legs.
Through no fault of his own, Terence Crawford has struggled to find competition comparable to Lomachenko. His two best victories against Yuriorkis Gamboa and Viktor Postol are certainly impressive. But do they match up with a victory over Rigondeaux, Walters, Russell and Linares? Probably not. But that’s partially because there aren’t many people in house for Bud to fight. For a number of reasons, Top Rank CEO Bob Arum never pulled the trigger on a Pacquiao-Crawford fight, which would have definitely helped Crawford’s case for pound for pound supremacy. And now, a victory over Pacquiao wouldn’t matter much considering that Jeff Horn got to him last July and knocked whatever allure was left in the Filipino. He’s in an incredibly crowded and competitive 147 pound division, but we’ll have to see if Al Haymon is willing to risk (or sacrifice) one of his fighters to Arum allow Crawford to build a resume off of their back. For my money, Haymon would prefer to keep all the money in house until he’s at a point where there’s nobody left to fight but Crawford. But, ultimately, that hurts Crawford because he’s ready to compete against the elite at 147 right now.
As for Golovkin, he runs into a similar situation as Crawford. However, it’s not because of a promoter rivalry. Instead, it’s the lack of top shelf competition in the middleweight division that was willing to face GGG. Golovkin has the credentials as a 2004 Olympic silver medalist but his daunting power has been troubling for potential opponents. His biggest detractors will state that he didn’t have a real fight until he narrowly got past Daniel Jacobs last March. And his controversial draw against Canelo Alvarez keeps him right on the cusp of the conversation. Nevertheless, GGG’s best opponents aren’t quite the level that Lomachenko has faced. The victory against Canelo could have sealed the #1 spot. But, alas, the scorecards ended up seeing the fight even.
Boxing is very much a “what have you done for me lately” sport and Lomachenko’s accomplishments over the past couple of years put him in rarified air. He doesn’t have as many fights as his pound for pound peers, but he also doesn’t have many softballs thrown his way. He’s facing the best possible opponents and putting them away in impressive fashion. If WBO lightweight champion Ray Beltran is next, that’s another scalp that Lomachenko can put on his highly decorated wall. Of course, we all would like to see Lomachenko vs. Mikey Garcia, but who knows if that fight can come together.
The pound for pound debate is never as clear cut as we’d like it to be unless #1 fights #2. Otherwise, it’s an ongoing conversation with three fighters that can all have cases made for them. Is there any doubt that Lomachenko should top that list? Sure. But there’s absolutely no doubt that he belongs in the conversation.