by Cliff Rold
The timing of things can be funny. Had this fight happened even six months ago, the buzz among hardcore fight fans would likely be off the charts. It’s still good. It feels like it could be more.
After all, this was a fight people started to get interested in during 2014.
Then it looked like one of those contests that aren’t meant to be. Publicized behind the scenes issues surrounded Walters and he has spent this year on the shelf while Lomachenko, who has only fought once, dazzled the masses with a knockout of Roman Martinez.
When you think about it, what has really changed? Lomachenko has fought only once since Walters was last in the ring. If this was a fight one wanted to see a year ago, there hasn’t been all that much to separate them since.
Who will separate in the ring?
Let’s go the report card.
Title: WBO super featherweight (2016-Present, 1st Attempted Defense)
Previous Titles: WBO featherweight (2014-16, 3 Defenses)
Weight: 130 lbs.
Hails from: Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi, Ukraine
Record: 6-1, 4 KO (12-1, 4 KO including World Series of Boxing Contests)?
Record in Major Title Fights: 5-1, 3 KO
Rankings: #1 (Boxing Monthly), #2 (BoxingScene, ESPN), #3 (Ring), #4 (TBRB), #5 (BoxRec)
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: 3 (Orlando Salido L12; Gary Russell Jr. MD12; Roman Martinez KO5)
Previous Titles: WBA featherweight (2012-15, 4 Defenses)
Weight: 129 ½ lbs.
Hails from: Montego Bay, Jamaica
Record: 26-0-1, 21 KO
Rankings: #6 (BoxRec), #7 (Boxing Monthly), #10 (BoxingScene)
Record in Major Title Fights: 5-0, 4 KO
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: 3 (Vic Darchinyan KO5; Nonito Donaire TKO6; Jason Sosa D10)
Pre-Fight: Speed – Lomachenko A-; Walters B+
Pre-Fight: Power –Lomachenko B+; Walters A
Pre-Fight: Defense – Lomachenko A-; Walters B+
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Lomachenko A; Walters A
This is a fight where the intangibles could be big. Photographs of Walters in the week leading to the fight, and reports of needing to knock off a lot of weight for this fight, raise questions about his legs.
Lucky for Walters, he doesn’t have to weigh in the day of the fight in 2016. If that is an issue, it might be mitigated simply by the time available to rehydrate. Previous outings suggest Walters is a big man for his class, a fighter with a Jr. welterweight frame able to boil down. It’s been a serious advantage in his biggest wins to date. Nonito Donaire and Vic Darchinyan were both stopped, the former for the first time in his career.
Could those wins overrate Walters a hair? Both men were initially titlists at flyweight and were never as good as they once were beyond about 118 lbs. We haven’t seen a similar Walters performance against a high quality, full bodied featherweight or Jr. lightweight.
That doesn’t mean he’s been bad. His wins over Miguel Marriaga, and a draw that looked like a clear win against Jason Sosa, were effective if not scintillating. He has a good, long jab, and uses it to set up a nasty uppercut upstairs sometimes and hard hooks to the body often. Walters is a solid defender, picking off shots well with his shoulders and elbows in close quarters while maintaining a high guard around the head at range.
It is there where Lomachenko may have a lot of success. Walters high guard is sometimes tight. The Ukrainian, a defensive gem who also keeps his output high, works as well as anyone in combination right now. A scenario where Lomachenko comes in and out all night, firing in multiple and then stepping around Walters, could lead to a one-sided night.
That’s probably not the most likely scenario. Just as the case in the hotly contested Ward-Kovalev fight, a stiff, well-timed jab can disrupt anyone. Walters, if he can establish his, could force Lomachenko to think about coming forward. If that forces him to bring the fight inside, we’ve got a potential dogfight.
In his win against Martinez, Lomachenko was sitting on his shots more and scored the sort of knockout other big punchers couldn’t against the veteran. He is a fighter with high ring IQ who is still mastering the hurt side of the pro game. How he continues to evolve, if a real battle breaks out, could tell the tale.
The odds makers don’t see the same sort of 50-50 fight here this week that we had last. If it isn’t 50-50, put it down as 60-40. This has real upside. Lomachenko is facing the most complete talented young fighter he’s seen to date. Walters might not have the ring savvy and experience of an Orlando Salido, but he presents a physical threat with little to lose. Walters career stalled this year and a loss here would be devastating. He’s going to bring the best he’s got.
The thinking here is that won’t be quite enough. Lomachenko’s ability to just pick away at an opponent without leaving much to hit in return, his consistent footwork, and the beard he’s already shown make it hard to imagine him losing seven rounds. It doesn’t mean he won’t; it’s doesn’t mean other scoring factors won’t come into play. It does mean that the safe pick is the one the odds makers are strongly favoring. The pick is Lomachenko by decision.
Report Card and Staff Picks 2016: 38-13
Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel, the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]