By Lyle Fitzsimmons
I made a decision on Saturday night.
Or, to be more accurate, I confirmed a decision I’d already considered.
Vasyl Lomachenko is the best boxer in the world.
And to those contrarian masses on social media who’ve suggested such a notion is either beholden to cable conglomerates or simply not as enlightened as theirs, I have an equally simple response.
Though I am an HBO subscriber and confess to not knowing proclivities of each and every sub-Saharan bantamweight, it’s not as if my opinions are entirely without merit.
After all, I’ve been an active fan of the sport since the ’70s, been paid to cover it since the ’90s and – thanks to the trinity of God, the Internet and Rick Reeno (in no particular order) – have parked my byline in this site’s space most Tuesdays since 2008.
As a result, I’ve interviewed all of today’s top stars, seen the majority of them from ringside at least a few times and enlisted a network of informed acquaintances to smack sense into me whenever my keyboard writes a check that my knowledge can’t cash.
With this one, though, there’s zero concern of an overdraft.
Over 27 minutes against Jason Sosa – who was obviously overmatched, but had hung in with world-class entities – Lomachenko displayed the sort of comprehensive ring mastery practiced only by those worthy of the head of the P4P table.
He controlled the tempo, geography and tenor of the fight, made it look effortless while doing so and incrementally ebbed the wherewithal of a foe who’d earned No. 2 contender status as much on tenacity as technique. As I watched it, in fact, I actually began to pity the challenger, who looked as helpless as a blind man flailing for cash in one of those promotional money chambers – but with the added ignominy of the printed presidents pummeling him as they floated tantalizingly in and then just out of reach.
For nine rounds of that trouble, Sosa wound up a crimson-faced punching bag with an eye swollen to racquetball size and a headache that’ll take a truckload of Tylenol to ease. And were it not for his benevolent father/trainer stepping in to signal a surrender, a loss from consciousness wasn’t far off.
Meanwhile, for Lomachenko, suggesting the sky’s the limit even seems a shade confining.
He’s already ascended, in the space of just nine pro fights, to top-spot legitimacy at both 126 and 130 pounds, not to mention a No. 6 pedestal on Ring Magazine’s best-of-the-best list prior to the weekend.
And while the names above him on said roll call – Ward, Kovalev, Golovkin, Gonzalez and Crawford among them – are certainly worthy of such acclaim, the view from here is that none are so simultaneously superior to the rank and file while possessing a still-untapped potential for growth.
Mssrs. Ward, Kovalev and Golovkin have indeed combined for 98 wins, 74 KOs and a draw in 100 fights, but Nos. 1, 2 and 3 are also beyond their 33rd birthdays and presumably far closer to the ends of their superlative runs than the beginnings. As for the sublimely skilled Nicaraguan at No. 4, he’s coming off a narrow victory and a disputed loss in his last two bouts, and may have finally (after 12 years and 47 fights of his own) reached a level of competition on which his separation is no longer quite so vast.
That leaves Crawford and Lomachenko, born five months apart in 1987-88, to carry the torch forward.
Now in possession of two belts at 140 pounds after winning and defending one at 135, the unbeaten Crawford is a ticket-selling stalwart in his Nebraska backyard but hasn’t yet parlayed that success into a career-defining match with a significant opponent.
It figures to ultimately arrive at welterweight, where a bevy of compelling foes await, though he’ll by no means be prohibitive against the quality likes of Thurman, Brook, Garcia and Spence.
Lomachenko, for his part, faces an intriguingly similar path toward 135 and 140, where talented suitors named Garcia, Linares, Easter and perhaps even Pacquiao lay in wait to snuff momentum while employing their size and might to offset his footwork and acumen.
It won’t come easy, though, for any of them.
And, in reality, picking between “Bud” and “High-Tech” means splitting hairs of the highest quality.
Crawford could be deemed more “rugged” while Lomachenko leans nearer to “artistic,” but each carries such a variety of tools that neither adjective would be wholly inaccurate if labels were switched.
The tiebreaking contention here is the smaller man is simply a bit more other-worldly, and while Crawford seems sure to be a frequent contender for Fighter of the Year, the Ukrainian’s trajectory should follow an arc that leaves a trail still visible for generations.
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This week’s title-fight schedule:
IBF/IBO/WBA junior welterweight/super lightweight titles -- Glasgow, Scotland
Ricky Burns (WBA champion/No. 8 IWBR) vs. Julius Indongo (IBF/IBO champion/No. 5 IWBR)
Burns (41-5-1, 14 KO): Second WBA title defense; Four straight wins since 1-3-1 stretch (2013-2015)
Indongo (21-0, 11 KO): First IBF/IBO title defense; Three straight wins by KO/TKO (11 total rounds)
Fitzbitz says: Indongo is longer and more dangerous with a single shot. But Burns has some skills, too, and the guess here is that he can avoid disaster while utilizing them over 12 rounds. Burns by decision
Last week's picks: 3-0 (WIN: Flanagan, Lomachenko, Usyk)
2017 picks record: 21-8 (72.4 percent)
Overall picks record: 843-282 (74.9 percent)
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full-fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA "world championships" are only included if no "super champion" exists in the weight class.
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.