Opening Bell: Lomachenko is the man
LOS ANGELES — Pound-for-pound king Vasiliy Lomachenko, the unified lightweight champion, is everything fans should want in a prizefighter.
He fights regularly. Always comes in shape. Always entertains. No ducking either, because he’s willing to fight the best opponents available. And he has skills so supreme and so unusual it’s hard to compare him to any other fighter, at least that I can think of in nearly 20 years of covering boxing.
In ESPN’s top-10 pound-for-pound poll, Lomachenko garnered nine of the 10 first-place votes, with welterweight titlist Terence Crawford getting one. Near-unanimous agreement on anything in boxing is rare, but that’s how good Loma is.
Lomachenko showed off those skills in a very impressive fourth-round knockout of former titlist Anthony Crolla, his mandatory challenger, on Friday night at Staples Center in Los Angeles. Yes, Crolla was a huge underdog, but nobody had so thoroughly dominated him and put him away like Lomachenko did, with one clean right hand to the head that knocked him out face-first. It was such a devastating punch referee Jack Reiss abandoned the count, because Crolla (34-7-3, 13 KOs), 32, of England, was gone.
We all know that Lomachenko preferred to be in a three-belt unification fight with Richard Commey, as originally planned, but Commey’s hand injury made him unavailable. A unification fight with Mikey Garcia, who weeks earlier had lost every single second of a 12-round fight challenging Errol Spence Jr. for a welterweight belt, was also not doable.
What amazes me is that whenever Lomachenko fights, the social media warriors find fault with his opponent and complain about this or that. How can he be No. 1 P4P if he has a loss? Who has he fought? Oh, please.
Lomachenko (13-1, 10 KOs), 31, the two-time Olympic gold medalist from Ukraine, came to the pros in 2013 as perhaps the greatest amateur fighter ever and needed virtually no pro seasoning. He turned pro in a 10-rounder and was all about making history. He proceeded to set records for fewest fights needed to win a world title (three, a tie), fewest needed to win a title in two divisions (seven) and fewest needed to win a title in three divisions (12), and then he unified lightweight titles in his 13th fight. Of his 14 pro fights, 13 have been world title bouts.
For those who complain that he has a loss: Stop. He fought Orlando Salido, a rugged, rough, massively experienced former two-division titlist in his SECOND pro fight. There are fighters who wouldn’t consider fighting somebody as tough as Salido ever, much less in their second fight. In that fight, by the way, Lomachenko came within a whisker of winning a vacant featherweight title but lost a split decision against a Salido, who had been stripped of the belt because he didn’t make weight, giving him an unfair weight advantage. Salido also spent the entire fight repeatedly fouling Lomachenko with low blows that the referee never did anything about.
I was at that fight in San Antonio and afterward ran into a member of Salido’s team. That person said to me, and I am paraphrasing: “Thank goodness we got this guy in his second fight, because after a couple of more, he’ll be unbeatable.” It turns out that Lomachenko needed only one more fight, because in his third bout he toyed with fellow Olympian Gary Russell Jr. (24-0 at the time) to win the belt that had been stripped from the overweight Salido.
So when anyone asks, “Who did Loma ever beat?” the first answer should be Russell, an outstanding fighter who currently has just that one loss and owns a featherweight title. That question can also be answered with these names: Roman Martinez, Nicholas Walters, Guillermo Rigondeaux, Jorge Linares and Jose Pedraza. Loma has fought more quality opponents in the past few years than some top guys fights in a career.
He drilled Martinez in the fifth round of a 2016 knockout of the year candidate to win a junior lightweight title. It took Garcia eight rounds in Martinez’s only other stoppage loss. Walters was an undefeated former featherweight titlist with huge power, considered a serious challenger, but lost every second of the fight with Lomachenko before quitting after seven rounds. Two-time Olympic gold medalist Rigondeaux, although moving up in weight, was revered by some as a P4P god but was suddenly nobody to them when Loma embarrassed him and made him meekly quit after six rounds.
When Loma moved up to lightweight last May, he KO’d the highly respected Linares in the 10th round despite tearing the labrum in his right shoulder in the second round. When Loma faced Pedraza to unify two belts in December, his shoulder was not 100 percent but he dropped Pedraza twice in the 11th round and won a wide decision.
Loma doesn’t just beat opponents, either. He takes their heart. In four consecutive fights in 2016 and 2017, he made foes quit — Walters, Jason Sosa, Miguel Marriaga and Rigondeaux — and dubbed himself “No Mas-chenko.”
Loma is not only the No.1 fighter in the world right now, but historically, with only a few exceptions, it’s hard to think of anyone in recent decades who would give him a serious fight at 130 or 135 pounds. I think Garcia would be a competitive fight at lightweight, a division where Loma is undersized. The prime lightweight Shane Mosley would have given him a great fight. And I think Floyd Mayweather, who was probably at his best at junior lightweight and fought only briefly at lightweight, would certainly be a true test, but it would have been a fight that Lomachenko absolutely would have competed in, if not won.
Cue the social media outrage once again.
Performance of the weekend: Claressa Shields
Claressa Shields, the face of women’s boxing in the United States, saved her best performance for her biggest fight.
Shields (9-0, 2 KOs), 24, the two-time U.S. Olympic champion from Flint, Michigan, absolutely dominated Germany’s Christina Hammer (24-1, 11 KOs), 28, in their long-awaited showdown for the undisputed women’s middleweight world championship on Saturday night in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Hammer had held her belt since 2010 and was making her 13th defense, but not only did Shields cruise to the victory — 98-91, 98-91 and 98-92 — she nearly knocked out Hammer in the eighth round. Shields had her on the ropes as she doled out punishment in a round so one-sided that two of the judges gave her a 10-8 score even without a knockdown.
Shields, a former unified super middleweight titlist who had dropped down to middleweight, came into the fight with three belts and was making her third defense. She took Hammer’s belt to become only the second woman to hold all four major titles at the same time and only the sixth fighter overall to accomplish that feat.
The next step: If Shields has her way, she will move down to junior middleweight and Cecilia Braekhus (35-0, 9 KOs), 37, of Norway, the longtime undisputed women’s welterweight world champion, will move up one division for what would easily be the most significant fight in women’s boxing history. It’s possible.
Disappointment of the weekend: Quillin vs. Truax
On paper, the super middleweight title eliminator between former middleweight titlist “Kid Chocolate” Peter Quillin (34-1-1, 23 KOs), 35, and former super middleweight titlist Caleb Truax (30-4-2, 19 KOs), 35, shaped up like a pretty good one. Alas, Saturday night’s Premier Boxing Champions main event in Minneapolis — where Osseo, Minnesota’s Truax was the big crowd favorite — was a huge bummer.
They accidentally banged heads in the second round, which opened a bloody, deep cut above Truax’s right eye. He finished the round, but the ringside doctor recommended the bout be stopped, rendering the bout a no decision because four rounds had not been completed.
Truax was seeking a second win in a row since losing his title by decision to James DeGale in their rematch last April. Quillin was seeking a third win in a row since moving up to super middleweight after Daniel Jacobs whacked him in the first round of a world title fight.
Officially, Quillin won both rounds on all three scorecards before the bout was stopped one second into the third round. Both fighters were bummed out.
“I want to do it again with Truax here in Minnesota or come back to Brooklyn, my home,” Quillin said. “Let him get stitched up. Me and my trainer will be back in the gym on Monday.”
Said Truax: “It’s disappointing I couldn’t put on a good fight for the fans. They came to see 12 rounds of action. It hurts, but that’s boxing.”
The next step: There’s only one right move: a rematch. Both are open to it, and since the fight was an eliminator to become the mandatory challenger for the belt held by Caleb Plant, a rematch likely will be ordered.
Fights you might have missed
Saturday at Minneapolis
Middleweight Sergiy Derevyanchenko (13-1, 10 KOs) W12 Jack Culcay (25-4, 13 KOs), title eliminator, scores: 116-112 (twice), 115-113.
In October, Derevyanchenko, 33, a 2012 Ukrainian Olympian fighting out of Brooklyn, New York, challenged longtime stablemate Daniel Jacobs for a vacant middleweight world title and lost a narrow split decision. In his first fight since, Derevyanchenko earned a second mandatory crack at that belt with a hard-fought but clear decision over Culcay, 33, of Germany, a former interim junior middleweight titlist, on the Quillin-Truax PBC card.
Culcay got off to a solid start in a bit of slow-paced fight before things picked up in the fourth round as Derevyanchenko got going. The action increased over the second half of the bout, with Culcay landing some solid shots, but Derevyanchenko maintained control to earn a quality win.
Saturday at Monterrey, Mexico
Junior middleweight Jaime Mungia (33-0, 26 KOs) W12 Dennis Hogan (28-2-1, 7 KOs), retains a world title, scores: 116-112, 115-113, 114-114.
After winning his title in the United States last May and making his first three defenses in the U.S., Munguia, 22, of Mexico, returned home for defense No. 4 and was lucky to retain the belt against mandatory challenger Hogan, 34, an Irishman from Australia, who gave him fits all night with his movement.
How questionable was the decision? Even Munguia, a gargantuan favorite, admitted after the fight that he thought the fight could have been a draw. The reality is it could have — maybe should have — been a loss. Munguia said making 154 pounds has become more difficult and that he could be headed to middleweight sooner than the expected debut in 2020. Hogan, naturally, believed he won the fight.
Featherweight Diego De La Hoya (21-0, 10 KOs) no contest 2 Enrique Bernache (24-12, 12 KOs).
De La Hoya, 24, of Mexico, the first cousin of Oscar De La Hoya, his promoter and International Boxing Hall of Famer, struggled badly to make the junior featherweight limit of 122 pounds and had two fights canceled because of it. So he finally moved to 126 pounds and had his first fight in 10 months, and this happened: a premature ending and no contest because De La Hoya and Bernache, 30, of Mexico, accidentally banged heads in the second round, which left Bernache with a terrible cut on his forehead and unable to continue. So the fight was waved off at 2 minutes, 25 seconds.