Seven nights from now, Vasiliy Lomachenko is scheduled to defend his WBA “super” world lightweight title against Anthony Crolla.
You haven’t heard or read a whole lot about it just yet because, frankly, calling Crolla a legitimate threat to Lomachenko’s lightweight championship reign isn’t a narrative even legendary carnival barker Bob Arum could peddle without winking.
That’s not necessarily Lomachenko’s fault, nor Arum’s, as the WBA has installed Crolla as the mandatory challenger for Lomachenko’s crown.
For embarrassing measure, the consistently ridiculous sanctioning organization also elevated Lomachenko from its “world” champion at 135 pounds to its “super” champion.
What’s obvious to sane minds is that, the organization’s stinking-thinking is that, hey, why have one champion per recognized organization in a given division when you can make money off sanctioning another “title” fight two weeks later – Robert Easter Jr. versus Rances Barthelemy – for a trinket that shouldn’t exist?
Lomachenko simply could’ve vacated the WBA lightweight title he won by stopping Jorge Linares with that textbook body shot last May 12 at Madison Square Garden. Except that trying to persuade boxers to give up titles is impossible most times, something Arum accepted was particularly true of Lomachenko very early in what’s now nearly a six-year partnership.
“You’ve gotta understand, my guy Lomachenko is an eastern European,” Arum told BoxingScene.com.
“They love to pile up titles, they love to unify and they don’t like to give up belts. There was no chance I could convince him to walk away.”
The 30-year-old Lomachenko (12-1, 9 KOs) wants to fully unify boxing’s lightweight titles. He already owns the WBA and WBO belts, and he has designs on taking Richard Commey’s IBF crown later this year.
Lomachenko-Commey was the fight we were supposed to see next Friday night.
It was all but a done deal until Ghana’s Commey (28-2, 25 KOs) suffered a hand injury during his second-round technical knockout of Russia’s Isa Chaniev (13-2, 6 KOs) on February 2 in Frisco, Texas.
Physical therapy to help heal a floating ligament in his right hand left Commey unable to train until this week. Lou DiBella, Commey’s promoter, told ESPN.com on Thursday that he wants to take a tune-up bout before boxing Lomachenko later in 2019.
If nothing else, the bigger, hard-hitting Commey seems like a more imposing opponent for Lomachenko than England’s Crolla (34-6-3, 13 KOs).
Meanwhile, we’re left to watch Lomachenko – a 100-1 favourite, according to numerous Internet sports books – defend his title against a tough but overmatched underdog that twice lost unanimous decisions to Linares (45-5, 28 KOs).
The unique Ukrainian should overcome Crolla relatively easily in a fight ESPN+ will stream April 12 from Staples Center in Los Angeles.
Lomachenko’s following fight figures to be another lightweight title unification bout against Commey.
Assuming Lomachenko (12-1, 9 KOs) wins both of those fights, that’s when his somewhat stagnant career could come to a pivotal point.
For all of his remarkable abilities and Arum’s accompanying promotional machine, Lomachenko is becoming boring. Not in a literal sense. No, he’s still fun to watch because his athleticism and skills still make you do double-takes sometimes.
That said, predictability breeds boredom among fans and cynics alike. They want to see one of the best boxers in the world tested more than Pedraza, Crolla or even Commey can push him, particularly as he moves toward the back end of his physical prime.
Simply put, the two-time Olympic gold medalist must get back to pursuing legacy-building fights.
Since demoralizing Nicholas Walters into submission in November 2016, Lomachenko has beaten Jason Sosa, Miguel Marriaga, Guillermo Rigondeaux, Linares and Jose Pedraza.
There are four former champions among that group, but even Lomachenko dismisses the most noteworthy win of those five victories because Rigondeaux, while gifted and then unbeaten, moved up two weight classes to fight him 16 months ago.
Linares knocked down Lomachenko in the seventh round, which served as an unfriendly reminder that he’s probably better suited for 130 pounds than 135.
Lomachenko’s commitment to lightweight is firm, though, which limits the options for the type of intriguing challenges that defined the first half of his pro career (Orlando Salido, Gary Russell Jr. and Walters).
The two toughest opponents most mentioned for Lomachenko are Mikey Garcia and Gervonta Davis.
Welterweight champion Errol Spence Jr. just dominated Garcia (39-1, 30 KOs), which means Garcia would have to win a fight or two before becoming viable for Lomachenko again in a pay-per-view event.
That’s assuming Garcia, who still holds the WBC lightweight title, would move all the way back down from welterweight to lightweight.
“The one element that we don’t know is what happens with Garcia’s title,” Arum said.
“Will Mikey give it up? Or not? Or what? We don’t know. Once we know that, we’ll know which way to go.”
Even if he drops down to 135 pounds again, Garcia’s contentious past with Arum’s company makes a Garcia-Lomachenko match unlikely even among optimists.
Floyd Mayweather, whose company promotes Davis (21-0, 20 KOs), has gone back and forth about whether battling Lomachenko would make sense for the powerful southpaw from Baltimore.
Enter Teofimo Lopez.
The extremely confident Lomachenko won’t admit it, but he needs Lopez. The fast-developing Lopez is just 21, but he is the perfect partner for Lomachenko to make magic both at the box office and on pay-per-view.
Unlike Lomachenko, who isn’t especially eager to do what’s required to build his brand beyond boxing fans, Lopez is completely promotable. The polarizing Lopez has the one-punch power and the personality to become a true star, and the 2016 Olympian pursues that ambition accordingly.
Marketability notwithstanding, Lopez (12-0, 10 KOs) definitely needs a couple more impressive victories in 2019 to make a fight against Lomachenko more saleable.
The brash Brooklyn native is scheduled to face Finland’s Edis Tatli (31-2, 10 KOs) in a 10-rounder on an ESPN Pay-Per-View undercard April 20, before the main event between WBO welterweight champ Terence Crawford (34-0, 25 KOs) and Amir Khan (33-4, 20 KOs).
Lopez is heavily favored to defeat Tatli, but he will be matched against a more threatening opponent in his following fight. Then, Lomachenko-Lopez likely will become more than just a fascinating fight we might see one day.
“For me, the major pay-per-view bombshell for Lomachenko would be against Teofimo Lopez, if he keeps winning,” Arum said.
“I talked to Teofimo’s father [Tuesday].
If he’s successful April 20th, then he’s a main event guy in July, on one of our telecasts. And then we’ll have him fight a real step-up fight against a top lightweight opponent available at the end of the year. And then, sometime after the Super Bowl, come back on a pay-per-view with Lomachenko against Teofimo. I think that would do extraordinarily well.”
Lopez is applying pressure on Top Rank to make the Lomachenko bout before the end of this year. The Las Vegas resident claims making 135 pounds has become problematic and he doesn’t want to wait much longer to move up to 140 pounds, a weight at which Lomachenko won’t compete.
The precocious Lopez realizes, of course, that he needs Lomachenko to help him reach superstardom, much more than he needs to move up.
Based on the somewhat stagnant nature of his celebrated career and the lack of profitable options available to Lomachenko, he needs Lopez, too.
EDITED FROM: boxingscene.com