Monday, April 10, 2017

Opinions and Observations: The Lomachenko Card

A jab step. A foot feint. Quick side-to-side movement. A quarter-step back. A spin. A triple uppercut-left hook combination. Punches from all angles and trajectories raining down with heavy frequency. Jason Sosa couldn't adequately defend himself against Vasyl Lomachenko because he didn't know where or when to expect incoming fire. 

A specific sequence in the eighth round illustrated Lomachenko's singular brilliance in this area. Moving blindingly fast from the left side of Sosa's body to his right, Lomachenko successfully got Sosa turned around the wrong way. Lomachenko then unloaded a straight left hand that was completely undefended: the free shot the fighters dream about! Lomachenko detonated the blast and Sosa was rocked. Sensing an opportunity to end the fight, Lomachenko upped his attack with maximum ferocity. He followed up with a fuselage of power shots. Sosa stumbled around the ring, clinched, but somehow found his way out of the round. However, he wouldn't be long for the fight; his corner mercifully stopped the bout after the ninth. 

If there is one flaw with Lomachenko, and this may or may not be of importance as his career continues, the sequence I noted above, although brilliant in execution, demonstrated it. With a free shot against a defenseless opponent, Lomachenko couldn't get the KO. He's just not a huge one-punch knockout artist. Credit Sosa's chin and determination but this instance was a perfect illustration of Lomachenko's power deficit. Yes, he inflicts damage and hurts opponents, but he lacks a true eraser. Again, this only might be a factor later in his career because a number of boxers who have ascended to the top of the sport weren't one-punch knockout guys. Mayweather rarely knocked anyone out at welterweight. Hopkins wasn't a KO guy during the latter part of his middleweight reign. Whitaker was never known for his power. Lomachenko's lack of a true knockout punch might hurt him in a fight down the road, but maybe he won't have to worry about it. 

However, let me back up for a moment. This potential flaw of Lomachenko's has already manifested. In the 12th round against Orlando Salido, Lomachenko had Salido badly hurt and in survival mode. The fight was neck-and-neck and if Lomachenko could land a finishing blow, surely he wouldn't have to sweat it out on the judges’ scorecards. But he couldn't end the fight; he would go on to lose a split decision. 

Salido was just Lomachenko's second pro opponent and surely Vasyl has gained experience and ring maturity since that March night in 2014. However, as Lomachenko continues to face better fighters and potentially at higher weights, it's certainly possible that he will find himself needing a knockdown or a knockout to cement a victory. 

But for now, let's just enjoy the ride. 

Watching Lomachenko in-person for the first time, I was amazed by his footwork. He moved with such grace and commanded the ring. His movement left Sosa confounded; Lomachenko looked like he could've been a dancer or a fencer. In fact, Lomachenko took years of dancing lessons in the Ukraine and that training certainly has paid off in his boxing career. Sosa, a hard-working, blue-collar fighter, lacked the foot speed or athleticism to find Lomachenko consistently, let alone compete with him. 

Sosa used his stablemate, Tevin Farmer, as a chief sparring partner for Lomachenko. Like Lomachenko, Farmer is a slick southpaw who is hard to hit cleanly. However, Farmer is essentially defensively minded and isn't the type of fighter to average upwards of 60 shots in a round. What separates Lomachenko from a boxer like Farmer, who is an incredibly talented fighter, is the offensive temperament that accompanies his strong defensive foundation. Yes, Sosa might be able to track a defensive cutie who only wants to throw 35 punches a round, but he doesn't have the defensive chops to remain on the front foot against a volume-puncher like Lomachenko. 

A fighter can't press Lomachenko if he's constantly in defensive mode. At points, Sosa landed on Lomachenko but he couldn't get much on his shots because he wasn't confident where Lomachenko would be. And unlike the Salido fight, Lomachenko wasn't compliantly standing in front of Sosa, giving him his body to pound. Lomachenko has learned a lot from the Salido loss and he seldom remained stationary on Saturday. He refused to provide Sosa with a way into the fight. 

Lomachenko is an elite talent who now remains in a holding pattern, waiting for tougher opponents to fight him. At this point, Lomachenko may not yet bring the money for prospective top fighters to face him. Hopefully, Top Rank and HBO continue to support Lomachenko and provide potential foes with attractive financial inducements. Lomachenko's current abilities are among the best in the sport. We wait with rapt anticipation for his opportunity to face greater talents. 


In the HBO opener, cruiserweight titlist Oleksandr Usyk won a competitive battle against Michael Hunter. Usyk, the 2008 heavyweight Olympic gold medalist, has moved fast as a pro, winning a world title belt in just his 10th fight. Hunter was himself a 2012 Olympian and although he was getting a title shot in only his 13th pro bout, he lacked Usyk's strong slate of developmental fights. He had defeated the previously unbeaten Isiah Thomas in 2016 but that was the only good fighter on his resume prior to Usyk. 

Hunter started on Saturday very confidently. Featuring a hard jab, clever footwork and quick combinations, he flummoxed Usyk for portions of the first four rounds. Hunter would step in with quick one-twos and deftly get out of the pocket. He displayed significant boxing skills and a true fighting spirit. Throughout the match, whenever he got roughed up, he refused to capitulate and continued to fire back. 

However, as the fight progressed, Hunter's lack of experience led to his undoing. In the second half of the bout, he ceded control of the ring generalship battle. Hunter got dragged into Usyk's fight and he didn't have the experience or ring IQ to regain control of the match. When Hunter should've clinched or left the pocket, he was too game and instead decided to exchange. Lacking a big punch, Hunter couldn't match Usyk's power. In addition, Usyk's constant pressure and high-volume attack started to wear him down. 

Usyk had huge offensive rounds in the 10th and 12th, tattooing Hunter with right uppercuts, right hooks and straight left hands. In fact, the fight should've been stopped at several points but referee Bill Clancy – a sadist if I've ever seen one – permitted Hunter to take an unnecessary beating. Yes, Hunter had won a few early rounds but the fight wasn't in the balance in the bout's final third. By the end, Hunter was cooked and only his pride, his fighting instincts and Clancy's cruelty permitted him to hear the final bell. 

Since turning pro, Usyk has developed a rabid, cult-like following among many in boxing's cognoscenti. With his considerable boxing skills, constant pressure and offensive temperament, Usyk possesses traits that many observers believe could lead to an elite boxing career. More than a few have suggested that Usyk ultimately could become a genuine heavyweight contender. 

I won't say that Usyk disappointed on Saturday. He beat a determined and talented foe who offered the type of tricky angles, hand speed and footwork that can make many fighters look ordinary. However, Usyk's defense just wasn't good enough on Saturday to make heavyweights start to worry. Usyk had little defense for Hunter's jab. Usyk couldn't effectively counter it and featured little head movement. In addition, he struggled with Hunter's rhythm. Stepping in and out of range, Hunter landed frequently. Now, imagine those same shots from a much bigger puncher. 

If you haven't noticed, the heavyweight division is changing over. Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder are not the plodders of yesteryear. They use their feet and move around the ring. Usyk could fair well against a stationary fighter but if he decides to move up, he'll have to beat an athletic, powerful heavyweight to emerge as the top guy in that division. At this point, his defense is too porous and his straight-line movements won't help matters. 

Usyk, whom many regard as the best cruiserweight in the world at the present moment, still has unfinished business in the division. Fellow titleholders like Murat Gassiev and Mairis Briedis could present some difficulties for him. Usyk is 30 and his prime is now but if he truly wants to become an elite heavyweight, he should use his current division as a finishing school. Let's see his defense against Gassiev's power bombs. Can he overcome Briedis' boxing fluidity? If he emerges from those contests unscathed, he will be ready for tougher fights at heavyweight, but for now, he still needs some refinement. 


Oleksandr Gvozdyk dazzled on Saturday with a third-round knockout of rugged Yunieski Gonzalez. Gvozdyk, like his fellow countrymen Lomachenko and Usyk, also was an Olympic medalist, and although he might not engender the same effusive praise in boxing circles that his compatriots do, he certainly provided some indelible moments on Saturday. 

In the third round, he had a masterful sequence that led to the first knockdown. Connecting with a powerful combination, Gvozdyk then took a half step back to avoid Gonzalez's counter. After allowing Gonzalez to miss wildly, Gvozdyk stepped back into the pocket and unleashed a peach of a left hook that shook Gonzalez to his foundation. Within moments, Gonzalez was on the canvas. Later in the round, Gvozdyk uncorked a massive overhand right that ended the fight. Earlier in his career, Gonzalez had taken some huge shots from Jean Pascal and Vyacheslav Shabranskyy, but he was unable to withstand Gvozdyk's combination of intelligence, power and timing. 

Gvozdyk continues to improve. In July of last year, he was dropped by trial horse Tommy Karpency. Although Karpency isn't a big puncher, he caught Gvozdyk in an overconfident moment with his hands down. Gvozdyk subsequently finished off Karpency but he had learned his lesson. Gvozdyk pounded out a win later in 2016 against Isaac Chilemba, a fighter who makes opponents look terrible. However, Gvozdyk maintained his composure and work rate and continued to win rounds. Ultimately, Chilemba's corner decided to end the fight. 

On Saturday, Gvozdyk successfully neutralized Gonzalez's overhand right. Instead of getting caught with punches, like he had in the past, Gvozdyk avoided punishment and inflicted his own. Gvozdyk has considerable offensive skills and packs a big punch. If he remains committed to defensive responsibility, he could emerge as a major player in the light heavyweight division. At the very least, with Saturday's performance, he’s now on the map.

Adam Abramowitz is the founder/head writer of
He's a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
@snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook.      

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