There are boxing match-ups for the purists and then there is Vasyl Lomachenko vs. Guillermo Rigondeaux. It may be — technically, at least — the greatest fight in the sport’s history.
The term ‘casual’ is overused when appraising the commitment of boxing fans but it’s both sad and true; ask the average people on the street whether they’d rather watch Loma-Rigo or Anthony Joshua punch a part-time builder halfway back to his home in eastern Europe, the mob will choose the mismatch.
Ask the same people if they enjoyed watching Tyson Fury expertly render Wladimir Klitschko’s right hand — an iron fist that ruled for over a decade — completely useless. They probably didn’t.
If they miss out on the chance to watch Lomachenko defend the WBO world super-featherweight title against Rigondeaux on Saturday night, though, it’s because they literally don’t know what they’re missing.
— Top Rank Boxing (@trboxing) 29 November 2017
Preferring ‘fighters’ to ‘boxers’ is one thing, but the artistry of these two is transcendent. The greatest sportsmen make things look so easy. Lomachenko and Rigondeaux make stringing together vicious combinations at lightning speed while evading retaliation look as simple as running water. Neither has been found wanting in the ‘fighting’ department, either.
Some facts: Between them, they boast 859 amateur victories. That’s not a typo… 859. Between them, they also have four Olympic gold medals and four World Championship gold medals. We are talking about the very highest echelons of achievement in the unpaid ranks.
They aren’t the first to have found professional fame after lengthy amateur reigns, of course. Oscar De La Hoya went 200-5 and Don Curry 400-4. To put these kind of records into perspective, Muhammad Ali’s confirmed record stands at 37-8 while Anthony Joshua’s is approximated as 40-3.
Lomachenko’s feats are particularly staggering. In 397 unpaid fights, he lost only once. He duly avenged the stain on his record. Twice. The man who beat him, Albert Selimov, will have something to tell the grandchildren but remains an amateur fighter and is now 31.
The Ukrainian’s professional record to date looks relatively underwhelming at 9-1, 7 KOs. Understandably, though, ‘Hi-Tech’ was fast-tracked and his sole professional defeat came in his second bout — a controversial split decision going to brutal Mexican Orlando Salido. It’s almost needless to say it was a world title fight.
Since then, he’s won a world title by outpointing Gary Russell in his very next fight and gone on to stop champions such as Roman Martinez, Nicholas Walters and Jason Sosa. The annihilation of Martinez was particularly eye-catching and he then beat the dangerous Walters into submission.
Modern technology and, in particular, social media, plays a huge role in developing the profile of a modern fighter. Lomachenko plays the game well — when he’s not leaping across the ring in handstands or playing tennis against himself, his videos show off his extraordinary hand reflexes.
If the average Joe needs a reason to sit through 12 rounds of him, try watching 37 seconds of him catching stones. Yes, really.
— Hi-Tech Lomachenko (@VasylLomachenko) 26 November 2017
By contrast, Rigondeaux, eight years Lomachenko’s senior at 37, has always been a mysterious presence on the world boxing landscape.
Turn back the clock a few years and his rival super-bantamweights — most notably Carl Frampton — were hailing the Cuban expatriate as one of the greatest pound-for-pound boxers in the world. Some say he’s still up there, despite relative inactivity.
To dispel foolish suggestions that the best ‘boxers’ box because they can’t fight or punch, Lomachenko and Rigondeaux possess knockout percentages of 61 and 70 respectively. Maybe try asking James ‘Jazza’ Dickens’, whose jaw Rigondeaux broke effortlessly on his UK debut last year, if ‘El Chacal’ has anything behind those stylish shots.
On paper, Lomachenko should win, though. He has so much youth and natural size on his side.
Regardless of the odds and regardless of who turns out to be the victor, two of the most gifted boxers to ever step into a ring are pitted against each other at Madison Square Garden this weekend. If the skills on display don’t capture your imagination, you’re being too casual…