VASYL LOMACHENKO is a phenomenon. His statistics speak for themselves. A two-time, two-weight Olympic gold medallist, one Val Barker trophy (for being the best boxer at an Olympics). In only 12 professional fights he has become a three weight world champion.
His style is unique. Even those who have shared a ring with him have different views on what makes him brilliant. Irish prospect Stevie McKenna has recently sparred him. He points to Lomachenko’s stamina and footwork in particular. “He’s always constantly feinting, footwork, he’ll move in and out,” McKenna said. “Footwork and timing, he’s really fit as well. He’s exceptionally fit. He keeps the same level the whole time. He doesn’t get tired or anything. It’s everything really. He’s good all round. He’s exceptional, a gifted fighter.
“He’s always thinking so he’s making you think all the time. You can’t switch off against him. He’s so fast as well.”
His intelligence within the ring is striking. That’s something Sam Maxwell noticed over the course of two five-round bouts he fought with Lomachenko in the World Series of Boxing. “He’s got that many plans in his head. He’s just the most intelligent boxer I’ve ever boxed. He plans three or four moves ahead. He’ll do a feint, you’ll see him do the feint and he’s just judging what you’re going to do. Later on in the fight you might have forgot about it but he’ll do that feint again knowing what your reaction’s going to be and he’ll counter it,” Sam said. “He’s very accurate, his punches are very accurate. He doesn’t waste any shots. He caught me with some good body shots as well, he’s more like a correct hitter than a massive power puncher.”
Lomachenko doesn’t give much away. “I was born as a boxer,” he told Boxing News simply. This is what he has always done, this is what he has always wanted to do. From the age of four his father, Anatoly took him to the boxing gym. He’s been training his whole life and practising his techniques diligently.
Clearly his approach is exhaustive. He even does mental exercises to train his mind. “I train mentally, I train that for if sometimes I need to make very quick decisions in the ring, the mental training helps me a lot,” he says.
He also has the special qualities, resilience and will to win. In his last fight, against Jorge Linares, Lomachenko damaged his shoulder and had to pick himself off the canvas to still win by stoppage. “It was painful, so much so that I couldn’t throw my right hook. After I went on the floor in the fifth round, I had to start all over again. And then we came closer to the championship rounds I had to, with the pain, use my right hook to open his defence and find a place where I could finish the bout,” the Ukrainian said. That is determination.
He takes his career step by step, fight by fight. “I never thought about how I’m going to end my career and I cannot tell at what point I’ll want to stop. I can tell you just surely that when I’m going to get tired of it, I’m going to retire,” he said.
If you want to fight like Lomachenko, his one recommendation: “I would advise the fighter to go to my father and ask all the unique things, what to do and how to do it.
“He plays a big role in my career. He is the main guy, he makes the decisions. Basically how can I describe it? If you play a computer game, I’m a guy who’s running on the TV screen and he’s the guy who’s making me do things.”
That underscores the closeness of a relationship, which developed him as a fighter. “I would say this style is not my style, it’s the style of my father. Because I never thought about the style. I never thought about what he was telling me. I was just doing, I was just repeating. He saw that, he imagined that and he created me with my style. I can’t say this is my style. This is the style of my father,” he said.
Lomachenko is difficult to analyse. His weaknesses are not obvious and his strengths are very hard to replicate. Chris Connelly is a performance analyst for the highly successful GB boxing team. The Ukrainian did turn professional in 2013 but he did look at how Lomachenko had beaten the world’s top Olympians. It yielded a particular insight. The analysts break down information that the coaches can then use to prepare their boxers for specific bouts. The basis of how Connelly examines a boxer is to start off charting what punches land on their opponent and what punches land against them. From there he goes back further stages to see what punches and what combinations set up those landed punches, as well as considering other factors, for instance where across the ring they move, where they find success or are vulnerable, what times during a round they’re active or resting.
“When you look at Lomachenko you realise that he is so good,” Connelly said. “Lomachenko’s basics, he’s just technically superb. Every shot he throws is just technically superb and it’s natural to him.”
“The biggest thing the coaches and Rob [McCracken] will say at GB Boxing is you need a boxer to box naturally. They don’t want to think, ‘Oh the analysis has showed this, he throws that, I step to the side and do that,’ while they’re in the ring. It has to be natural,” he adds. “Lomachenko, it was all natural, because the technical element was so good.”
That ties in with exactly what Lomachenko said about himself. That he started training from such a young age, repeating the drills his father set for him so much so that “I never thought about what he was telling me. I was just doing”.
“They’ve just practised and practised and practised,” Connelly notes. “Lomachenko if he throws a jab or a hook, he throws it so naturally he doesn’t have to think. He just goes into his huge arsenal of shots whenever he wants based on the opponent in front of him and what the situation is without thinking. He’ll see something and he’ll know he can throw that punch.”
Just as Sam Maxwell said, Lomachenko is indeed accurate, far more accurate than most. “What’s interesting just from the basic analysis, is Lomachenko’s success, in terms of shots that would hurt or take something out of someone was 40% of his shots thrown. So 40% of his shots would hurt or take something out of his opponent or land cleanly compared to about 15 or 20% for everyone else. So that’s everyone as a general population. When you look at just winners on their own, winners on their own is usually about 30%. So he’s even higher than the average population of winners,” Connelly confirmed. “He is 10% more successful than most winners, which means he wins better than most people.
“He wins better than most winners because he’s 10% more successful than them.”
Sparring partner McKenna considered Lomachenko extremely fit, and he probably is. But his workrate isn’t necessarily that high. It’s more that he connects so often. “People see more shots landing so they think he throws a lot of shots,” Connelly speculated.
But what is crucial – Lomachenko throws plenty of combinations. “His handspeed’s really fast so he throws a lot of combinations. Against [top Cuban Yasniel Toledo Lopez] he was throwing four, five and six punch combinations, whereas Toledo never threw one of them. Toledo only threw singles, doubles or triples and [Lomachenko] was throwing four, five or six punch combinations,” Connelly said. “He’ll throw a four, five or six punch combination and land two or three shots every time. So that’s 50% if you look at it like that. If you’re throwing just ones and twos and you miss a lot of them, your success ratio goes so low quickly.”
It’s not only the good footwork that McKenna commented on. Lomachenko judges distance expertly, while in fact throwing fewer single jabs than most. “What everyone sees of Lomachenko is the movement. This is my opinion, because he’s so in tune with himself he doesn’t throw a lot of range finding shots either. He finds his range early on or he’s just really comfortable with getting the range of the opponent, which is one of the most important things,” Connelly said. “A lot of boxers are constantly pumping out the jab to keep the range or find the range, whereas Lomachenko doesn’t really need to do that. He’s really aware. He’s got that range and, another positive, because he’s so good on his feet, he goes in, throws a four, five, six punch combination and be out. Whereas a lot of boxers, they’re finding the range with the jab, they’re setting it up, they’re following someone round and then every now and again they’ll throw one, two, three, four punches tops probably. Whereas what you’ll see with him – he’s in, he’s rattled off a combination and he’s gone in a different direction.”
He added, “People don’t realise is how comfortable he is at short range. It goes unnoticed. A lot of boxers won’t want to stay at short range a lot but he will. He’ll stay at short range for long periods of time.”
People do see him pivot away, wrong footing the opponent, but still remaining in position to attack. He doesn’t step back to wait to counter, he moves off to the side as he attacks. “The craziest thing about Lomachenko is the opponents he’s doing this against,” Connelly noted.
So how do you beat him. You’d have to look at how Orlando Salido did it, exploiting all the factors outside of the boxing he could. Salido came in heavy, roughed the Ukrainian up when he could and took advantage as Lomachenko tried to pace his first ever 12-rounder. Even under those circumstances, in his second professional fight back in 2014, Lomachenko did pretty well.
“Personally,” Connelly thinks, “to beat Lomachenko, you’ve got to have the ugliest fight in the world. You’ve literally got to hold him. You’ve got to actually see if he’s got a high workrate… You need to land something that’s going to hurt, he needs to be aware that he’s not going to get it his own way.”
You’ve got to try to shut down the things he does well. “The problem is once you stop one, I think he’ll do another one,” Connelly said.
That’s why four of his opponents, at world title level, have quit on their stools. They just didn’t have any answers to this extraordinary enigma. It’s unclear too if anyone else is going to find the solution.