TYPICALLY, in boxing the regression of a modern great is a little harder to detect than the regression of a so-so fighter or even a world-class fighter. It happens, as always, over an extended period of time, gradually, and the inevitable slowing down is sometimes not enough to stop them winning at a certain level, which makes it that bit more difficult to notice.
In the case of lightweights Vasiliy Lomachenko and Katie Taylor, two bona fide greats in an era largely starved of them, there are signs in both that they are reaching the end, though neither have slowed enough for it to cause any real concern. For Taylor, a winner for the 22nd time in a row (six inside schedule) against Karen Elizabeth Carabajal, there is a sense she is not so much regressing as a fighter but more, at 36, simply running out of opponents and boxes still to be ticked. She is, at her age, having beaten most of the fighters around her, searching harder than ever for things to accomplish, hoping that she can accomplish them before, alas, the inevitable happens.
As for Lomachenko, 17-2 (11), he is the one perhaps more in danger. He, unlike Taylor, finds himself in a division consisting of young and hungry fighters who all surround him, like hyenas, hoping to chew from what remains of his carcass when the time is right. For now, he is still good – good enough to beat the likes of Jamaine Ortiz, whom he outpointed in a close fight in New York – but nobody can say for sure how long Lomachenko, at 34, can keep fending off those keener and keener to make their name off of his.
Certainly, of the two modern greats mentioned, it was Taylor who had the easier time of things this weekend. This, on the face of it, is because her opponent, Carabajal, 19-1 (2), was significantly easier to beat than Lomachenko’s and also because Taylor, though older than the Ukrainian, doesn’t have quite so many miles on her clock.
Moreover, whereas Lomachenko is walking the tightrope as an undersized lightweight, for Taylor the lightweight division is a division in which she is comfortable. That, as a choice, delays the inevitable, for it is there, at lightweight, she is established and – for now – peerless.
Indeed, it is at that weight she hopes to rematch Amanda Serrano next year, hopefully in Ireland. That was a fight mentioned by both Taylor and her promoter, Eddie Hearn, in the aftermath of her lopsided decision win (100-91, 99-91, 98-92) over Carabajal and, in many ways, it could end up being something of a victory lap for the much-loved Irishwoman.
Conscious as they all are of time, the passing of it, the importance of it, there is a growing feeling with Taylor that next year could be her last, with all who admire her praying she can achieve all she feels she needs to achieve before bowing out, her pro record still unblemished.
Lomachenko, of course, no longer has that luxury – or even that aim. Ambitiously matched from the outset, he has suffered two defeats so far as a pro, the second of which, a points loss against Teofimo Lopez in 2020, offered the first signs that Lomachenko was maybe not the force of old, especially when tasked with performing at lightweight against other elite lightweights.
For it is there, in the lightweight division, he often appears too small for opponents and too light-hitting to make a dent in them. This was shown once again in his fight with Ortiz, an opponent taller than Lomachenko, who started the fight well, winning many of the early rounds, before ultimately fading down the stretch. Somewhat tellingly, too, Ortiz, 16-1-1 (8), had no fear of standing with Lomachenko, and trading with Lomachenko, and even hurt him a few times on the inside, particularly with his left hook.
In the end, it was only Lomachenko’s greater experience and stamina that allowed him to reverse any deficit on the scorecards and pull out a win that looked unlikely at one stage. He did so by scores of 116-112, 117-11 and115-113 (the most accurate of the three), but few, perhaps even Lomachenko himself, would have expected the fight to have been as close and as difficult as it proved to be.
Yet, as history shows, that is what tends to happen when a great fighter reaches a certain stage in their career. Things once easy to do and achieve become that bit more difficult and opponents once considered just about good enough to be sparring partners all of a sudden become equals and problems and blood-thirsty hunters.