Nick Peet explores whether Lomachenko can ever convince boxing to plug back into The Matrix?
Back in October, inside the Top Rank Bubble behind closed doors in Las Vegas, Teofimo Lopez force fed boxing the red pill: he brought down ‘The Matrix’, exposed Vasyl Lomachenko as a mere mortal, then slipped down the rabbit hole as the new undisputed lightweight king.
This weekend, ‘Loma’ returns and will no doubt enthrall boxing fans once again with his superlative skills. But after being exposed to the truth of reality, can the little Ukrainian magician ever truly unlock Wonderland again?
Prior to the Lopez defeat, the 33-year-old was being sold as the greatest boxer of all time by Hall of Fame promoter Bob Arum. Already the most successful amateur athlete boxing has ever seen (his amateur record reads 396-1, and the loss was avenged twice) Loma picked up world titles in three weight divisions inside a dozen pro fights.
He easily outboxed the best at featherweight, then made the cream of the super-featherweight division quit inside the ring, before moving up to lightweight and unifying three world title belts in just four fights.
Loma took on ‘The Matrix’ moniker due to his elusive and inimitable slipping and sliding in and out of range. Impossible to hit clean, he landed on his opponents at will. It’s like he knew what his rivals were going to do even before they did.
DOMINANT Lomachenko knocks out crolla in four rounds to defend unified lightweight titles pic.twitter.com/PicjPnSJuw
— MR FRANKSTER KNUCKLES (@Frank__knuckles) April 13, 2019
But then along came Teo. Young, aggressive, talented and hungry, whilst the rest of the division fled from the Ukrainian, he marched towards Lomachenko like he was Agent Smith. And, unlike the movie franchise, the 23-year-old crashed the Loma Show.
Still only 33, Lomachenko, of course, still has time to spellbind fight fans once more. Only a fool would believe he won’t again become a world champion. But the Lopez defeat looms large over his legacy.
Returning at lightweight tells us everything we need to know about Loma’s intentions. He walks around at 140lb and, in reality, is likely best suited to the weight classes below. But he dared to be great by giving away natural size advantage, achieved much of it, then ultimately suffered due to his lofty aspirations.
A rematch with Lopez is essential for Loma’s GOAT consideration. But getting the champion back in the ring, after the manner of his resounding victory in their first fight, will take some convincing.
First up, Japan’s Masayoshi Nakata awaits on Saturday at the new Virgin Hotel on the Las Vegas Strip. His sole defeat in 20 fights was against Lopez too, extended the distance in the summer of 2019. He made a fight of it, but lost 10 of the 12 rounds.
Loma will be aiming to go one better and, with the scorecards one-sided, expect him to push on and force a stoppage down the stretch.
Even a convincing victory won’t be enough for boxing to reach for the blue pill and hail Loma once more as the Chosen One. But it will be a critical step back for one of the sweet science’s greatest talents.