Vasyl Lomachenko won a WBO world championship in his third pro fight. | Chris Farina/Top Rank
Vasyl Lomachenko and Brock Lesnar have a lot in common.
Of course, Lesnar was a muscle-bound former mixed martial artist and Lomachenko is a diminutive boxer, but their respective professional careers in combat sports share a great deal of similarities. Lesnar and Lomachenko were outstanding amateur athletes who had highly anticipated professional debuts. Lesnar was an NCAA Division I heavyweight wrestling champion who became a World Wrestling Entertainment superstar before trying his hand at mixed martial arts. Lomachenko won gold medals for the Ukraine at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics and finished his amateur career with an astounding 396-1 record; he is regarded as one of the greatest amateur boxers of all-time.
Considering the respective backgrounds of Lesnar and Lomachenko, the Ultimate Fighting Championship and Top Rank Boxing promotions decided it did not make sense to lob softballs at the decorated athletes. Instead, they were thrown to the wolves and suffered losses in their second professional fights. Lesnar found himself on the wrong end of a Frank Mir kneebar, while Lomachenko lost a 12-round split decision to seasoned veteran Orlando Salido. They did not lose to better fighters, just fighters with more professional experience. However, because of the tremendous potential Lesnar and Lomachenko possessed, neither saw his stock plummet. Rather, the losses arguably did more to aid them on their path to success.
Instead of being discredited as overhyped frauds, they were thrust back into top-tier competition and forced to either sink or swim. Much to the chagrin of those who believed they did not earn the opportunity, they swam their way to championship gold before their fifth fight.
After Lesnar disposed of Heath Herring, he was given a shot at the UFC heavyweight title when he faced off against living legend Randy Couture. Lesnar rose to the occasion and scored a second-round technical knockout at UFC 91. Lomachenko did not get a lesser opponent after losing to Salido. Instead, he was cruelly gifted a match against undefeated rising prospect Gary Russell Jr., with the vacant WBO featherweight title on the line.
Lomachenko’s world-class boxing ability was simply too much for Russell, and the Ukrainian won a majority decision on June 21 to become a world champion less than a year after his professional debut.
The swift ascent to a world title may not be as uncommon in the world of MMA, where several champions have accomplished the feat before their 10th professional fight. In boxing, where fighters often amass unbeaten records against tomato cans before they can be considered championship material, Lomachenko’s feat was much more of a rarity.
With that said, it was certainly the right thing to do. Perhaps more fighters should see a more rapid step up in competition rather than the sluggish build that allows promoters to pad their fighters’ records in an attempt to fool the public into believing they are championship material. Although Lomachenko is a rare exception because of his remarkable credentials, the sport of boxing should consider making the best fights possible and not get so caught up in win-loss records. Lomachenko proved a loss should not destroy a career by being a 1-1 fighter who soundly defeated a 24-0 opponent for a world championship.
The Lesnar-Lomachenko Plan may not be for every fighter, but it surely would separate the weak from the strong sooner than later. More importantly, it would prevent promoters from making terrible decisions like trying to build a fighter before giving him a marquee fight. Remember when Juan Manuel Lopez-Yuriorkis Gamboa was the fight to make? Top Rank CEO Bob Arum purposefully held back until he felt the time was right. In the midst of the build towards Lopez-Gamboa, Lopez ended up getting knocked out twice by Orlando Salido -- yes, the same Salido that beat Lomachenko -- and the prospective fight, along with the money it could have made, went up in smoke. These things must stop happening.
Boxing is slowly coming around to the idea that fighters who are clearly talented do not need to be built up. Cuban boxing sensation Guillermo Rigondeaux wasted no time climbing the ladder and put on a dominant performance against Nonito Donaire in his 12th pro fight to take the WBO and The Ring super bantamweight titles in April, adding them to the WBA title he won against Rico Ramos in his ninth appearance. Meanwhile, heavyweight Deontay Wilder currently stands at 31-0, with 31 knockouts, against a bunch of bums nobody knows. He clearly has the goods to climb the ladder and face a Klitschko, but we have been fed nonsensical matches to build him up in the interim. That is not good for the sport at all. At this point in Wilder’s career, he should have to sink or swim. Why wait?
In a loaded super bantamweight division, Lomachenko will have his hands full defending the title. It should lead to exciting and competitive fights for the next couple of years. Is that not what fans really want to see?
For every Lomachenko-Russell Jr. fight there is a steaming-pile matchup right around the corner. It was recently announced that Aug. 8 would see unified junior welterweight champion Danny Garcia and IBF junior welterweight titleholder Lamont Peterson in action. Whoa, let us not get ahead of ourselves. This is still boxing we are talking about after all. They will not be fighting each other. Rather, Garcia will face Rod Salka, while Peterson will take on Edgar Santana in a prelude for a future clash between the two. Why not just fight each other now, you ask? Because this is boxing and the infatuation with glorified sparring sessions that bleed your pockets dry is still intact.
Let us hope there are more Lomachenkos and less Wilders in our future.