Tuesday, March 21, 2023  |


Off the Charts


This article was originally published in the August 2017 edition of THE RING magazine. You can subscribe to the digital edition of THE RING by purchasing the new RINGSIDE TICKET experience.



If Vasyl Lomachenko isn’t the best fighter on the planet at this moment, that will likely come soon.

At least that seems to be the consensus of experts and fans alike, who have been dazzled by the Ukrainian’s overwhelming combination of smooth, balletic movement and quick, destructive sharpshooting, which he has honed since childhood under his father/trainer, Anatoly.

Even those associated with his rivals acknowledge what many believe is obvious after only nine pro fights.

“Lomachenko, right now, to me, is the best fighter in boxing,” said trainer Robert Garcia, whose gifted brother Mikey might one day go toe-to-toe with the man in question.

Lomachenko doesn’t just beat you, he humiliates you, as he demonstrated in knockouts of Nicholas Walters and Jason Sosa in his last two fights. Does that remind you of anyone? Floyd Mayweather Jr. perhaps?

Most would agree that Lomachenko isn’t perfect. For example, he doesn’t have one-punch knockout power. The problem for his opponents is that an accumulation of punches – and he WILL land them – produce prolonged suffering and the same result. A quick knockout might be more merciful.

Of course, Lomachenko DID lose a decision to overweight, dirty-fighting veteran Orlando Salido. The fact he accepted that challenge in only his second pro fight says a lot about his confidence, though. That’s another of his strengths.

Perfect? No. Special? It would appear so.

“If I had a fighter face Lomachenko, it would be hard to put together a plan to beat him,” trainer Joel Diaz said. “I would just tell my fighter, ‘Be a risk-taker. Just go for it.’ Fight like (Marcos) Maidana did against Mayweather, like Salido did against him, and hope it works.

“Other than that, I have no idea how to beat him.”

The question we want to answer here is this: What exactly makes Lomachenko so good? We asked nine boxing experts that question. Their answers helped us understand what makes this once-in-a-generation fighter so unusual.

Their perceptions of Lomachenko overlapped quite a bit. The most common theme was his footwork, which sets up everything he does and might be his greatest strength. He is always in position to drive his opponents crazy, whether that’s by landing punches, avoiding punches or anything else that makes even good opponents look incompetent.

Among other characteristics we touch upon here that allow him to dominate his opponents: experience (almost 400 amateur fights and two Olympic gold medals), preparation, defense, intelligence, anticipation and a mean streak. It’s a long list.

Here are the experts’ thoughts:

Tom Gray, THE RING Magazine analyst: Double Olympic gold, double world championship gold, European gold and an overall record of 396 wins and one loss. That individual medal haul and an almost unbelievable win-loss ratio in the unpaid ranks has given Lomachenko the unofficial title of “greatest amateur fighter ever.” He also fought six times in the World Series of Boxing before turning professional with Top Rank. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect. And while there is no such thing as the perfect prizefighter, “Hi-Tech” was a superb pro from the moment he switched over. Yes, there was the loss to an overweight Orlando Salido, but Lomachenko has made up for that in spades. He has already defeated Gary Russell Jr., Roman Martinez and Nicholas Walters, all of whom are former or reigning world titleholders. The bouts against Martinez and Walters and, more recently, Jason Sosa became one-sided virtuoso performances. Lomachenko has captured world titles at 126 and 130 pounds and is already targeting a third divisional title at 135. His progress has been groundbreaking and that is because he has been facing the best fighters in the world, amateur and pro, for such a long time.

Bernard Hopkins, TV analyst: He’s fundamentally sound and he’s had so many fights that there isn’t a style or situation that he hasn’t faced. He’s seen it all. It’s why he’s one of the best in the world today.

Paulie Malignaggi, TV analyst: He has experience, but there are a lot of guys with experience. He has experience, he has talent, but he’s also had incredible teaching. He’s been schooled so well. Does that mean that anyone can go to Lomachenko’s father and learn how to fight like Lomachenko? I don’t think so. [Lomachenko] has been bred to do this. I heard that he did dance classes for a couple of years before he moved on to boxing. I also saw video of him on YouTube, when he was a kid, and he’s an expert at Sambo (Soviet martial art). He has so many artistic qualities and I think this was all done by design. His father always had an eye on developing him into a fighter.

Robert Garcia, trainer: He grew up doing this. That’s one reason he’s so different; he’s not one of those fighters who has learned over the past few years. Obviously he has a lot of experience but he has been doing things since he was growing up, things he and his dad do, that no one else does. I had a chance to see him train when I still had my gym in Oxnard (California) and he was training there. They had a different way of doing things. For example, he would punch (bounce with his fists) tennis balls against a wall, back and forth, and he could do it for hours. I’ve never seen the things they do.

David Coldwell, trainer: Top, elite-level athletes will get shown something once and that’s all it takes. That’s what people mean when they say an athlete is a natural. They can absorb information fast and put it out there physically. Everybody has to be taught, though. If Lomachenko wasn’t coached properly then he wouldn’t be who he is today.


Coldwell: To defend and attack successfully, you need to have great balance, and that’s an underrated trait in boxing. A lot of fighters go hard and fast but there aren’t too many who have perfect balance. Lomachenko is so measured and relaxed because he has that. He knows how to adjust his feet at the right time and you’ll never see him take big steps or trip over himself. Whether he’s spinning an opponent, changing angles, moving left to right, forward or backwards – everything is very smooth.

Malignaggi: Lomachenko’s footwork is on another level. People are amazed by that, but what they miss is how he goes about achieving angles. He’s stepping around all the time and he does that with a combination of footwork and punch output. A lot of time, he’s using his punch output to step around. He’ll take the power off some of the shots but throw them at speed so that he puts you out of position. The opponent reacts to that speed, loses position and Lomachenko has put himself into a new position. Then he’ll start to sting you. He does that consistently and he does it with a lot of variation. Sometimes he’ll throw a combination that means something, sometimes he’ll throw a combination that means nothing, but then he’ll be changing the angle. I call these lighter shots decoys. It’s hard to keep up with him because he’s changing things up so often. Sometimes he’ll even change mid-combination.

Ronnie Shields, trainer: The way he moves side to side would be confusing for anybody. He comes at you from all over the place. He gives so many angles that it’s hard to figure out where he is at a given time. And he throws so many punches, punches from everywhere. What do you do?

Hopkins: I like the way Lomachenko moves his legs. Hall of Famers Aaron Pryor and Naseem Hamed, [Lomachenko] beats people with his legs like they did. How can you hit someone who’s never in front of you? He had Jason Sosa spinning in circles. Lomachenko gets into position where he bewilders these guys. … If I can get you in a position where your back is turned, you have no idea where I am. I haven’t seen a fighter since Prince Naseem where he can beat a guy with positioning like that.

Doug Fischer, Editor of RingTV.com and TV analyst: What separates Lomachenko from other elite boxers in my mind is his magnificent footwork. He dazzles opponents and fans with his speed, accuracy and creative combinations but really controls his fights with his footwork: the in-and-out movement, the side-steps and the angles when in close. It was his footwork that enabled him to basically “handcuff” an exceptional boxing talent in Gary Russell Jr. for 12 rounds. Lomachenko’s father and trainer, Anatoly, understood the importance of footwork in boxing (and in all sports) and made sure his son had a proper foundation with balance and coordination before they embarked on their historic amateur career. Anatoly enrolled Vasyl in traditional Ukrainian folk dancing programs that eventually led to the lad being on various national youth troops and companies. The old man wasn’t crazy for doing this. Some of the greatest boxers of all time, such as Mickey Walker and Sugar Ray Robinson, were excellent tap dancers and had learned to tap floors before they hit bags in their youth, as many did in the 1920s and ’30s. The folk dancing background gives Lomachenko his otherworldly boxing footwork, which gives him his edge over just about anyone he faces in the ring.

Abel Sanchez, trainer: He is always in position to throw and land the next punch; he’s never out of position. He throws punches because he wants to, not out of desperation. It’s calculated. He’s there to be able to throw.

Hopkins: He uses angles, and by the time any of his opponents try to find him, they’re getting hit five times upside their head. Lomachenko makes guys think too much. He has so many weapons, between his positioning, his movement, the angles he punches on – these fighters can’t handle it. It’s why it takes a special fighter to beat him.


Gray: Lomachenko is so hard to find because his defense is every bit as elaborate and sophisticated as his offense. He bends at the knees to change the level of target and rolls under shots by bending briskly at the waist. The impressive thing is that Lomachenko can implement this bob-and-weave style while moving laterally, or he can do it with his feet planted while looking to counterpunch. These defensive smarts are also aided by his amazing agility and footspeed. Lomachenko’s ability to slip shots and step around the target to locate angles is a gift. His opponents miss wildly, become reticent to throw, and then they get picked off. The flow of Lomachenko’s defense is always changing, so there’s no fixed pattern to exploit. When you have defensive skills of that caliber and mix in split-second reflexes and amazing hand-eye coordination, you can only marvel at what Lomachenko does as an escape artist. Throwing shots directly at the target is futile and it will take one very special fighter to time him. Lomachenko has looked almost untouchable since that blip against Orlando Salido three years ago.

Coldwell: He has a fantastic boxing brain. You could say that any man with that amount of fights should have a good boxing brain, but that isn’t always the case. A lot of fighters just follow instructions from their coach, but then a certain situation could arise where the plan isn’t working and a fighter will start struggling. That lack of intelligence inside the ring will show up if a coach doesn’t have a Plan B or can’t adapt. With Lomachenko, whatever the opponent tries, he has the answer for it. He knows when to go, where to go and when to be patient. And because he’s so clever, he can read an opponent’s attacks better.

Malignaggi: They used to say Henry Armstrong had perpetual motion. When you’re on the outside looking in, Lomachenko is making you think, “Oh my God, this guy is throwing too many punches. How does he have the oxygen to do that?” The thing is, he knows when to take the sting off some of the punches. He knows when to put something on the punches. His intelligence at these moments, because some of these moments are key decision-making moments, is crucial. He’s required to make decisions so quickly and, at the last moment, he might change the direction of a punch or a combination. His instinct for doing this, combined with terrific intelligence, dictates the decisions he makes.

Sanchez: I’ve always said that intelligence in the ring isn’t just good skills. Intelligent fighters fight like a chess match, thinking about what they’re going to do three, four moves ahead of time. Andre Ward is like that. Mayweather is like that. I think Lomachenko is one of those guys too.


Coldwell: He has incredible anticipation. It’s all about reading a fight and reading the opponent. Lomachenko is a master at that. He knows what shot to throw and when. Then it’s like he’s planning an exit strategy after each attack. He always knows where he’s going to go and the opponent doesn’t. That always gives him a split-second advantage.


Malignaggi: Lomachenko has a mean streak in him and that’s important when you’re a fighter. I don’t mind that at all. You have to psychologically and physically break your opponent down. You have to let your opponent know that you’re superior to them in every way. When you’re in there, you have to do whatever it takes to win.

Joel Diaz, trainer: He’ll tear you up. He’ll pick you apart slowly, round by round. He will find your weaknesses. And if he hurts you, he’ll definitely find a way to finish you. Killer instinct.


Joe Gallagher, trainer: A lot of credit must be given to Lomachenko’s training team and his promoter, Bob Arum. Normally, if an Olympic gold medalist wanted a world title shot in their first or second fight, they would be told that they don’t know the business and that they have to be built up over time. That’s how much confidence Lomachenko’s team have in him. They were willing to roll the dice and do something different. OK, he lost a controversial split decision to Orlando Salido in his second fight, but he came right back and beat Gary Russell Jr. in his third fight. And Russell is one of the best fighters out there right now. These top-class amateurs, like (Guillermo) Rigondeaux and Lomachenko, don’t want to fight journeymen on the way up. They want to test themselves against the very best. They’re accustomed to fighting the best amateurs in Olympic tournaments and World Championships. In just nine professional fights, Lomachenko has a better resume than a lot of fighters who have won multiple world titles after 20 or 30 fights. That is incredible. He’s following a fine tradition of great Olympic champions like Pernell Whitaker, Meldrick Taylor and Rigondeaux, who turned professional and won titles quickly. Lomachenko has done it even quicker and the approach his team has taken has been very refreshing.

Lomachenko is the centerpiece in a trio of emerging stars from Ukraine, along with cruiserweight Oleksandr Usyk (left) and light heavyweight Oleksandr Gvozdyk.