By John J. Raspanti
A couple of years ago, many opined that Nicholas “The Axe Man” Walters would defeat Vasyl Lomachenko.
“The Axe Man” had just recently knocked out world champion Nonito Donaire in six brutal rounds. Walters’ long jab was stinging, and his punches were sleep-inducing.
Lomachenko, the baby-faced boxer from the Ukraine, and two-time gold medalist, had never faced anyone with Walters’ punching power.
At the time, Lomachenko had engaged in four professional fights, losing one. His loss came at the hands of old pro Orlando Salido.
Lomachenko learned a lot about the pro game that night.
He rebounded in his next match by defeating the talented Gary Russell in Carson, CA.
Russell entered the ring thinking he was invincible. He exited it humbled.
Lomachenko won three out his next four fights by knockout. Walters had a win and disputed draw. His momentum had stalled, but finally, after rejecting a bout with Lomachencko in June, Walters signed on the dotted line last September.
The super-fight was on. But would it be super?
The 28-year-old Lomachencko had showed steady improvement in his short professional career. Some of his amateur flash had been replaced by professional girt.
Let’s not forget that Lomachenko had 397 amateur fights, winning all but one. That stat blows my mind.
But the amateur game is a lot different than the pros. It’s like comparing color to black and white. Lomachencko and his father-trainer realized this. They worked, and worked. The sheen remained, but a tougher approach emerged.
Fast forward to last Saturday night. Five months ago, Lomachencko had knocked out Ramon “Rocky” Martinez with a perfect combination.
Prone on the canvas and staring up at the lights, Martinez looked like a mummy wearing boxing gloves.
Walters seemed confident at the weigh-in. He was hopeful his six-inch advantage in reach would give him an edge. He likely figured he could match Lomachenko’s speed.
Wrong on all counts.
One of the most anticipated fights of 2016 wasn’t even competitive. Lomachenko looked like a guy working out. He toyed with Walters, using his superior footwork and angles to demoralize the former champion.
Walters’ corner didn’t help. They yelled at him to try this and that.
This and that doesn’t work against Lomachenko. Walters lost confidence in himself and his corner. He was being beaten mentally more than physically. Think about it. This a guy who had never lost a professional fight.
Hell, he rarely loses a round.
He might have thought he was the mighty Samson when he entered the ring, but after six minutes, he had no hair and no chance.
Lomachenko peppered him anytime he wanted.
After seven one-sided rounds, Walters called it a day. He was spent mentally. He figured he couldn’t win, but quitting on the stool is a big no-no in the world of boxing. Fans booed him.
Were the catcalls fair?
Boxing isn’t always about being fair. It’s about heart and determination. Some might understand why Walters stayed on his stool, but boxing can be a cold and unforgiving business.
No such problem for Lomachenko. His career is soaring. He’s a modern-day Willie Pep, but with more pop in his punches.
Who does he fight next?
In the ring after his beat down of Walters, Lomachenko mentioned the exciting Francisco Vargas.
Vargas recently went toe-to-toe with Salido. He can punch, but Lomachenko is too versatile.
Fights with super-fast lightweight champion Jorge Linares or WBO titleholder Terry Flanagan could be fun.
Lomachenko has mentioned that moving up to 135 pounds wouldn’t be a problem.
Promoter Bob Arum wants Lomachenko to face Salido again. The budding superstar likely wants his revenge. He’d carve Salido up and spit him out.
The sexiest potential matchup is Lomachenko facing Filipino legend Manny Pacquiao at 135 pounds. Pacquiao recently said he could drop 10 pounds easily (he weighed almost 145 in his most recent fight) to face Lomachenko.
Both boxers are southpaws. Both are quick, but Lomachenko is better right now. His speed would unnerve Pacquiao.
Pacquiao trainer Freddie Roach doesn’t want his charge coming down in weight.
I don’t blame him.
With all the praise I’m throwing Lomachenko’s way, the most important fact is that he seems to be getting better with each bout. His punches are crisp and cutting—more so than when he turned professional.
So, what’s next?
Arum recently said that Lomachenko could fight four times in 2017.
I like the old promoters approach.
Lomachenko’s talent needs to be seen and appreciated.