Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Lomachenko Does His Part Towards Full Unification Of The Lightweight Division

Readers who have followed the work of this observer over the last two decades know that I tend to have themes that I routinely revisit from time to time in both online and print medium. One of those themes that has also been a regular fixture on my “Boxing Wishlist” that I publish at the start of a new year is the wish to see all of the sport's seventeen weight classes fully unified to determine one undisputed world champion per division.

By its very nature as I have said frequently when discussing this topic here at The Boxing Truth®, the process to determine one undisputed world champion in a single weight class can be a long, drawn out process that involves significant commitment from fighters, promoters, and the respective sanctioning organizations involved. It is also a process that unfortunately involves significant red tape. So, the idea that this process could occur in seventeen weight divisions in a relatively short period of time is frankly “Wishful Thinking.”

There are however, times where the pieces of a unification puzzle seem to fall in place in a simple way for even those with an at best casual interest in the sport can understand and become interested. Such a puzzle has begun to form in Boxing’s 135lb. Lightweight division. Three-division world champion Vasyl Lomachenko has been a focal point of this puzzle so far due largely to his accomplishments as a multi-division world champion, despite having a relatively short professional career in terms of fights.

While the story of Lomachenko has been told by many writers/journalists, and historians including this observer, this is due largely to his immaculate record as an amateur of winning nearly four hundred fights against a single loss. Lomachenko’s record as a professional a single loss, a disputed loss to former world champion Orlando Salido in a bout for a vacant WBO Featherweight world championship in March 2014. The fight, which was a split decision win for Salido was one that many including yours truly felt Lomachenko had won. It is also worth noting that this was in Lomachenko’s second professional fight.

Since that loss, Lomachenko has been dominating through the Featherweight, Jr. Lightweight, and now Lightweight divisions continuing to compete in world championship fights in every fight since the loss to Salido. Lomachenko defended his Lightweight world championship, a crown he initially won from WBA champion Jorge Linares and added the WBO world championship with a victory over Jose Pedraza in December of last year, against top Lightweight contender Luke Campbell on August 31st at the O2 Arena in London, England.

In addition to the world championships Lomachenko held, the vacant World Boxing Council (WBC) world championship that was vacated by Mikey Garcia was also on the line making it a fight where three major world championships were on the line. A question I ask almost every time I see Lomachenko compete is when will he reach his ceiling? What I mean by that is when will this historic run through multiple weight classes eventually reach a point where he cannot continue going up in weight to challenge fighters who are often bigger than him. This is essentially the same question that has been asked throughout the illustrious career of Manny Pacquiao, who started his career as a 105lb Strawweight, the lowest weight class in Boxing, but ultimately competed as far as the 154lb. Jr. Middleweight division winning world championships along the way.

Although Pacquiao, an eight-division world champion should be considered a rarity, he seems to have settled in the 147lb. Welterweight division where he has spent the bulk of his career over the last decade. While I am in no way attempting to compare Pacquiao with Lomachenko in any way, it is important to keep in mind that Lomachenko in his own way is a rarity. After all, not many fighters can say they have competed at a world championship level as a professional from their second pro fight onward.

The question of when/if Lomachenko will settle into one weight class is a fair one to ask. Lomachenko himself has stated that he feels that his best fighting weight is as a 130lb. Jr. Lightweight. As has been the case throughout the history of the sport however, fighters tend to move up in weight both out of physical necessity as well as for more lucrative opportunities. At least for now, in Lomachenko’s case it appears to be the latter. The appeal of fighting for and potential becoming an undisputed world champion in a weight class surely has lucrative dollars attached to it.

In this fight against Luke Campbell, Lomachenko faced a fighter who like himself was an Olympic Gold Medalist as an amateur. In a case of irony, Campbell also fell to a split decision loss in his only previous shot at a world championship when he faced Jorge Linares in September 2017.

Where the similarities between the two end was Campbell is two inches taller than Lomachenko and had a near seven inch reach advantage over the champion. When the two fighters faced off on the day before the fight, it appeared to yours truly that Campbell might end up fighting as a Jr. Welterweight or even Welterweight at some point in his career based on the size difference between the two.

Even though the physics appeared to be in Campbell’s favor, stylistically, one of the main aspects that tends to befuddle most of Lomachenko’s opponents is his footwork. His ability to control the tempo of the combat and attack his opponents in short, compact spurts. This would be the main obstacles that the challenger would have to combat in my eyes.

To his credit, Campbell was able to have his moments throughout the fight, but like many opponents before him on both the amateur and professional levels, Lomachenko's style, footwork, and ability to attack in compact spurts proved to be too difficult for the challenger to solve. What was noticeable was even when Campbell was able to have success in landing offense on Lomachenko, the champion would almost immediately return with offense of his own. Although Campbell did have success throughout, he was unable to impose his will on Lomachenko in a way that could discourage the champion from being offensive-minded and from generally controlling the tempo of the fight.

A knockdown of the challenger in the eleventh round sealed a convincing twelve round unanimous decision for Lomachenko to add the vacant WBC crown to his unified Lightweight world championship. As for what this means in the overall picture, there is a strong possibility that there could be a fight for the undisputed Lightweight world championship in the not too distant future.

Why would yours truly describe the possibility of the Lightweight division heading towards a fight for the undisputed world championship as “Strong?” It primarily has to do with the current landscape of the sport from a business standpoint. While there are several aspects that can and do go into the business of the sport, there is one way to explain it, which in this case that is relatively simple to describe.

As most knowledgeable Boxing fans know, the sport now has three major players in terms of how the sport is broadcast to the public here in the United States that extends internationally. I speak of course, of networks like DAZN, ESPN, as well as networks who have partnered with the Premier Boxing Champions brand, which involves several promoters. Along with this, each network has exclusive deals with promoters to supply content to said networks by showcasing a respective promoter’s stable of fighters.

With lucrative contracts for the promoters and world champions being signed to promoters, it creates an interesting dynamic where due to networks wanting a level of exclusivity, it in turn creates a scenario where a majority of world championships are held by fighters who by being contracted to a promoter, who has an exclusive contract with a network, it essentially means a division’s world championships can only be seen on one platform for a period of time. We have seen this occur in the 160lb. Middleweight division where all world championships in the division are currently held by fighters that compete on DAZN. This however, does not include those fighters who hold interim/regular championship designations.

A similar structure has taken shape in the Lightweight division with current world champions Vasyl Lomachenko and Richard Commey currently signed with promoter Bob Arum’s Top Rank, Inc, who in turn has an exclusive deal with ESPN to provide content to ESPN’s linear cable/satellite networks as well as the network’s direct to consumer streaming network ESPN+. With Lomachenko having done his part and now holding three of five world championships in the division, it leaves the champion of the International Boxing Federation (IBF) Commey as the only other world champion in the division. This is due to the International Boxing Organization (IBO) currently not having a world champion in the Lightweight division.

Before a fight for the Undisputed Lightweight world championship can be signed however, Commey will defend his IBF crown against undefeated number one contender Teofimo Lopez on a date to be determined. Lopez, a fighter also promoted by Bob Arum ensures the winner of that fight, which could take place before the end of 2019, will likely face Lomachenko to fully unify the Lightweight division in 2020. While the IBO is currently not in play in the Lightweight division, the possibility also exists that the organization could wait until an undisputed championship fight is signed to also recognize it as a fight for the vacant IBO crown.

What this amounts to is a very lucrative scenario for the fighters involved and something that should be seen as a major win for ESPN if things play out the way it appears it could. While it does not always happen, sometimes circumstances allow the pieces of the puzzle to fall into place at the right time. The right time for the fighters, the right time for the fans that support the sport, and most importantly for Boxing itself. It appears such a time is on the horizon for the Lightweight division.

“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”

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