Tuesday, December 14, 2021

The Lightweight Picture Going Into 2022


The recent weeks in the sport of Boxing have been dominated largely by the 135lb. Lightweight division. As events have taken place including George Kambosos’ victory over Teofimo Lopez to win the Undisputed Lightweight championship of the world in late November, which set the focus squarely on the division beyond the coincidence of several bouts, including that one in and around the top of the division taking place within q narrow time frame, this observer has done his best to chronicle those bouts, which unfortunately, included the months-long saga that preceded the Lopez-Kambosos bout.


Following successful victories by unbeaten contenders Devin Haney and Gervonta Davis in the week following Kambosos victory over Lopez, the final marquee bout of 2021 at least as far as the Lightweight division is concerned took place on December 11th in Madison Square Garden in New York City, NY. A bout that yours truly referred to as a “Crossroads Fight” in the days prior to the bout. This observer is referring to the battle between former Lightweight world champions Vasyl Lomachenko and Richard Commey. Two fighters that coincidentally lost their respective portions of the World Lightweight championship to the man who is now the former undisputed world champion, Teofimo Lopez.

Some might wonder why yours truly would refer to this encounter as a “Crossroads Fight” given that both Lomachenko and Commey are recent former world champions in the same division. Typically, the term “Crossroads Fight” is used to describe a scenario where two fighters face each other where the loser may head toward retirement. In this case, it is different in that both Lomachenko and Commey are still in their physical primes, but I felt the loser of this fight would be knocked out of world title contention for a significant period of time due largely to the current changing landscape of the division with several top contenders vying for the opportunity to face the new Lightweight champion of the world George Kambosos. This means that the fighter that didn’t come out on top in this fight would be faced with two plausible options. The first would be if they wanted to remain at 135lbs. to essentially be put in a scenario where they would be pitted against both fringe contenders and rising prospects until such time as an opportunity came up where they could work their way back into the world championship picture.  While sometimes it takes fighters in such positions lengthy periods to accomplish this, despite their name recognition, it has happened before throughout the sport. Alternatively, the second and perhaps most logical option would be for the loser of this fight to seek other opportunities at a higher weight, most likely the 140lb. Jr. Welterweight division.


As this fight approached, I wondered what the combat would look like as both Lomachenko and Commey can box, but both are certainly capable of getting an opponent out of there should the opportunity arise. It was no surprise to me to see Lomachenko execute nearly flawless footwork for which he is known from the outset. Although some may not understand or appreciate the value of lateral movement particularly in a tactical strategy, they should watch footage of Vasyl Lomachenko as he showed in this fight as he has done his whole career as both an amateur and a professional how footwork can be used both as a way of setting up offense as well as defensively.


From the opening round, Lomachenko used his legs to create openings to pepper Commey often with blistering combinations of punches, mixing up his level of attack, and making it very difficult for Commey to get his offense going much less find a rhythm. Although Commey showed tremendous heart throughout this fight, there were times as it progressed where I actually expected the bout to be stopped. There was one point in particular in the early rounds when Lomachenko staggered Commey in the closing seconds of a round, but chose to step back likely out of respect for his opponent and allowing him to finish the round.


Perhaps the most telling moments of this fight came in the seventh round when Lomachenko knocked Commey down with a flush left hook to the jaw. Commey to his credit showed his mettle by getting up from the knockdown and, despite the fight being allowed to continue, Lomachenko, instead of pressing forward for what would have likely been a stoppage victory, looked over to his opponent’s corner and motioned Commey’s trainer Andre Rozier to stop the fight. Rosier did not stop the bout and the gradually one-sided encounter continued. Despite being tactically out gunned by a superior fighter, Richard Commey continued to show his heart and to his credit was able to recover from circumstances that would have likely ended the night for most fighters in the position he was in, in the seventh round. Commey also never quit fighting and was able to have his share of moments in the latter rounds and did manage to go the distance in losing a twelve round unanimous decision to Lomachenko.


In all truth and honesty with the reader, shortly before the knockdown in round seven, I got a quick look at Richard Commey’s eyes and I said to myself “He’s done” in thinking that the fight was nearing its end. The knockdown moments later seemed to fall in line with what I was thinking as the look I observed albeit a brief look was one of a fighter that tried his best, but simply had no answer to combat a fighter of Lomachenko’s skillset, as many opponents both on the amateur and pro levels have experienced similar conundrums against Lomachenko. I was surprised following the knockdown to first not see Lomachenko pounce on his opponent to get the stoppage, but I was more surprised as it became increasingly clear, despite the heart and will Commey was showing, that he was taking a beating that neither his corner nor the referee stopped the fight as short of a puncher’s chance, it was clear to any knowledgeable observer that the fight was out of reach for him in terms of the scorecards.


While it is indisputable that any fighter that gets into a ring has a puncher’s chance and keeping in mind that Richard Commey did have the ability to score knockouts, I feel that there would have been no harm in stopping this fight even though Commey deserves all the credit he receives for going the distance. Although his trainer Andre Rozier explained after the fight that he did not want to stop the fight out of respect for his fighter in saying that he did not want to take his pride away from him, I respectfully disagree with the decision even though Commey was able to have his moments periodically after the seventh round.


A fighter’s heart and will is something that should always be respected, but it is the responsibility of a fighter’s corner to at times protect the fighter against themself. There is no doubt in my mind that had this fight been scheduled for fifteen rounds or going back to the original bareknuckle format of the sport where bouts were scheduled for ungodly round distances that as long as Richard Commey could stand, he would have continued on as many great fighters and former world champions have demonstrated throughout Boxing history. Thankfully for Richard Commey, he did not suffer any serious injures in the twelve rounds he spent in the ring with Vasyl Lomachenko, but one has to be concerned with what the accumulative effect of punishment that Commey sustained not just in this fight, but throughout his career, which will likely continue, will have on him long-term. Boxing is after all a combat sport and with each fight, particularly one that was fought like this, concern for a fighter’s long-term health should be a consistent topic of discussion. Nevertheless, Richard Commey should hold his head high for the brave effort he put forth in defeat and if he chooses to stay at Lightweight, could find himself back in the mix if he can get a few wins under his belt against either fringe contenders or prospects looking to move up in contention. For now, Commey should take some time to recover and then decide what will be next for him.


As for Vasyl Lomachenko, of the three fighters who emerged with victories in subsequent bouts following George Kambosos’ victory over Teofimo Lopez, he perhaps made as strong an argument if not the strongest as for him getting the potential first opportunity to face the new champion. Lomachenko has also stated that he has no problem traveling to Australia, Kambosos’ home country to face him, where Kambosos wants to make his first title defense.  While Lomachenko’s willingness to travel to an opponent's backyard is something that will likely be taken into consideration as Devin Haney has also said he would do the same, unfortunately, the decision will likely come down to which promoter and network puts up the most money to entice Kambosos to do the fight under their banner and on their platforms.


In an ideal scenario, being that yours truly also grew up a fan of the Professional Bowlers Association (PBA) in addition to my love for Boxing and combat sports, having watched many of the PBA’s tournaments on Saturday afternoons on ABC Sports here in the United States in the 1980’s and into the 1990’s where bowling broadcasts would often be the lead in for Boxing broadcasts on Wide World of Sports, an era that I frankly miss that should have never disappeared as far as Boxing is concerned,  I wish there could be something akin to the PBA’s stepladder tournament format where the top four or five fighters face off one by one with the ultimate end game being facing the number one seed for the championship, which in this case would be Kambosos. As simplistic as such a format is, unfortunately for a variety of reasons including, but not limited to rival promoters, sanctioning organizations, competing networks, and the various business interests wherein, Boxing will never adapt such an approach though it is a concept that should probably go on this observer’s annual “Boxing Wishlist”, which is released here on The Boxing Truth® shortly after the start of a new year.


For now, we in the sport be it those of us who cover the sport, the fighters themselves, and most of all the fans of Boxing, who continue to support the sport tirelessly will have to settle for the fact that Lomachenko, Haney, Davis, and perhaps the former champion Teofimo Lopez are all in the mix as 2022 looms. We can only hope that the various business elements that be in the sport are not going to take too long to determine who will get the first shot at Kambosos and that such a decision will benefit all involved.


“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”


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