CAMARILLO, California – When I started interviewing Vasiliy Lomachenko five years ago, He explained what he wanted from boxing. It wasn’t about money or being at the top of the pound-for-pound rankings (which he was back then). It wasn’t about titles — or even the rare recognition that comes with being an undisputed champion in boxing’s four-belt era. It was all that – and more. Much more.
“History,” he said. “In 10 or 20 or 30 years, if you’re going to sit down with your friends and talk about boxing, you’re going to have to remember my name.”
In other words, he was just looking for a place in the game’s history alongside fighters like Ray Robinson, Jack Dempsey, and Muhammad Ali. That’s actually less of a goal than granting immortality, and certainly a bigger task than summoning the next one jamoke on Twitter or Instagram.
The following week, he stopped the undefeated Guillermo Rigondeaux, who, like Lomachenko, was a two-time Olympic gold medalist. Rigondeaux chose not to fight past the sixth round, becoming the fourth consecutive Lomachenko opponent to resign in his chair and contributing to the basis of his then-new nickname, “No Mas-chenko.” Though Rigondeaux was the choice of many boxing aficionados, Lomachenko himself wasn’t overly impressed.
Rigondeaux was a smaller man; he needed bigger challenges. So Lomachenko – whose body contours are still essentially that of a short-armed featherweight – rose to lightweight, a journey that has led him to this moment training for undisputed lightweight champion Devin Haney. Haney is on the rise: the youngest-ever four-belt champion, still only 24 but already a champion boxer and a new addition to the pound-for-pound list. They’re both lightweights, yes. It’s just that Haney grows from his superhero physique to a much larger physique when he enters the ring just after 9 p.m. PT at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas on Saturday, more than 36 hours after the weigh-in (Haney vs. Loma on ESPN+ pay-per-view, 10:00 p.m. ET).
And I think Lomachenko should be very, very happy about that. It’s not just custody of all four belts that are now within his reach. It’s the matchup itself. After 422 fights that went back to the amateurs, he’s finally a 2-1 underdog giving away 11 years and nearly 7 inches of reach. He’s also completely on the wrong side of boxing history, which assumes that on relatively equal terms, the good big man beats the good little man and the aging champion is defeated by the younger.
But now, Lomachenko has a chance to join the Brotherhood of Immortals in a single night—great, aging fighters defeating bigger, younger champions. They include Floyd Mayweather, who at 36 dominated 23-year-old Canelo Alvarez, who already had 42-0-1 as a pro; Ali, who made George Foreman famous in 1974; and Roberto Duran, who made it twice – first against Davey Moore, then again against Iran Barkley.
But when we meet up at his personal gym on a cloudy day earlier this month, Lomachenko seems less than pleased.
“If I win, it’s God’s will,” he says. “And if I lose, it’s the will of God. But if I [don’t] Win this fight, life is not annulled. For me it’s a bonus. It’s a second chance.
Wait. If I lose…?
You never hear that from fighters, especially one as incredibly ambitious as Lomachenko. Where had all that existential arrogance gone?
He has changed.
“Last time we spoke in New York, I said that losing with Teofimo Lopez changed me.”
In fact, most of what we talked about leading up to his last fight in New York is – after a long hiatus against one harder than expected Jamaine Ortiz – was about the war in Ukraine, where he served in his local defense battalion. However, that means his loss to Lopez changed not only the fighter himself, but also the perception that he was arguably the best in the world. Lopez not only caught his aura of invincibility; Perhaps even more worrying was the difficulty Lomachenko had in accepting it. I remember immediately after the fight he told me that he thought he had won.
He did not. He barely threw a punch for the first six rounds. “After the second lap I had a problem,” he says now, referring to his bruise on the right rotator cuff and the loose cartilage around the joint. “I feel a very strong pain in my shoulder. I was afraid to fight because the pain was very, very strong.”
Ironically, Lomachenko understood that a bad shoulder – even one that required surgery, like he did the week after the fight – is no more an excuse than his natural size. Rather, it was striking that he denied defeat. It spoke to that invincible ego. If his ego helped make him the best fighter alive, it also blinded him to the obvious. But now — nearly two years later — he’s no longer arguing about the loss. Nor is it a question of acceptance; He has hugs It.
“I want to say, ‘Thank you, Teofimo’ and his team,” says Lomachenko. “Because I’m losing this fight, but I’ve won a lot more.”
“What did you win?” I ask.
“My ego was very, very big,” he says. “I didn’t show it. But it haunted me outside of boxing – with my friends, my family, the people around me.”
The loss, I ask, “It broke your ego?”
“It’s not broken,” he quickly refutes. “When you have a specific goal and you strive for it with all your energies” – he talks about being an undisputed champion who remains his only unachieved goal after 422 fights, two Olympic gold medals and titles in three divisions – “And then it happens not, you start to ask deeper: why is it happening?”
He speaks in part of a spiritual deepening. Lomachenko says he doesn’t believe it’s mere coincidence that his transformation began when he was 33, about the age of Jesus when he was crucified. Then there were the monks at the Orthodox Christian monastery in Greece, where he usually retreats before his training. But there is also a worldly element to his transformation. He is healthy. For the first time in a long while, he doesn’t seem to be distracted – either by his opponent or by the war in Ukraine. His mind seems clear. It is unclear whether the now egocentric Lomachenko will be more dangerous – or less.
“It’s very hard to impress me,” he says of Haney. “His style is skillful. It’s a very tough style because once he hits, he always perseveres.”
Then there is the question of size. “If he was the same size, reach and weight, it would be easier.”
“You asked for it,” I remind him.
“It’s my decision,” he admits.
However, as a “B” team, he also made a potentially big concession to the Haney camp here – a 9am weigh-in on Friday. That gives Haney – whose weight gain to 140 pounds is inevitable and expected soon – about 36 hours to rehydrate. For comparison, Loma and Lopez’s weigh-in was at 2:00 p.m., while it was 3:30 p.m. for Jamaine Ortiz. The fight could possibly be won or lost in those hours.
I remind him that Haney said, “There’s nothing Loma can do better than me.”
“Just words,” says Lomachenko.
“Haney says he wants to beat you up and retire you.”
Finally a reaction.
“Haney said. Haney said. Haney said,” he repeats sardonically. “I do not like it. … It’s not too difficult to talk about yourself.” [It’s] It’s very hard to prove it, to prove your words…
“I want to fully devote myself to this fight because it’s the last chance.”
“Your last chance to be unchallenged?”
“For me, yes,” he says solemnly. “It’s the last chance.”
“So what do you want people to say about you in 10, 20, 30 years?”