By Alex Beard (@alex_beard17)
Just eight fights into his professional career and it appears that Vasyl Lomachenko has exhausted almost all his options.
The Ukrainian sensation is already a two-weight world champion, and last Saturday he battered Nicholas Walters, a fearsome former titleholder, over seven rounds to the point that the Jamaican quit on his stool. Walters is not the first established star that Lomachenko has broken, Gary Russell Jr. and Roman Martinez were both dealt with in impressive fashion by the 28-year-old.
He rules the roost in the junior lightweight division, and there is of course the potential for a move up to 135lbs in the future. But it is becoming increasingly difficult to think of anyone who could even pose a threat to Lomachenko. With that in mind, let us scrape the barrel for some options for his next fight…
Lomachenko stated after his win over Walters that he wanted to fight a champion next, and namechecked Vargas personally. Vargas, who won 2015 fight-of-the-year honours for his win over Takashi Miura, holds the WBC junior lightweight belt and boasts an unbeaten record (23-0-2-KO17). He is a former Olympian representing Mexico, and fought to a majority draw against Lomachenko’s sole conqueror Orlando Salido in June.
Clearly there is no quit in Vargas. He showed plenty of heart in that win over Miura and the draw with Salido and is a seasoned professional. As mentioned, though, he has good amateur pedigree and can certainly box. Walters stood still against Lomachenko, something akin to boxing suicide when you’re facing the Ukrainian, and Vargas would hopefully have learned from that if he were to face him.
That may be wishful thinking, however. Vargas loves a scrap. He is extremely durable, able to weather the fiercest of storms, and will not stop coming forward. His constant pressure could cause Lomachenko problems and it will be interesting to see if the Ukrainian becomes deterred when he’s not able to get Vargas out of there.
Unification fights are always welcome, and this is one of the best possible. Lomachenko craves belts and Vargas gives him the opportunity to claim another, while Vargas would attempt to replicate his former foe Salido’s win over Lomachenko.
The elephant in the room and Lomachenko’s promoter Bob Arum’s choice for his next opponent, Salido holds that split decision win over Loma from March 2014. We all know about the circumstances of that fight, Salido didn’t even try to make the featherweight limit and employed every dirty trick in the book to claim victory. However, a win’s a win.
Surely Lomachenko would be eager to right that wrong. Much like Vargas, Salido is a pressure fighter and he employed those tactics to perfection the first time round. You’d think things would be more even in a second fight, if Salido keeps his weight in check, and Lomachenko would go in as a heavy favourite.
Salido’s record (43-13-4-KO30) suggests he is a journeyman, but records can be deceiving. He has been boxing at a high level for a very long time and he’s faced some great fighters such as Juan Manuel Lopez, Mikey Garcia and Yuriorkis Gamboa. He’s earned his stripes and can never be counted out. It’s definitely a possibility that he manages to pull out win #2 over Lomachenko, and that intrigue is why this fight needs to happen.
If Lomachenko fancies another move up in weight, then Linares would be the perfect man to welcome him to the lightweight division. A fight between Lomachenko and the WBA lightweight champion would be a purists dream. Two of the most dazzling boxers in the world facing off, with Linares’s power and variety posing a serious threat to the defensive skills of the Ukrainian.
Linares (41-3-0-KO27) is coming off a sensational performance against Britain’s Anthony Crolla in September, where he produced a boxing masterclass to snare ‘Million Dollar’s’ world title. This would present a fascinating style match-up and Linares would be an acid test for Lomachenko at lightweight.
If anyone can move up and beat the best fighter in the division to win a world title in a third weightclass in just nine fights, then it’s Lomachenko. But Linares hits hard and possesses excellent punch variety and selection. It would be incredibly interesting to see how Lomachenko would solve the Linares puzzle.
Garcia returned from a two-and-a-half year absence in July, bludgeoning Elio Rojas over five one-sided rounds in New York. The American is a former two-weight world champion who is attempting to make it three when he challenges for Dejan Zlaticanin’s WBC lightweight title in January.
Garcia’s record (35-0-KO29) says it all. He holds a win over Salido and has also knocked out former Lomachenko victim Roman Martinez. He can do it all. His boxing fundamentals are excellent and he possesses serious knockout power. With Lomachenko having to move up in weight for this fight, it’s debatable whether he could take Garcia’s best shots.
Obviously the problem is finding Lomachenko’s chin. If anyone could, though, it’s Garcia. His mix of power and technical prowess presents unique problems for the amateur sensation. If Garcia comes through against Zlaticanin, certainly not a given, then he would also offer Lomachenko a belt. Whether that would be enough to tempt Loma into this particular challenge remains to be seen, but a Lomachenko vs Garcia match-up is one of the most mouth-watering in the sport.by