VASYL LOMACHENKO NAMED 2017 RING MAGAZINE FIGHTER OF THE YEAR

In the 89-year history of THE RING’s Fighter of the Year award, no boxer has ever earned the honor with as few fights under his belt as Vasyl Lomachenko has. Then again, few have achieved as much as the Ukrainian amateur star did after only 11 pro bouts.

Lomachenko (10-1, 8 knockouts) was selected as THE RING’s Prospect of the Year in 2013 after only one fight – his Oct. 12 pro debut against Jose Ramirez. Eight months after that impressive fourth-round KO, the wizardly southpaw won his first world title, the vacant WBO featherweight belt, by taking Gary Russell Jr. to school over 12 rounds. (Lomachenko’s boxing clinic against the highly touted unbeaten U.S. Olympian was performed in his third pro bout, just three months after he received his own education in gritty pro tactics via 12-round split-decision loss to grizzled veteran Orlando Salido.)

Two years and three title defenses later, he won his second world title in a second weight class, the WBO 130-pound belt, with a fifth-round KO of Roman Martinez. His first defense – an embarrassingly one-sided mastery of Nicholas Walters that forced the unbeaten former featherweight titleholder to pull a “No Mas” after seven rounds – was so impressive that he instantly jumped into the top half of most pound-for-pound lists by the end of 2016.

So, what made Lomachenko’s 2017 so special? Why was he selected as THE RING’s Fighter of the Year over worthy candidates such as Terence Crawford, Anthony Joshua, Mikey Garcia and Srisaket Sor Rungvisai?

For starters, he fought more than the other standouts in 2017 – three times – continuing to outclass and bewilder opposition to between-rounds retirements, but he also made large strides toward transitioning from a boxing-world phenom to the kind of general sports standout recognized by casual fans and mainstream media.

Lomachenko (left) tags Jason Sosa. Photo courtesy of HBO

Lomachenko’s humiliating brand of dominance was expected against his first two opponents of 2017, Jason Sosa and Miguel Marriaga, both solid contenders that will give any other world-class featherweight or junior lightweight a grueling night. Lomachenko forced the battle-tested scrappers to remain on their stools after nine and seven rounds, respectively, and he didn’t mind showboating as he gradually picked them apart from every conceivable angle.

Although Lomachenko was favored to beat his third opponent of 2017, fellow two-time Olympic gold medalist Guillermo Rigondeaux, he wasn’t expected to have his way with the counter-punching master.

Rigondeaux, who carried a 17-0 pro record into their anticipated showdown at The Theater inside Madison Square Garden, was the older of the two savvy left-handers (37 to 29) and moving up from the 122-pound division, but the Cuban also brought with him a style that many believed was impossible to dominate or look good against.

Lomachenko did both en route to Rigondeaux’s inglorious retirement after six rounds.

Lomachenko downplayed the victory during his post-fight interviews, basically stating that he did what he was supposed to do, but there can be no downplaying of his boxing ability or his rising stature in the sports world.

Lomachenko appears to be on his way to becoming a bona-fide attraction. It was literally standing room only inside the 5,000-seat Theater (with no space for comps or auxiliary media and tickets rumored to be going for three times face value on the secondary market prior to the ESPN-televised card). Promoter Bob Arum says the two-division titleholder will fight at least three times next year, perhaps once in the “big room” of Madison Square Garden. Lomachenko is clearly done with small venues and fighting in front of limited TV audiences.

Lomachenko (right) took Guillermo Rigondeaux apart. Mikey Williams/Top Rank

Lomachenko-Rigondeaux was watched by 1.73 million on ESPN (twice the number of viewers that tuned into a UFC offering on FS1 that was broadcast during the same time slot). It was ESPN’s highest-rated show on December 9, exceeding viewers for the Heisman Trophy presentation and the MLS Cup.

Lomachenko’s future fights will be televised on Top Rank’s new network partner, ESPN, which contributed to his crossover appeal in 2017 and will undoubtedly enhance his popularity in the U.S. in coming years.

For now, he’s the toast of the boxing world, where hardcore fans use his name as an adjective or verb when expounding on their favorite sport via social media. A talented prospect like Josh Kelly might be described as having “Lomachenko-esque” moves. A fighter who is bewildered into submission might be said to have been “Lomachenko’d.”

Lomachenko’s reputation has been established enough in 2017 that boxing geeks now argue how he would fare in a mythical matchup with a prime Floyd Mayweather Jr. at 130 pounds.

However, Lomachenko isn’t interested in the future hall of famer, but rather one of the standouts of Mayweather Promotions, former IBF 130-pound beltholder Gervonta Davis. His “call out” to Davis, which was directed at Mayweather’s official Twitter account, attracted a lot of attention and eventually pulled Mikey Garcia into the social media conversation.

Lomachenko eventually Tweeted a poll of four potential opponents – Miguel Berchelt, Garcia, Davis and Jorge Linares – which has garnered more than 40,000 votes. Garcia and Davis received the most votes, but if he can get any two of the four in the ring in 2018 he’ll likely be a strong candidate for back-to-back Fighter of the Year honors.

RUNNERS UP:
Anthony Joshua
Terence Crawford
Mikey Garcia
Srisaket Sor Rungvisai

Following “Fighter of the Year” tradition, Vasyl Lomachenko will feature as cover star in the next issue of RING Magazine.

 

Vasyl Lomachenko named 2017 RING Magazine Fighter of the Year

 

 

Juanma sets the record straight for Saturday’s showdown with Mikey

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By Jeff Zimmerman
Photo: Joel Colon/PR Best

Undefeated WBO Featherweight Champion Mikey Garcia and former 2X world champion Juan Manuel “Juanma” Lopez along with Hall of Fame Promoter Bob Arum and former Heavyweight Champion George Foreman took center stage at the final presser for this Saturday’s mega fight at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas and also shown live on HBO.

The usual cheery Juanma, though, wanted to set the record straight about his career and the caliber of talent he has faced compared to Mikey. He believes everyone is so focused on his losses to Salido and how Mikey demolished Salido that he therefore has no shot in this fight. He made it very clear that this is not his first rodeo.

“If you go by Salido, Mikey should beat me by knockout. I knocked out Concepcion in 2 rounds and he beat him in 8 rounds. Salido was a great fight [against Mikey], but Salido was on his way out.”

All this Salido talk has really started to bother Juanma.

“Yea it bothers me because they don’t look at my whole work and I have been a 2x world champion. I have beaten some guys; he went 12 rounds with Lontchi and I knocked him out. There are other guys in there that you should be looking up besides that one fight.” Juanma also believes he has had the superior career to date.

“I believe that, I believe that I have fought better opponents. I have been a world champion longer and fought a lot of tough fights as a champion, so I do believe that I have faced tougher guys than he has.”

Juanma added, “My world championship fight will be #12 on Saturday, this is only going to be his 2nd fight as world champion.”

Juanma is aware of Mikey’s versatility as a boxer and puncher.

“You know, he’s a boxer but he’s also a puncher if he needs to be, he’ll trade with you. I am not afraid of trading with him. I know that will happen during the fight – he will trade with me sooner or later. It’s the question of making my fight, making him adjust to my fight.” Juanma, though, has no doubt he is bringing the title back to Puerto Rico.

“Mikey wants to keep the title and I want to get something that was once mine.” “One time I saw Mikey in New York and told him don’t worry, you will have an opportunity and become world champion. I hope he is in great condition and willing to die in the ring, because come Saturday it will be the toughest fight of his career. I come to take the title back to Puerto Rico Saturday night.”

Mikey displayed his usual classy self and respect for his opponent but with the utmost confidence in his ability.

“I know my opponent is a tough guy. He is experienced and has been a champion twice. I don’t take him lightly. When you are champion there are no easy fights,” stated Mikey. Mikey responded to Juanma’s frustration with the Salido comparison and Juanma’s comment about Concepcion.

“That’s the truth. It’s the truth, he did take Concepcion out in round 2, but he was also almost knocked out in the 1st round by Concepcion and I didn’t even get touched by Concepcion. So you can’t really compare the fighters, it’s not really a fair comparison, really.”

“The fans and media keep pushing something like that, the Salido fight or whatever, but it’s not fair, because you catch them at different times in their career. I can actually have a better Juanma this time around then when he fought Salido, until Saturday night we’ll find out.”

Was Salido a finished fighter when you fought him?

“I don’t think so. I just made it my fight, if I stand toe to toe with Salido and I make it an interesting fight and it’s a close fight and give him opportunities. If I stay on the outside and box my way around him, it’s easy for me.” Mikey is confident.

“I think I am a better fighter overall, just a better fighter, whether it’s punching power or boxing ability, speed, whatever. I think I’m the better fighter and that’s why I will win.” “This is another opportunity to show everybody that I truly am the best featherweight in the world.”

Arum sees a slugfest in the making and puts in historic fashion, comparing it to the to the classic Salvador Sanchez vs Wilfredo Gomez. “Absolutely it will [be a classic] and somebodies winning by a knockout. I would not be surprised if both of them go down.”

Arum also compared his former Heavyweight Champion to these Featherweights.

“There wasn’t a bigger puncher than George Foreman, but these featherweights pack a good punch as well.”

Arum continued, “Everyone is really excited about the main event. You have a former champion from Puerto Rico, who has a record of sensationally knocking guys cold. Guys couldn’t get out of first round with him and then they went on fighting other people and won a world championship.”

“A Mexican American kid from Oxnard, California coming from a family steeped in boxing, his father was a trainer, his brother a trainer and former champion so a family that has lived and breathed boxing and whose has had a sterling record as a professional.”

Arum added, “This match is very, very exciting, when you put a great Puerto Rican fighter vs a great Mexican, Mexican American fighter, there is no other rivalry that stirs the blood like that rivalry does.”

Co-promoter of Juanma, Peter Rivera of PR Best Boxing echoed Arum’s feeling when Mexicans and Puerto Ricans square off. “Mexicans and Puerto Ricans make great fights, one of the most tremendous fights you can see in boxing. We are confident Juan Manuel will be champion again…we have no doubt about that.”

WBO President Francisco “Paco” Valcarcel also weighed in on the matchup.

“It’s a pleasure to be here with my favorite champ [George Foreman]. We have 2 big weapons fighting each other in this fight. You will see a great fight on Saturday.”

George Foreman, along with his sons is co-promoting with Bob Arum and Top Rank and is glad to a part of it.

“I’m happy to be here, especially in Dallas. We call it the big city next to Houston”, stated Big George. “You won’t have to go out of the country to see a great fight. Once the bell rings there is no champion so sit back and get ready for a good show.”

Big George can’t wait for fight night.

“Each fight, all fights are as equally exciting to me. That’s the advantage I have over most people, they are looking for a big fight, and I’m just looking for any fight. I love fighters and I love action and this I am looking forward to.”

Big George does give Juanma a puncher’s chance but loves Mikey’s left hook.

“When the bell rings, the title is vacant. There aren’t any champions, that title is vacant. You have no winners until the first punch is thrown, anybody can walk out of there with the crown.

“I’m looking for this Mikey Garcia. I call him the best left hooker to never come out of Philadelphia.”

* * *

Arum is very high on the co-main event as well that puts Alejandro Sanabria (33-2, 30KO’s) against Terrence Crawford (20-0, 15KO’s) for the NABO Lightweight Championship.

“This is a very good competitive match, the kind of match that is extremely fan friendly. People will be on the edge of their seats watching,” stated Arum.

Sanabria was happy to introduce himself to America.

“I come here with a desire to prove to the American public my talent and going out there Saturday night. This is a great opportunity in my career. I know I have trained very hard.”

Arum tells the story how they discovered Crawford after fighting on several of Top Rank’s undercards and then suddenly becomes a last minute replacement to fight Breidis Prescott and beats him handily.

“This is a true story of how boxing works, it’s not a Cinderella story, it’s a story,” stated Arum. “This is how Lou Gehrig replaced Wally Pip. He got the opportunity. For those of you that don’t remember, Wally Pipp was the 1st baseman for the Yankees and Lou Gehrig was a rookie and Pip got injured and Gehrig came in and replaced him and never relinquished the 1st base position until he had set all kinds of records for consecutive games played.”

“So Terrence stepped in, he was the Lou Gehrig of boxing of our time and here he is performing on the big stage as a HBO fighter in what should be a tremendous fight.”

The Gehrig / Pipp comparison was probably lost on the 25 year old Crawford, but he was definitely glad to be there.

“First and foremost, I would like to thank god for blessing me with the opportunity to be here and HBO / Top Rank for having me again. I trained really hard for this fight, I never overlook an opponent and I am just ready to go out on Saturday to display my talent once again and to show everybody that I was no “one hit wonder.”

Both Big George and Bob Arum are expecting the beginning of great things together in Big D starting with Juanma vs Mikey, but understand it doesn’t happen overnight. “Yea, it’s a process. We have done it all over Texas. I don’t why we can’t do it here in Dallas,” Arum said.

Added Big George, “You are just going to have to see when they walk up, but it’s a hard thing when you say HBO, everybody thinks you are supposed to stay at home and watch it on TV, but I want to show them it’s more exciting going out to a live match then you would ever get on television.”

Below photos by Chris Farina / Top Rank

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