When was the last time you discovered a sportsman you’ve never heard of who made you sit up and take notice simply because of their sheer brilliance?
In this social media saturated age there’s something especially satisfying to find Vasyl Lomachenko – who up until a few months ago, I knew precious little about.
“A Glitch in The Matrix.” “The Picasso of Boxing.” “The New Mayweather.” Legendary promoter Bob Arum has called him the greatest boxer he’s seen since Muhammad Ali.
Lavish praise. Hyperbole from those blinded by the dollar signs of big fights and marketing deals to come?
Lomachenko’s dazzling skills will play out to a primetime audience to decide when he locks horns with brilliant lightweight king Jorge Linares in their eagerly awaited clash at New York’s Madison Square Garden this weekend.
A BBC Five Live interview with Steve Bunce and John Rawling before his last world title success alerted me to a new boxing superstar. When two broadcasters of their renown sing the praises of someone out of leftfield, I had to find out more.
Lomachenko is still in the first flush of his professional career and has a lot of leather to dish out and take before his record stands comparison with the all-time greats. What is without doubt is his astonishing talent perfected during a stellar amateur career.
In just a few short years he has taken the old boxing maxim of “hit and avoid being hit” to a whole new level.
Lomachenko is rapidly becoming to boxing what Roger Federer is to tennis and Lionel Messi to football.
His movement and balance is breathtaking. His hand speed and punch accuracy dazzling.
Opponents cover up not knowing from which angle the next punch will land to scramble their senses. Natural gifts honed through thousands of hours of gym work with his father as his trainer.
An artist but without the canvas of huge media exposure as boxing struggles to reconnect with fans lost to the more brutal and hyped UFC and attract a new younger audience whose time has a million and one different distractions.
His sustained volume of punches carry the sting to sicken fighters – Lomachenko’s last four opponents quitting on their stools allowing the Ukranian to revel in his new moniker Vasyl ‘NoMas’ Lomachenko.
Despite arresting pro displays and an incredible amateur record, Lomachenko is still an enigma to all but the most ardent boxing fan.
The 30-year-old hailing from the shores of the Black Sea emerged into the global spotlight to grab two Olympic golds at Beijing and London, the summit of an astonishing amateur career which saw him lose just once in 396 fights. He went on to defeat his victor, twice for good measure.
Lomachenko has tasted defeat in his pro career, losing a highly controversial second fight when he battled for the world featherweight title. A world title shot in just his second pro fight!
But he’s blasted his way to featherweight and super featherweight crowns since. Different opponents, same outcome.
Lomachenko gliding around the ring like he’s on castors, circling before probing for weaknesses, switching shots, avoiding artillery and refusing to give his antagonist a moment’s respite.
Pros quitting in their corners is not how fighters call time. If they have to lose, then they go out on their shields or at least until the ref steps in.
Sickened to the point of not wanting to re-emerge from the sanctuary of their corner is testimony to the impact of boxing’s shining new light.
Whether he has the star power to take his talent beyond his sport and into the mainstream remains to be seen.
Moving up in weight to fight Linares is a risk. But a calculated one. The Venezuelan is an artist, a big name, and, like Lomachenko, as skilled in avoiding blows as dishing them out.
Linares in Madison Square Garden – the US spiritual home of boxing – is the card-topping fight on ESPN to propel Lomachenko’s renown to a whole new audience.
Victory would bring the widespread acclaim his talent deserves.
Finding those in future prepared to step through the ropes to take on a man hailed as a genius by many hardened observers of the sport, may be more difficult.
Who wants to try and hit what seemingly can’t be hit, or be pummelled senseless in a flash of Ukranian blue and yellow?
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