As Vasiliy Lomachenko faces undisputed lightweight champion, Devin Haney, at the MGM Grand this Saturday night, he finds himself in an unfamiliar position. For the first time in his professional career, he is an underdog.
Not that he's Buster Douglas coming into his bout against Mike Tyson, but at the moment Haney is about a 2-to-1 favorite.
It speaks to the notion that perhaps the 35 year old Lomachenko is a bit too long in the tooth to deal with a well-schooled, technically sound boxer who is 11 years his junior. And perhaps its just not age that has the oddsmakers doubting Lomachenko, but the fact that he struggled versus Jamaine Ortiz back in late October.
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For him to win this fight, the usually slick stylist has to do one thing.
Ditch the downloading.
In other words, don't use the first four or five rounds to figure out and decipher how to attack Haney. He does that and the fights over, early on. Lomachenko must be the aggressor right from the very first bell, put consistent pressure on and back up his younger foe.
Yeah, in the past, Lomachenko has gotten away with relatively slow starts and overwhelmed his foes with his wide variety of angles, and slashing punches that seemingly come from all directions. But it was his fatal downfall in his loss to Teofimo Lopez back in 2020, as he gave away the first half of that contest, before coming up short in his late fight rally.
When you say 'downloading', its a fancy way of saying that Lomachenko is losing rounds. And he simply can't do that with the high boxing IQ that Haney possesses. It's a rather silly concept also, I mean, any football team that is losing 28-0 nothing in the second quarter, is never said to be 'downloading' -- they are just flat out getting beat.
Keep this in mind, while Haney certainly has an advantage in size and length, he is also a fighter at the very tail end of his run as a 135-pounder. It's no secret that he has to struggle and boil himself down to a point where he looks like a prisoner of war as he hits the scales, before having a chance to rehydrate. Soon, he will be competing as a junior welterweight.
Lomachenko has to put pressure early and often to wear down the legs of Haney, who has faltered down the stretch in fights versus Jorge Linares and Joseph Diaz. While certainly not a great puncher (11 stoppages in 17 victories) he certainly isn't feather-fisted, either.
If this fight is contested from the outside, that means the defending champion is controlling the tempo of this bout. The closer Lomachenko is to Haney the better, and when he gets inside, he has to find ways to punch through the expected clinching that he will have to contend with.
How this fight will be referee'd inside will be key. Harvey Dock, a world-class ref, has been appointed as the third man for this bout.
In the past, Lomachenko has boxed with a cool efficiency, incredibly confident in his skills. But now there is a realization that this could be his last opportunity to become an undisputed world champion. He admitted as much in recent interviews. No longer at the apex of his physical abilities, he is facing a fighter who is now entering his physical prime. There has to be a sense of urgency from round one.
To win the four belts, he'll have to be something he hasn't been in the past.
A pressure fighter.
Before the pay-per-view portion of this card, ESPN will feature the battle for the vacant WBO 115-pound title between Junto Nakatani and Andrew Moloney. The 24-year old southpaw from Japan made his camp in Los Angeles under the watchful eye of trainer, Rudy Hernandez.
For Nakatani, who recently held the WBO flyweight crown, Los Angeles has become his home away from home as he prepares for his fights.
"It was really important for him because he saw different fighters, and different training, and his arsenal developed. He's become a way better figher by being out here," said Hernandez, who put Nakatani through 10 rounds of sparring last Wedneday at Panda's Boxing Gym.
Hernandez believes that more fighters need to leave their comfort zones.
"The good thing about what we have here in the States, and what we have in Los Angeles, we have a variety of fighters and different styles," said Hernandez, who says Nakatani is the best talent he's worked with since his late brother, Genaro 'Chicanito' Hernandez.
He says that Nakatani (24-0, 18 KOs) is, "the best student I've ever had." Now they work towards their second world title.
Hernandez tells SNAC.com, "I expect a very tough fight, Moloney's a very good fighter. He can fight you on the inside, he can fight you on the outside. He has a variety to his game. He's our next opponent, and we're looking o have a tough fight.
"But we're also looking to win."
ESPN+ begins coverage from the MGM Grand on Saturday(6 pm, ET/3 pm, PT) as they features prospects Abdullah Mason and Emiliano Vargas, before handing off to ESPN with the aforementioned bout and Nico Ali Walsh...The pay-per-view card will feature the rematch between Oscar Valdez and Adam Lopez and Raymond Muratalla-Jeremia Nakathila....Vergil Ortiz-Eimantas Stanionis has been rescheduled for July 8 in San Antonio by Golden Boy Promotions....I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.....