Vasiliy Lomachenko’s famously idiosyncratic training regimen is less an athletic endeavor than a series of survivalist exercises, designed to exceed the ostensible limits of his mind, body and soul. He will hold his breath in excess of four minutes. Spar 15 consecutive 4-minute rounds with 30 seconds of rest in between. Swim alone through the treacherous currents of the Dniester River, 10 kilometers before it feeds into the Black Sea.
Every punch he throws in training is recorded and measured by a computer chip embedded in his hand wraps. His cognitive capacities are stressed and evaluated with diagnostic tools once reserved for cosmonauts and Soviet era fighter pilots.
“It was all designed,” his father, Anatoly, once said.
The elder Lomachenko coached the Ukraine boxing team to five Olympic medals in 2012. Oleksandr Gvozdyk went on to win the WBC light heavyweight title. Oleksandr Usyk, whom he still trains as a heavyweight, was an undisputed cruiserweight champion. But his life’s work — his attempt to be forever inscribed in the book of boxing — is his son, Vasiliy, who has won five titles in three divisions, not to mention a pair of Olympic gold medals.
“It was written down,” Anatoly once said.
“Before he was conceived.”
In other words, the Lomachenkos regard their mission as if it were prophecy. They’ve prepared for everything, imagined every contingency — except, perhaps, the absurdly improbable one presently in front of them: the son of a former drug dealer from Brooklyn, a knock-around guy who schooled himself as a boxing trainer by watching Kung Fu triple features and YouTube.
He, too, says his son, Teofimo Lopez Jr., is “a vision from God.”
If it’s not clear whom the Divine might bet on, the nature of the sport — in the broadest sense — favors Lopez. There are exceptions, of course: Floyd Mayweather, at 36, dominating a 23-year-old Canelo Alvarez or George Foreman winning the heavyweight title at 44. But the story of boxing is largely the big man beating the smaller one, and the young man full of promise vanquishing the old champion (see Oscar De La Hoya-Julio Cesar Chavez or Lomachenko-Guillermo Rigondeaux, if not exact comparisons, then useful ones).
“Who says that 32, 33 is an old age for a boxer?” asks Lomachenko, who, four months removed from his 33rd birthday, is a veteran of 397 amateur bouts and 15 professional title fights. “These are limits that others set for you. I can’t agree.”
He would concede, however, that he is the smaller man fighting an unnaturally powerful young champion. While Lopez could easily fight at 140 in the near future, Lomachenko was never a true lightweight. Rather, he went to 135 only because the other champions (or their handlers) at featherweight and 130 pounds wouldn’t fight him.
Vasiliy Lomachenko is quite the impressive boxer, but his intense workout regime might be even a tad better.
Lomachenko is not what he was at the lower weights, neither invulnerable nor untouchable. Jorge Linares knocked him down. Luke Campbell caught him with some decent shots. Even Jose Pedraza won some rounds. What then of Lopez, a young champion with twitchy reflexes and a talent for one-punch devastation?
You wonder if Lomachenko has ever considered the myth of Icarus, whose father gave him wings of wax, only to have the boy fly too close to the sun.
“If my father gave me wings, he would make some for himself to fly with me,” Lomachenko says. “That’s the difference.”
In other words, unlike Lopez — whose relationship with his father tends toward emotional displays of affection and volatility — Lomachenko remains devoutly understated but ever faithful to Anatoly’s grand design.
“To etch our names in boxing history for future generations to remember,” he says.
He’s not talking about a winning streak. He’s talking about posterity.
But then so are the Lopezes, both of them. They call it “The Takeover,” but it’s bigger than any attempt at branding.
In fact, this fight will make boxing history. But its real merit has been lost in the hyperbole of the lead-up. It’s more than Teofimo calling the titular grandmaster “an illusion” (much less a “b—-” and a “diva”).
It’s more than the Battle Royale of boxing dads. Outside of hitting .400, a four-belt unification (sorry, no knock on the gifted Devin Haney, but the idea that he’s a WBC “champion” isn’t worthy of discussion) might now be the most difficult task in sports. There’s a reason it has been done only four times. To become a truly undisputed champion, one must overcome the insidious politics of the sanctioning bodies, the greed of the various promotional interests and — less treacherous, but no less arduous — the other champions themselves.
In a sport that gladly showcases YouTubers and has-beens, Lomachenko and Lopez have embraced real risk. At 130 pounds, Lomachenko acquired a reputation for not merely beating opponents but also leaving them irreparably fractured. But Lopez’s knockouts are genuinely frightening, straddling that border between the thrilling and the grotesque.
“First of all, I want to win this fight,” Lomachenko says. “But if I have a chance to make it unpleasant for him, so that he feels it and remembers, I’ll certainly do so.
“I hope to drag him into deep waters, down to the bottom, and keep him underwater without air.”
There are two likely outcomes here: Either the undisputed, four-belt lightweight champion isn’t even a lightweight, but will be, without any question, the greatest fighter in the world, and one for the ages. He will have proven himself a glorious exception in the history of the sport.
Or a 23-year-old kid, spurned by USA Boxing in his bid to make the Olympic team, in just his 16th fight and guided by a father who has inspired universal eye-rolling, will enter the top tier of the pound-for-pound rankings. He can be violent. He can be sensitive. But he’s always charismatic. A night like this could be the genesis of his superstardom.
Whatever happens Saturday in Las Vegas should change boxing. For the better. That’s a great and welcome departure in a sport where undefeated champions can go for years without fighting anyone, where sanctioning bodies invent fugazy titles, and contenders are deemed “mandatories” as thinly veiled acts of extortion.
And no matter who wins, one of these guys will actually prove his father a prophet.