By Roy “Sharpshooter” Bennett
Don’t sugarcoat it.
The fight game is a tough and unforgiving business. Last time out at Madison Square Garden in New York, Vasiliy “Hi Tech” Lomachenko got hit by a low tech punch in the mouth thrown by the defending WBA lightweight champion Jorge Linares which firmly deposited him on the seat of his blue trunks in mid ring.
No doubt Lomachenko’s fiercest detractors jumped for joy at that very moment but their premature celebrations were short lived.
He was already working his way back from that place in a fighter’s head where self doubt lurks in the dark recesses of the mind and he gets to find out what he’s really made of.
It didn’t take long.
He jumped straight up before the referee could begin his count. The brief setback, a legitimate knockdown from a solid shot, was over and he was back in control of the action by the end of the round.
Adversity be damned.
By the time a wicked southpaw left hook to the liver crumpled Linares to the canvas in a heap, a grimace of deep pain etched across his face, we all knew.
We were seeing Lomachenko’s higher gears for the first time. And what a sight!
We’ve got Jorge Linares to thank for that.
And it was well worth the wait.
But winning the gaudy WBA lightweight strap came with a price. Injury.
A torn labrum (fibrocartilage) in his right shoulder required surgery and several months of post operative rehabilitation. Time away from the ring he could have done without. Still, the enforced sabbatical was a negative he turned into a positive by spending more quality time with family and friends. A rest is as good as a cure and this time the double Olympic gold medalist and three-time world champion needed both.
But there are questions which his upcoming WBO title fight with Jose Pedraza will go some way to answering. Has the injury fully healed? Is he truly 100%? Is age catching up with him?
And is he beginning to experience the slippery downward slope of decline? (Boxers in the smaller weight classes generally reach the end of their athletic primes before their heavier brethren north of middleweight).
We’re going to find out.
Enter the Boricua
If distant memories of defeat assail the dreams of Jose Pedraza he gets his big chance to put them all firmly behind him when he climbs through ropes to face Vasiliy Lomachenko on Saturday night.
Back in January of 2017 the former 2008 Puerto Rico Olympic representative and IBF junior lightweight champion, unbeaten in 22 starts, got dragged into a vicious dog fight with Baltimore’s sawn off Gervonta Davis and got brutally stopped in seven rounds.
Hey. The “macho” in Puerto Rico got the better of him.
Listen. No self respecting champion from the island nation ever lost a title without putting up a serious fight. It’s not the done thing. But Pedraza is no Felix “Tito” Trinidad (only 12 KO’s in 26 fights) and normally boxes tall from distance throwing neat combinations behind a long southpaw jab hence his nickname … “The Sniper.”
Since the loss to Davis, Pedraza’s confidence has been somewhat bolstered by three unanimous decision points wins, including his victory over the grizzled veteran Ray Beltran in bagging the WBO lightweight bauble back in August of this year. With only two days to go before the biggest fight of his life against arguably the top fighter in the sport, one wonders what must be going through Pedraza’s mind regarding Lomachenko and his big opportunity in the spotlight? He makes it clear…
“I’m bigger than him and I have the skills to beat him. I can see myself winning by knockout and giving the people of Puerto Rico a great moment.”
He’s making all the right noises.
But Lomachenko could make a firing squad look bad – such is the nature of the style he brings to the ring. His ability to pour into openings created by buoyant footwork to rip off rapid-fire combination punches, coupled with split second defensive timing, make this a bad night at the office for “The Sniper.”
Look for Pedraza to “Enter the Matrix” and emerge without his championship hardware and another inside the distance loss on his ring ledger.
Vasiliy “Hi Tech” Lomachenko has got much bigger fish to fry.