Throughout the 14-fight pro career of unified lightweight champion Vasiliy Lomachenko, who has won three titles in as many divisions since turning pro in 2013, there have been no shortage of big-name and difficult opponents he has faced.
Yet when Lomachenko (13-1, 10 KOs) defends his WBO and WBA 135-pound titles on Saturday against Great Britain’s Luke Campbell (20-2, 16 KOs), while simultaneously competing for the vacant WBC title, promoter Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Sport believes the two-time Olympic gold medalist from Ukraine will be facing his toughest challenge to date (4 p.m. ET, ESPN+).
While taken at face value, Hearn’s comments might come across as nothing more than good promotion considering he promotes Campbell, the 31-year-old Yorkshire native who won gold at the 2012 London Olympics. If you look closer at the matchup, however, Hearn might not be that far off and it’s a question he asked directly of Lomachenko during the fight’s kickoff press conference.
“Maybe, because [Campbell] has a big reach and is a smart boxer,” Lomachenko said. “That’s why [he might be the toughest challenge], and also because he has a smart boxing IQ and big amateur experience. Maybe it will be my biggest challenge.”
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Campbell will enter the 02 Arena in London with his home fans behind him. The southpaw will also bring advantages in both height and nearly six inches in reach. Campbell also pushed former lightweight champion Jorge Linares to the limit in their 2017 title bout, losing by split decision to the same man who knocked Lomachenko down during their unification fight last year.
“I’ve never shied away from a challenge,” Campbell said. “This is a big challenge for me and the type of challenges that I train for everyday. I believe it’s the two best lightweights in the division that are facing off and I think this fight brings everything to the table: boxing IQ, power, speed, agility. I think this fight has everything in the making to be one of the best and most exciting fights going. You are going to see one hell of a fight.”
Along with his length and amateur pedigree, Campbell also appears to be peaking as a professional at just the right time. He admits it took him a while to get comfortable after transitioning to the professional game but now has the right team around him “at the perfect time.”
Campbell also recently avenged his first pro defeat, a controversial split-decision loss to Yvan Mendy in 2015, when he took home a wide decision in their rematch last September.
“I’m a competitor and I want to compete at the highest level,” Campbell said. “This is one of the moments where you make it or break it. I believe in myself and challenges like this, I rise to the occasion.
“I’m the challenger and he’s the champion. Obviously I respect everything he has done and achieved but I also believe that every champion was once a challenger and it takes that to become a champion. I’ll be ready to give him a great fight.”
The two fighters are no strangers to each other’s talents having competed at many of the same amateur events over the years, although Campbell admits he never imagined them facing off as professionals (Campbell won gold in 2012 at bantamweight while Lomachenko competed the same year at lightweight).
For the 31-year-old Lomachenko, considered by many to be the pound-for-pound best in the game, Saturday marks a special return to London for the first time since he too won gold at the 2012 Olympics, four years after doing the same in Beijing.
“I can’t wait and I’m excited because I want to feel the emotion of the fans,” Lomachenko said. “It’s a big memory for me because it was my second gold medal and I trained hard. The fans understand and love boxing. It’s a special people and they respect boxing. They understand boxing styles.”
Lomachenko has been surprisingly quiet and brief during interviews leading up to the fight, although he has made certain to cement the idea that he’s far from looking past Campbell despite the future bouts his name is often linked to. Should Lomachenko add a third lightweight title to his collection this weekend, promoter Bob Arum of Top Rank has already spoken publicly about matching him against the winner of December’s fight between IBF champion Richard Commey and unbeaten prospect Teofimo Lopez Jr. for the undisputed title.
“This brings me one step closer to my main goal of having all the belts,” Lomachenko said. “I want to ‘unificate’ all of the titles. That is my next goal in boxing. I have won titles in three weight categories, but I never won all four belts in a division. So, for me, Campbell is a very important name as I write my boxing history.”
“I want to make history. That’s the most important thing for me. When I turned pro, I wanted to win a world title right away, and I tied a record by winning a world title in my third fight. Now, I want to make a different history. Very few fighters have won all four titles. It would mean a lot for me to accomplish this.”
This is a sneaky deep card for the British fans with tons of local favorites on the card. Matchroom made sure though to add some firepower in the co-main event when heavyweights Hughie Fury and Alexander Povetkin meet. Fury, the younger brother of lineal heavyweight king Tyson Fury, is on a roll with his only professional losses coming to Joseph Parker and Kubrat Pulev. Povetkin is coming off a TKO loss to former unified champ Anthony Joshua.
Fight card, odds
Vasiliy Lomachenko -1800
Luke Campbell +1000
Unified lightweight titles
Alexander Povetkin -200
Hughie Fury +160
Given the fact that there hasn’t been a fighter, not even featherweight champion Gary Russell Jr., who has been able to match the hand speed of Lomachenko, whatever success Campbell has will be determined by his timing.
With a strong amateur background and a tall southpaw stance, Campbell controls distance well and has decent pop for a fighter not often considered as a power puncher. But he will need set traps and use his jab as a weapon in order to keep the magician Lomachenko and his sublime footwork from being able to dictate the terms of the fight.
It’s certainly a task that is easier said than done. But if there’s one thing in Campbell’s favor, it’s the fact that 135 pounds very much appears to be the ceiling for Lomachenko from the standpoint of both power and an ability to safely absorb punches. And even though Linares and Jose Pedraza ended up losing to Lomachenko in back-to-back unification bouts, both were successful because of their size and craft in bothering him and making him fight.
Campbell has a similar level of technical skill, smarts and size to have equal success. But does he have anything different or dynamic compared to the two in order to be the first fighter other than Orlando Salido (in Lomachenko’s second pro fight) to actually defeat him? That’s where the equation becomes difficult for Campbell.
Until Lomachenko is actually solved, whether it be by a power puncher who can finish him or an awkward boxer capable of making enough adjustments to offset his artistry, it’s incredibly hard to pick against him. On paper, a fighter like Mikey Garcia, should he decide to return to 135 pounds, may be the only fighter you could make a strong case given his power and accuracy.
Expect Campbell to be game and push Lomachenko into the second half of the fight. But you can also expect him to be another victim on the Ukrainian’s path toward possible undisputed status.
Pick: Lomachenko via UD12
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