Vasiliy Lomachenko is tired. He rubs his eyes and his shoulders slump as he halfheartedly listens to voices swirling around. His foot taps away anxiously against a metal chair as another interview floats by. He doesn’t want to be here.
‘It’s always the same questions. Always.’
‘Here’ is Fitzroy Lodge gym in Lambeth, London under a bridge where trains rumble and roll overhead and ‘here’ is the limelight where the crowds gather round seeking their pound of flesh. They all want to know the same thing.
What makes him the most unique fighter in a generation? What is the secret to all the incredible things he can do?
Lightweight champion Vasiliy Lomachenko poses for Sportsmail in Fitzroy Lodge gym, London
The Ukrainian set the boxing world alight by winning titles in three weight classes in 12 fights, the quickest in history and 24 fewer than it took Floyd Mayweather to achieve the same feat
Lomachenko won a world title in his third professional fight after the greatest amateur career of all time. He won two Olympic golds, two World Championships and lost once in 396 bouts
He is preparing to unify the WBO and WBA titles in his next fight on Dec 8 against Jose Pedraza
How does a man trained by his father win two Olympic gold medals in perhaps the greatest amateur career of all time – he lost only once in 396 fights – before becoming a three-division world champion faster than any man in history?
But, for now, he doesn’t want to reveal the key to his genius. Instead, he just wants to sleep in the car outside, away from the crowds and swaying heavy bags and the shrill blasts of a bell. A little corner of peace, just for a moment.
‘No more interviews after this one,’ his manager says.
Lightweight Lomachenko has burst onto the professional scene with 11 wins in his first 12 fights
To see Lomachenko in the ring is to witness greatness, akin to watching Lionel Messi at the peak of his powers. The basic principles of boxing remain but his abstraction through the prism of his father’s training has resulted in something quite breathtaking; a collision of violence and grace that has sent him soaring through boxing’s stratosphere in record time.
Boxing’s bible, Ring Magazine, have Lomachenko placed as the greatest pound-for-pound fighter in the world, ahead of Anthony Joshua, Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin to name a few. The Ukrainian has only fought 12 times professionally on his way to three world titles.
Floyd Mayweather took 34 fights to achieve the same feat.
Those dozen bouts have been put on by Hall of Fame promoter Bob Arum, who has seen plenty in his 45 years in the sport. He’s witnessed Sugar Ray Leonard, George Foreman, Evander Holyfield and Manny Pacquiao up close and had a front row seat for all the greats.
‘I’ve never seen a fighter as technically perfect as Vasiliy,’ he said last year. ‘I am telling you without any reservation that Lomachenko is the greatest fighter I have seen since Muhammad Ali.’
Vasily Lomachenko poses for Sportsmail’s Simon Dael in London’s Fitzroy Lodge gym
LOMACHENKO SO FAR
396 wins, one defeat
2 x Olympic gold medals (2008, 2012)
2 x World Championships: 2009, 2011
World champion at three weights: Featherweight, Super Featherweight, Lightweight
12 fights, 11 wins, 9 knockouts
Joint-fastest world champion (third fight)
Fastest ever triple world champion (12 fights)
Fewest fights needed to win titles in two divisions (seven)
Jose Pedraza, New York, December 8, WBO and WBA unification bout
In 2013, Lomachenko flew to New York with his manager Egis Klimas to meet potential promoters, but no one offered what he wanted. He wanted a fight for a world title in his professional debut.
Arum’s Top Rank came closest to offering that and got the gig. Lomachenko had to wait until his second fight to challenge for a title, which he controversially lost before he claimed the WBO featherweight belt in his third bout in 2014, equalling the record for quickest world champion in history.
He is a man in a hurry in more ways than one as he prepares to take on Jose Pedraza in New York on December 8 for the WBO world lightweight title to add to his WBA version. Another fight, another belt.
‘I’m doing everything I can for my legacy, that’s my goal,’ he says. ‘I’m doing all of this because I want to be the greatest.’
Unfortunately for Lomachenko, the road to eternal greatness meanders through an avalanche of interviews. Just one more picture, another question. He obliges gracefully then hastily disappears into the night.
Being a fighter destined for greatness is easy. Being famous; not so much.
Lomachenko began boxing when he was just four years old up until he was nine
He was made to stop by his father and trainer, Anatoly, in order to take up dance lessons
His unusual upbringing and training propelled him to gold medals at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics. Here the pound-for-pound champion shows off his London 2012 Olympic tattoo
It is impossible to separate Lomachenko and his achievements from his father, who also trains him. Anatoly’s image is tattooed on his son’s stomach and he is scorched on his brain.
WHO IS ANATOLY LOMACHENKO?
– He is a former amateur boxer and PE teacher
– He was the Ukraine national team boxing coach, leading the nation to five medals at the 2012 games, including golds for his son and reigning Cruiserweight champion Oleksander Usyk
– He was named ‘Boxing Writer’s Association of America’ Trainer of the Year in 2017
– He has coached his son, Vasiliy, for his entire career
– Russ Abner, Lomachenko’s cornerman: ‘He brings that old-school work ethic and mixes it with new innovations in training, techniques and the thought process, the things he practices, everything.’
In a sport littered with complex fathers and issues their relationship is straightforward. ‘He just gives me an instruction and I do it,’ Lomachenko says. ‘Simple’.
The whole family courses with talent; Vasiliy’s mother was a gymnast and martial artist and Anatoly himself was an amateur boxer and teacher before he became Ukraine’s national team’s boxing coach. It is he who’s moulded his son into something close to the ultimate boxer from the very start of his life in Bilhorod-Dnistrovsky, a small town on the Black Sea in Ukraine.
Lomachenko Sr, whom Arum once described as ‘a mastermind’, placed boxing gloves on his son’s hands when he was just three days old. He boxed until he was nine and then no more; Anatoly sentenced him to four years of traditional Ukrainian dancing lessons without allowing so much as a punch thrown in anger so the multi-talented Vasiliy had the requisite footwork in order to hit and not get hit in the ring.
Before his hands could damage and his intellect could befuddle, his feet could move. ‘I think every single sport I did as a child, including dance classes, helped me to become who I am.’
Vasiliy rarely dances outside of the ring but is blessed with the most gorgeous feet inside it; his signature front-foot pivot teleports him around befuddled opponents to tee up a dazzling array of awkward punches from unusual angles. ‘It’s my favourite move. I’ve been training to do it all of my life.’
Once his feet were ready, Anatoly and Vasiliy together set about building perhaps the greatest amateur career of all time. Two Olympic golds, two world championship titles and just a single defeat later, they were ready for the pros.
Lomachenko’s team aren’t so much concerned with creating the perfect boxer, but rather the ultimate athlete. He trains on tennis courts, on football pitches and on horseback to hone every muscle and instinct and to craft a body capable of dealing with any situation.
5am starts are commonplace during camp and exercises differ from day to day; Lomachenko could be playing volleyball one day and competing against himself in a game of tennis the next, or doing lengths in the pool and then running on the beach nearby with a parachute strapped to his back.
Lomachenko teaches some young fighters from London some of the tricks he uses in the ring
The 30-year-old is back in the ring on December 8 in New York where he fights Jose Pedraza
Lomachenko says winning gold at the 2008 Olympics is the highlight of his career so far
He followed up victory in Beijing with a second gold in London at the 2012 Olympics
By mid-morning he is sleeping to recover before waking at 10am to get back into the gym.
He juggles and can walk on his hands across a ring. The grind of a normal training camp is a mainstay but it is his unorthodox all-round training which sets him apart.
One particular party piece is to hold his breath under water to demonstrate his incredible oxygen-carrying capability. What is his record? ‘Now it is is four minutes and 30 seconds’. The average person can manage around a minute.
The intensity and variety of training has its setbacks. ‘He goes through a lot of shoes, they just catch on fire,’ conditioning coach Cecilio Flores once said.
Anatoly is described by his team as ‘peaceful, patient and wisdom personified’, but rarely gives interviews.
‘He is my trainer but he has always stayed like a father to me,’ says Lomachenko. ‘Every day for me he’s a father, in training, at home, father.
Are you still trying to impress him? ‘Yes. Of course’. Belts come and go but the pursuit of a father’s approval endures regardless.
Anatoly Lomachenko (L) with his son and lightweight champion Vasiliy Lomachenko (R)
Anatoly is the mastermind behind his son’s ascent to the very top of boxing
Lomachenko his father and trainer Anatoly’s image tattooed on his torso
In one rare interview he defined his philosophy in a few simple words. ‘Any sport at a high level comes down to intellect,’ he once said. ‘If you truly want to go higher it becomes a battle of intellect.’
Anatoly has handed his son an arsenal of weapons to work with in the ring. He moves, slips and sways, pulls opponent’s guard down with one hand and strikes with the other, and of course he dances.
But to make Vasiliy the ultimate fighter – to win that battle of intellect – Anatoly had another trick up his sleeve.
In London, he watches on silently in the background, unannounced and alone as his son sags under the weight of public demand. He watches studiously and pulls a baseball cap low down onto his face. Inside his mind are the blueprints for his son’s global domination. But he won’t be talking today.
Team Lomachenko includes cornerman Russ Abner (second left), strength and conditioning coach Cecilio Flores (3rd left), Lomachenko (centre), Egis Klimas (5th left), Anatoly Lomachenko (3rd right) and team psychologist Andriy Kolosov (right)
LOMACHENKO’S TRAINING REGIME
During a typical two-month camp:
– Wake up at 5am
– Cardio work and gym
– 45 minutes of mental strength training
– Sleep, rest and recuperate
– Wake again at 10am
– Second gym session
– Rest days on Thursday
In November, California slumped to its knees as 240,000 acres of wildfires ripped across its parched land; they were the most destructive in the state’s history. From both the north and south they raged with whole towns in their path. 85 people have lost their lives.
In the south, Lomachenko and his team were not immune to the panic and fear felt by thousands fleeing the scene. Oxnard is a peaceful and wealthy seaside town outside Los Angeles and has become eastern European boxing’s home away from home. He trains at the Boxing Laboratory alongside the likes of Tony Bellew’s conqueror Oleksandr Usyk, just miles away from where the southern fires started.
‘It was very close to us,’ says Lomachenko’s team psychologist Andriy Kolosov. ‘If the wind was blowing in our direction then our house would have been on fire. Luckily the wind was blowing towards the ocean. We stayed here but we were ready to leave if we needed to.’
Kolosov was there as an observer while Lomachenko mulled over the ashes of his only amateur defeat, at the 2007 World Championships in Chicago against Russia’s Albert Selimov and was soon brought on board.
Mental training is his speciality. It is his job to frame Anatoly’s masterpiece and hone Lomachenko’s boxing brain in tandem with his body.
He tests the fighter with a series of mental exercises at the end of long training days in order to train focus and execution even when he’s tired. Delicately balancing wooden blocks end on end with hands still shaking from a heavy bag session isn’t commonplace in the world of boxing, but it works for Lomacheko.
THE MANY TALENTS OF LOMACHENKO
Lomachenko isn’t just a talented boxer, but an all-round athlete. The 30-year-old’s training regime involves partaking in many different sports aside from boxing which comes naturally to him because his father Anatoly made him take part in various activities as a child.
Gymnast and juggler
Vasiliy’s mother was a skilled gymnast and it seems it runs in the family. One of his party tricks is to start in one corner of the ring and walk on his hands to the opposite corner. He is also known to backflip after winning fights.
The 30-year-old can also juggle and while it may seem like a trick it is actually designed to improve his hand-eye coordination.
Lomachenko is said to be the captain of his local ice hockey team back in Ukraine. Hockey is one of his favourite sports.
The fighter played football as a child and has kept it up during his training. Manager Egis Klimas told Sports Illustrated: ‘We can put Vasiliy in world’s biggest soccer stadium and he’d be fine.’
Another unique part of Lomachenko’s training are ball games, . He trains hand-eye coordination with a tennis ball attached to a piece of elastic and a hat, bouncing the ball from one fist to the other. He also plays volleyball during camp as well as games of tennis against himself with an oversized ball and racket.
But there’s a reason for Lomachenko’s unique training…
Lomachenko’s varied training is designed to hone all of his skills as well as to keep him motivated. He says: ‘The day before the fight, my father edits a video consisting of all the training we went through. And you watch it and it energises you. It is psychologically rewarding reviewing all the hard work you went through. When they make a bomb, they leave a fuse at the end to light. The day before the fight that fuse is burning.’
He says: ‘My role is to increase the relationship between his mind and his body.
‘If you have enough mental capacity to focus for 12 rounds then you can make successful decisions during a fight.
WHAT OTHERS SAY
Mike Tyson, former heavyweight champion: Lomachenko is my favourite fighter to watch. He’s the best fighter in the world today’
Bob Arum, legendary promoter: ‘I’ve never seen a fighter as technically perfect as him. I am telling you without any reservation that Lomachenko is the greatest fighter I have seen since Muhammad Ali.
Sugar Ray Leonard, Hall of Fame boxer: ‘He’s a bad boy. I like what I see in him. He would hold his own in my era.
Carl Froch, former champion: ‘He’s the number one pound-for-pound. We already knew he had unrivalled skill but the way he got up off the floor and fought through a shoulder injury against a tremendous opponent in Jorge Linares proved his toughness. He is now the complete fighter.’
Steve Bunce, analyst: ‘If we’re talking about who is the greatest athlete or sportsperson alive right now on performances, Lomachenko has to be with Lionel Messi, Rodger Federer and so on’
Joe Rogan, commentator: ‘He may be the best boxer who ever lived. He’s on another level’
‘If we increase resources of mental activity [by training while fatigued], he has as much skill as possible to control what he’s doing.’
Lomachenko agrees: ‘I think my feet are most important for me, but having the ability to be very quick to change something during a fight by thinking about it is also important.’
The goal is to reach a point where mind and body align to create something boxing has rarely seen; Lomachenko’s team describe what he does as ‘movement intelligence’ – the knowledge of not only how to hit, but how to use his intelligence to figure out how to avoid a return blow and be positioned to strike again. In milliseconds.
The moment that happens, when everything slows down and Matrix coding appears before Lomachenko’s eyes is known as ‘The Flow’.
‘It is a very specific, highly-focused state of mind’.
Kolsov explains: ‘Everything together makes him what he is. We try to understand the computer inside his mind and understand how it is all connected to his hands, his feet.
‘It’s a very powerful computer.
‘His physical qualities are obvious, but ultimately it is his belief that brings all these things all together.’
So what happens when there is a glitch in the Matrix, like when Lomachenko was floored on his way to a knockout win over Jorge Linares to win the WBA lightweight title in his last fight?
THE BOXING LAB – EUROPE’S HOME FROM HOME
Lomachenko fights out of the Boxing Laboratory in Oxnard, California. Other eastern European fighters who train there include:
Oleksander Usyk, undisputed cruiserweight champion
Oleksandr Gvozdyk, WBC world light-heavyweight champion
Egis Kavaliauskas, undefeated Lithuanian welterweight
Maxim Dadashev, undefeated Russian super lightweight
‘He didn’t lose orientation or concentration, he made a mistake in his movement. Something occurred not according to our plan,’ Kolosov insists defiantly. There are no unexplained accidents in Lomachenko’s world.
In November, after a long, hard day in the gym, Kolosov took his charge to one side and placed him in front of a series of numbered charts pinned to the wall, like he always does.
The aim of the exercise is to use the numbered charts to solve a series of mental arithmetic problems as quickly as possible under time pressure and while he is exhausted. It is one of a handful of exercises the pair do together.
‘We do it close to the next fight at the peak of his preparations when Vasiliy gets very tired. We did the exercise the other day and he broke his record. He was faster than ever.’
So preparations for the Pedraza fight are going well, then? Kolosov laughs. ‘I hope so’.
Lomachemko got up from a knockdown to beat Jorge Linares to the WBA lightweight title
The fearsome puncher downed his bigger rival with a deadly body shot in the 10th round
His stylish win over a granite-hard Linares, during which he ripped his shoulder muscle so badly it required surgery, garnered the most attention but his four fights prior to that were the most eye-catching of all.
These four men weren’t beaten, they were broken. Marks didn’t appear on their faces from whipped leather ripped on jaws but they couldn’t go on; there was no point. They all quit.
Four fights, 27 rounds, two undefeated records snatched and the foundations of a legacy built. In honour of Roberto Duran’s infamous plea, he was no longer deemed ‘Hi-Tec’ Lomachenko because of his advanced style. He was named ‘No Mas-Chenko’. No more.
The crown jewel in that run was his win over the great Guillermo Rigondeaux last December.
Lomachenko’s rise to the top gathered speed with four fights in which his opponents quit
Lomachenko claimed his first world title against Gary Russell Jr. in 2014 in just his third fight
He equalled the record for the fewest fights to win a world title (3), having controversially lost in his second ever fight against an overweight Orlando Salido
No surprise, it was a historic occasion; the first professional bout where two multiple Olympic champions with undefeated records squared off. Such was the stature of the fight, Roy Jones Jr even claimed that ‘on paper this is the best professional fight ever made’.
What happened next was a systematic dismantling of the Cuban in Lomachenko’s 10th professional fight. The 30-year-old toyed with his rival. Rigondeaux, angered and without an answer, tried to hold his rival’s head and punch, but he still couldn’t land.
By the start of the seventh round the undefeated, top 10 pound-for-pound fighter had decided enough was enough.
‘It was not a big win’, Lomachenko shrugged afterwards.
His fight against Cuba’s Guillermo Rigondeaux was billed as one of the best in years, pitting two undefeated double-gold medallists against each other for the first time in history
Almost exactly a year to the day of Rigondeaux’s startling submission, on the very same weekend and in the same building, Pedraza becomes the next man to run the gauntlet.
‘We plan how to solve problems in our training,’ Lomachenko says without blinking.
Lomachenko dominated his rival in a fight Roy Jones Jr billed as maybe the ‘best ever made’
A confluence of all factors – talent, environment, character and training have bought Lomachenko to this point; history is behind and well as laid out before him. It is a terrifying but real possibility that he will get even better, too. He has, after all, only fought 103 professional rounds of boxing.
Anatoly told ESPN last year that his son’s whiplash ascent to triple world champion is all by ‘design’, guided by a blueprint drawn up ‘before he was conceived’. The final flourishes on that design are yet to be revealed. But at 30 time is against him in the race to be the greatest of all.
Rigondeaux was dejected as he was made to quit at the start of the seventh round of the fight
‘I’m thinking I would like to keep boxing for maybe five to seven years,’ Lomachenko explains. ‘I’m staying at this weight class, 135 (lightweight). There is a lot of things to do in this class.’
Should he beat Pedraza and take his WBO lightweight title, the next major landmark on his map marked history is likely to be a showdown with Mikey Garcia.
Garcia, an undefeated multiple-weight champion with 39 fights and as many knockout defeats, would be Lomachenko’s toughest test by a long way. The fight would be a battle to become the first man ever to hold all four division belts at once.
If he gets past that stern test, then who knows. Can he remain at lightweight for the rest of his career and fulfil his quest to be the greatest? Probably not. Perhaps he moves back down to take on Floyd Mayweather’s dangerously talented-but-erratic Gervonta Davis. Maybe he moves up to welterweight where big names and bigger money lurks.
After Pedraza, Lomachenko could take on fellow lightweight champion Mikey Garcia (L) or maybe Gervonta Davis (R), who is looked after by the legendary Floyd Mayweather
But for now, that’s a question for tomorrow. ‘I prepare for my next fight.’ he says flatly.
The interview has gone on too long. ‘I don’t know how to answer that,’ he says in response to a question about his style.
‘It’s not for me to describe. The reporters, announcers, those people, they have to look my style and decide. I just cannot, I don’t even know how to answer that question.’ Like his opponents, he’s saying no mas.
Perhaps he longs to be back in the Boxing Laboratory in Oxnard, where he warms up amongst friends and fighters from Ukraine. On a concrete wall behind minimalist machinery at the gym, a sign reads: ‘Real boxers are ordinary people with extraordinary determination’.
Off in the distance from his home away from home are the bright lights of Las Vegas and all the promise of boxing greatness it holds.
Lomachenko says: ‘I’m doing all of this for my legacy. Because I want to be the greatest.’
Vasily Lomachenko faces Jose Pedraza in a WBO and WBA unification bout at Madison Square Garden on December 8, televised live on BoxNation in the UK.