Anthony Crolla is tasked with solving perhaps the most difficult riddle in boxing Friday night at Staples Center in Los Angeles: How to figure out unified lightweight world titlist Vasiliy Lomachenko.
Lomachenko is a southpaw stylist who befuddles his opponents with an array of angles and a multitude of combinations that come from all directions. He does all of this while seemingly hovering over the canvas, never quite standing still in one place for too long.
ESPN asked some leading trainers their assessment of this fight and how they would attack Lomachenko from the opposite corner.
Notable trainees: Manny Pacquiao, Miguel Cotto, Amir Khan, Virgil Hill, James Toney
You have to go to him with a lot of pressure and a lot of aggressiveness, back him up. It’s something you have to do. I feel he’s too good of a boxer otherwise and you want to take him out of his game.
(Lomachenko) might be the best boxer in the world today;he can box his ass off. That one fighter from Ukraine, Oleksandr Usyk, he’s a good boxer also. You try to outbox those guys; it’s almost impossible.
You can’t let Lomachenko be the ruler inside the ring because he will take advantage of that and just run over you. He’s the best fighter between 130 and 135.
Notable trainees: Mikey Garcia, Brandon Rios, Brian Viloria, Marcos Maidana, Vergil Ortiz
With Lomachenko, he’s so talented and fast, and with his reflexes, it’s all there. I think one of the only ways to beat him is to have (an opponent) who can take his punches, that’s not going to be afraid of him and is just going to bully him. Kind of similar to what (Orlando) Salido did in their fight. And it has to be someone bigger than him at 135.
But it has to be somebody that’s not going to respect him, at all. Not be afraid of him the first few rounds, get hit and keep coming. To me, that’s the only way to have success against Lomachenko.
You need somebody very talented, that’s not going to lose their head when they start missing or when Lomachenko counters with two/three-punch combinations — most of them get discouraged and give up.
Notable trainees: Tim Bradley, Ruslan Provodnikov, Lucas Matthysse, Israil Madrimov
Lomachenko is a fighter that is very elusive, he has great angles, has great timing. So you’ve got to have the right fighter that can follow directions. Obviously, you’re going to have to time him, you can’t rush in versus Lomachenko because he’s always picking you apart, you have to make him commit and try to get him to make mistakes.
If I was in the corner of Crolla I would tell him, “You know what? You’re going to have to use feints and try to counter. Don’t go in there looking for trouble — because you’re going to run into some trouble with Lomachenko.”
You make a move with Lomachenko and he has something for you. So you have to distract him first, frustrate him a little bit. You can’t go in there and try to knock his head off, you’ll run into problems. He’s a really smart fighter, he sees your combinations before you even throw them. He’s very complicated because of his boxing IQ, it’s really high.
Notable trainees: Pernell Whitaker, Erislandy Lara, Efe Ajagbe, Vernon Forrest, Kermit Cintron, Jermell Charlo
You have to press Lomachenko like nobody else could. I think you have to go back and look at the fight he lost [against Orlando Salido]. But now he’s such a different guy than when he first fought for the title.
But I think you have to pressure and not get hit — and that’s such a hard thing to do with a guy like him because the punches are just so accurate. Its just so tough to beat this guy. I think there are some similarities to Pernell Whitaker. The thing about Pernell — and of course, he was a southpaw — he threw a lot of punches to keep guys off balance. Lomachenko, basically, he does the same thing. But at the same time, Pernell was such a defensive guy; Lomachenko, he’s more of an offensive guy.
A cautious guy is not going to beat Lomachenko, because while you’re sitting back, he’s going to be punching.
Lomachenko is always in shape, he’s got a motor that doesn’t stop running, and that’s tough to beat when you get a guy like that. But at some point in his career, all of that is going to stop — but it ain’t going to be this early.
John David Jackson
Notable trainees: Shane Mosley, Bernard Hopkins, Sergey Kovalev
Lomachenko is one of the best fighters out there today, the best tactic is to be aggressive, cut the ring and make Lomachenko engage in a brawl. But [Crolla] has to be smart in his delivery, he can’t just rush in, Lomachenko’s too smart for that. If he doesn’t make Lomachenko engage with him, he’s going to get his ears boxed off all night long. You have to make Lomachenko vulnerable to combination punching and, if he can, wear Lomachenko down.
Lomachenko’s been able to take his amateur style and convert it somewhat to a professional style and make it work for him. Most guys who are world-class amateur fighters, they have to engage in more of a pro style. Listen, he’s good, and I’m not trying to knock him, he’s technically sound. But to me, he’s not the best, but he’s up there. I’d say he’s in the top three.
Notable trainees: Yhonny Perez, Darleys Perez, Petr Petrov, Michael Dutchover
If I’m in Crolla’s corner I’d just say a prayer and just throw punches. Crolla doesn’t have a chance. Crolla is not fast, and so my mentality is you have to go out there and make it dirty, muscle Lomachenko. And that’s the hardest thing with him because he gives you angles, it’s so hard to get to him.
So it’s one of those fights where I can’t see Crolla winning. Lomachenko is one of the hardest puzzles to solve in all of boxing just due to his footwork. He’s never in the same space for long, he’s not predictable. Some fighters have tendencies. They’ll do something before they throw a jab, they’ll pull up on a hook, and this kid, you just never know where he’s at. So he can get away with things like that because you’re never going to find him. You can’t set up Lomachenko.
Where Lomachenko will get beat for the second time, will be like Mikey Garcia and Errol Spence, where he’ll go up and not be as quick, or his footwork won’t be as fast. And for somebody to beat Lomachnko they have to be heavy-handed, fast and break him down, has to be chest-to-chest. The main thing with Lomachenko is you have to knock him off his rhythm — and that’s the hardest part.
Harold “Shadow” Knight
Notable trainees: Avi Yildirim, Monte Barrett, Robert Allen, Malik Scott, (assisted the late Emanuel Steward with Lennox Lewis)
Lomachenko is “The Matrix.” So how do you attack “The Matrix”? He’s really like one of a kind, he’s a guy who’s two or three steps ahead of you before you even throw that punch. So I would try to attack him with some feints and then punch him.
But also try to punch the center mass of his body because the body don’t move as quick as his head moves. But again, he’s one of a kind, you’ve got to make it ugly against Lomachenko.
He’s like Pernell Whitaker, he can disappear right in front of you and then once he does that, he’s right behind you or on the side of you. Now, mind you, that once he does all of this — he’s already thinking about what punches he’s going to be throwing, what combinations. There really is no game plan to fight him, to be honest.
Notable trainees: Arturo Gatti, Antonio Tarver, Sergey Kovalev, Sergey Lipinents
My personal opinion, you can’t attack Lomachenko; make it a chess match. Anyone that attacks him, he eats their lunch. So you have to give him a different look. A guy like Lomachenko, when you face him, you’ve got to make him think he’s looking in the mirror, like he’s facing himself. Every guy that comes after him, look what happens to them. Play cat-and-mouse, let the crowd boo all they want.
He sparred one of my guys one day, we made it a chess match. All the other guys sparring went straight at them and he knocked the dog crap out of ’em. Even the guys that were like 140 he was beating the s— out of them. So I told my guy, ‘Oh no, we’re not doing what everybody else is doing. We’re not here to be a punching bag, baby.’
Notable trainees: Oscar De La Hoya, Jaime Munguia, Edwin Valero, Jessie Vargas
You don’t try to box somebody who is a great boxer like Lomachenko. You have to go in there and make it a fight and make it happen. You don’t sit back and make it a chess game, ‘hit me, I hit you, here and there,’ no, you have to break the distance and make it a dog fight, basically.
You have to go to the body and then go to the head. But for some reason nobody can break that distance and be able to make the fight inside. So if you can not break that, you’ve got no business with him. Crolla has to go in there and make the fight happen. He needs to go in there and make it a fight. By boxing the guy, he has no chance.
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