Unified lightweight world champion Vasiliy Lomachenko defends his WBA and WBO belts against former titleholder Anthony Crolla at 11 p.m. ET Friday in a fight that will air live on ESPN+ in the United States from Staples Center in Los Angeles, California.
Can Crolla pull off one of the biggest upsets in boxing history and humble the sport’s pound-for-pound king? ESPN breaks down the fight.
It’s a no-brainer that Lomachenko has the edge — and Crolla admits as much.
The Briton knows he can’t outskill the most talented boxer in the sport today, who is known as “Hi-Tech” due to his flawless technique.
Neither will Crolla try to turn Friday’s fight into a street brawl.
“You can’t just go in there and rough him up,” Crolla told ESPN. “I’m never going to outbox him or outthink him, but there will be times when I will try and box off him. I can’t let him box how he wants to.”
Lomachenko (12-1, 9 KOs), 31, is a two-time Olympic gold medalist with breathtaking, mesmerizing skills that have ensured he has dominated his weight classes at the amateur and professional levels.
The U.S.-based Ukrainian is widely regarded as boxing’s pound-for-pound No. 1, but five years ago, he lost in his second professional fight to Mexican Orlando Salido, a veteran who roughed him up for a split-decision victory.
Crolla (34-6-3, 13 KOs), 32, who held the WBA belt from 2015-2016, does not regard the Salido fight as a blueprint for how to beat Lomachenko and a way to nullify his silky skills.
“I’m not looking too much into the Salido fight,” Crolla told ESPN. “It was only his second pro fight. Salido missed weight and then roughed him up.
“Lomachenko is a totally different fighter, and it’s years on, but there is a bit of that fight I will look at, and we can take from it. But he’s changed a lot since then. [But] you can’t just go in there and rough him up.”
Crolla will have to bring something to the ring other than a hammer if he is going to cause Lomachenko any concern.
This is no contest, and Crolla’s ability to cope with Lomachenko’s blurring hand speed will determine how long he can stay in the fight. Lomachenko has left opponents bamboozled by his speed for years and there are no signs he is slowing up. His movement has been compared to “The Matrix,” the science fiction film featuring Keanu Reeves, because his punches are thrown with such speed and accuracy they are like laser beams.
Crolla’s hand speed does not compare, and perhaps his best method of dealing with this is to look to hold whenever possible.
Lomachenko’s quick hands will be one of Crolla’s biggest concerns. Crolla could not find a way to beat Jorge Linares, another skilled technician with fast hands, in two fights, so it is hard to come up with an argument how the Briton can find a solution against the best in the business.
ESPN’s Steve Bunce says the Ukrainian champion “just needs to be Lomachenko” to defeat Anthony Crolla in L.A.
The Ukrainian genius has so much in his arsenal, and Crolla admits that Lomachenko might produce something for which he has not prepared.
Crolla, who was beaten by Linares by unanimous decisions in 2016 and 2017, has watched hours of footage of Lomachenko, as well as southpaws such as Manny Pacquiao, but admits it might have been pointless.
“I can’t worry too much about what he’s going to come out and do because he’s capable of coming out and doing something completely different that we haven’t seen before,” Crolla told ESPN.
“With Lomachenko, you really are second-guessing because he’s so unorthodox, and he’s a unique boxer. We are trying to cover it the best we can with sparring partners. But on the night, he could do something totally different. Jose Pedraza had some success, but Lomachenko found a way to win [by unanimous decision in December]. Me and Linares are totally different, but [Linares] did fantastic against Lomachenko. He was right in the fight until the stoppage [Lomachenko won in the 10th round but was down in round six]. I’m trying to take bits [of what] different fighters have done well against him into the fight.”
Pedraza and Linares hit Lomachenko more than others had, and Crolla will take some heart from that. Crolla will try to keep the champion under pressure, but Lomachenko’s boxing IQ makes it unlikely that he’ll be outsmarted.
Lomachenko, who trains in California, finds more angles than a geometry textbook, and Crolla can only hope to keep the champion’s punches at bay.
Tactically, Lomachenko has not come close to getting it wrong since the harsh lesson he learned against Salido. It is difficult to see how Lomachenko, with his skills and brilliant brain, could get it so wrong and lose to Crolla.
Crolla’s best chance of pulling off a monumental upset is by KO, given that he has no chance of outboxing Lomachenko.
Crolla has recently shown that he has the potential to stop elite fighters with devastating body shots. “Million Dollar” Crolla dispatched Darleys Perez and Ismael Barroso in WBA title fights in 2015 and 2016 before he lost the belt to Linares.
Crolla is a big underdog, but he has been motivated by the chance to shock the world and write himself into the history books.
Beating Lomachenko would rank alongside the biggest upsets in British boxing history, along with Lloyd Honeyghan’s 1986 triumph over Donald Curry and Randolph Turpin’s outpointing of the great Sugar Ray Robinson in 1951.
“He’s got a strong argument to be the best fighter on the planet, but it’s still very early days about how good he is,” Crolla said of Lomachenko.
“He’s certainly got the ability and had a fantastic amateur career — as good as it gets. But as a pro, he’s had [only] 13 fights, and I think we have got to wait a bit longer before we judge. It’s an honor to fight him — it really is — but I’m going in there to shock the world. My mindset is not about how good he is. I’m trying to beat him. The upset is a big motivation.”
The reality is Crolla is not a known knockout puncher. Only one opponent — Pedraza in December — was able to hear the final bell against Lomachenko since Suriya Tatakhun went the distance in 2014.
Lomachenko is such an athlete that he probably would have excelled at another sport, such as gymnastics, ice hockey or soccer, had he not taken up boxing in his childhood.
Lomachenko’s reflexes, coordination, footwork and stamina are faultless.
The Ukrainian is comfortable going the full 12-round championship distance, having done so four times in 13 professional fights, and there are no questions about him running out of steam.
There should be none about Crolla, either.
The Briton has not done road running as part of his training regime since 2014, but do not think he is taking shortcuts.
Crolla lives a clean lifestyle and has hit his best form since he suffered a fractured skull and broken ankle in an attack by burglars he chased off from a neighbor’s house in December 2014.
Now Crolla relies on swimming, yoga and hours spent on an exercise bike, as well as boxing work with trainer Joe Gallagher.
Crolla has gone 12 rounds in four of his past five fights, and expect him to keep marching forward through swollen eyes and lacerations as long as he is allowed to do so or is able to do so.
Crolla has had to be resilient to get where he is this week, taking on the best there is in boxing. After six career defeats and career-threatening injuries following a street attack, Crolla has heart in abundance.
Crolla has rebounded from a brace of points losses to Linares with three straight decision wins. They were comfortable enough, though Crolla had some difficult moments before pulling ahead by four rounds on all three scorecards against Daud Yordan of Indonesia in November.
Crolla won by a larger margin against Edson Ramirez over 10 rounds a year ago, though he had to contend with cuts, and the victory over former three-weight world titleholder Ricky Burns in October 2017 was impressive. Crolla won after looking like the fresher and smarter boxer. It was an impressive response from Crolla seven months after he had lost his WBA belt to Linares.
Crolla has shown that he still has the appetite and ambition, but will that be enough to outshine Lomachenko with all the qualities he has showcased in recent dazzling displays?
The logic says Crolla can’t come close to beating Lomachenko, who in recent fights has looked outstanding against Pedraza, Linares, Guillermo Rigondeaux, Miguel Marriaga and Jason Sosa.