Photo: Will Hart
Vasyl Lomachenko may stand only 5-foot-6, but he dreams like a giant. While still an amateur he talked about becoming the first man to win four Olympic gold medals in boxing and turned pro with Top Rank only after they promised to put him on the fast track to a title shot, which he got in his second non-WSB fight and won in his third. By stopping Roman Martinez in June, he broke Naoya Inoue's record by becoming a two-division champion in just his seventh non-WSB fight.
Now, in his first title defense, he's not facing an obscure mandatory but one of the most dangerous fighters on the planet in Nicholas Walters, a willowy Jamaican with a huge punch but who also is coming off a horrifically judged draw against future titlist Jason Sosa as well as a career-long 343-day layoff.
Next-Level Fighter: Along with Roman Gonzalez, Naoya Inoue and Oscar Valdez, Lomachenko has a skill set so breathtaking that it leaves even veteran observers in awe. His dazzling combination punching, off-the-charts ring IQ and otherworldly footwork has only gotten better with time, and his title-winning effort against then-WBO super featherweight titlist Roman Martinez affixed a picturesque exclamation point to his pound-for-pound ascension.
Lomachenko (who threw an unusually low 46.1 punches per round) held Martinez to 40.6, out-landed him 87 vs. 34 overall, 32 vs. 6 jabs and 55 vs. 28 power, created monstrous percentage gaps -- 43% vs. 19% overall, 30% vs. 7% jabs and 58% vs. 29% power -- and ended the night with a savage left uppercut-right hook combo that produced a rare 10-count knockout. Lomachenko's efficiency was extraordinary: He exceeded 50% power accuracy in every round, including a 4-for-4 effort in the fifth and final round.
Here’s a snapshot of Lomachenko's last six fights: Working behind an effective jab (8.1 landed per round), Lomachenko landed 50.7% of his power punches, while dazzled opponents landed just 8.1 total punches per round and 16.1% of their total punches (half the weight class average) and just 22.3% of their power shots. Lomachenko landed as many jabs per round (8.1) in his last six fights as his opponents landed total punches per round (8.1).
A Bitter Pill: Statistically speaking, Walters should have scored a lopsided points win over Sosa last December because he prevailed 281 vs. 168 overall and 225 vs. 121 power, out-landed Sosa in every round overall and achieved a 30-4-2 lead in the 36-round CompuBox round-by-round breakdown. Plus, he was far more precise in every phase (45% vs. 19% overall, 30% vs. 18% jabs, 52% vs. 20% power). Sosa was the markedly busier fighter (87.3 per round to Walters' 62.2), which may have swung enough rounds his way.
This was on the heels of a deserved, but disappointing, 12-round points win over Miguel Marriaga, a fight in which Walters missed weight and was forced to give up his WBA featherweight title. Yes, Walters scored a ninth-round knockdown, jabbed tremendously (43.6 thrown/10.9 connects per round) and rolled up big numbers -- 279 vs. 165 overall, 131 vs. 52 jabs, 148 vs. 113 power as well as 35% vs. 27% overall and 52% vs. 38% power -- but he wasn't the same force that decimated Nonito Donaire in October 2014. With a variety of issues stymieing his pound-for-pound rise, can the "Axe Man" revive his star by chopping down a most "high-tech" champion?
Here’s a snapshot of Walters’ last five fights: Walters matched Lomachenko's offensive numbers, landing 7.7 jabs per round and 49.8% of his power punches. Further, opponents landed just 21.6% of their total punches and 26.3% of their power shots.
Prediction: Walters can win, but he won't. While Walters presents a formidable physical, stylistic and attitudinal package, Lomachenko has seen every conceivable style and is able to decipher and then disassemble before decimating. If Walters can't bomb out Lomachenko in the first six rounds, the Ukrainian should box his way to an exciting points win.