Vasiliy Lomachenko will try to add a third world lightweight title to his collection when he faces Luke Campbell at the O2 Arena in London on Saturday (5 p.m. ET on ESPN+). The world’s best boxer defends his WBA and WBO belts against fellow 2012 Olympic gold medalist Campbell, with the vacant WBC title also on the line, in the main event of a Top Rank on ESPN+ card.
How do the fighters match up? What are the chances of an upset? ESPN takes a look at the matchup.
Lomachenko (31-1, 10 KOs), 31, based in Oxnard, California, is rightly regarded as the world’s most skillful boxer, and trying to outbox the pound-for-pound No. 1 would seem a futile exercise.
Campbell, however, also has impressive boxing IQ and can be considered a step up from Lomachenko’s most recent opponent, Anthony Crolla, who was dispatched in four rounds in April.
Campbell’s success in the amateur ranks, winning bantamweight gold at the 2012 Olympics, is testament to his boxing skills and intelligence, which he has transferred to the paid ranks.
Campbell (20-2, 16 KOs), 31, who’s from Hull in northern England but trains in London, has already shown his skills are sharp enough for the top level. In September 2017, the Englishman lost a wafer-thin, split-points decision to Jorge Linares for the WBA world title. Campbell was down in the second round, but he still believes he did enough to win the fight.
With another world title shot at hand, Campbell has been careful to disregard Lomachenko’s split-decision defeat to Mexico’s Orlando Salido — his only loss to date, in his second pro fight — as a blueprint to conquering the WBA-WBO world lightweight king.
“Firstly, Lomachenko isn’t the same Lomachenko he was against Salido and, secondly, I’m not the same fighter as Salido or with the same style, so there’s not much you can take from it,” Campbell told ESPN.
When ESPN spoke to Campbell earlier this month, he had not spent hours studying footage of Lomachenko’s dazzling skill set. Instead, he was concentrating on his own game plan and sparring with Josh Taylor, the reigning IBF junior lightweight titleholder.
Don’t expect the Briton to try to outbox fellow southpaw Lomachenko — look for him to try to spring an upset via other means.
Lomachenko throws punches that are so fast that it is sometimes hard to track them, either in the flesh or on television. Imagine trying to slip and evade those in the ring?
He isn’t called Hi-Tech for nothing, and the Ukrainian is able to land shots from unexpected angles — as accurate as laser beams — that leave opponents floundering.
“He’s very special — he doesn’t waste a shot,” Campbell’s fellow Englishman Crolla said. “He’s even better than I thought. His balance and his feet are incredible, and the angles he picks are just crazily good.”
Lomachenko’s speed was repeatedly too much for Venezuela’s Linares in May last year, while others, such as Puerto Rico’s Roman Martinez, just did not see the knockout blows coming.
Lomachenko is a phenomenal athlete who is used to going late into fights, so it is difficult to see stamina as an area Campbell can exploit.
The Ukrainian has completed the full 12-round championship distance four times in 14 professional fights, and there are no question marks over him running out of steam.
Campbell also has gone 12 rounds on four occasions and threw more punches when he fought Linares, but he faded late in the fight.
Don’t read too much into Campbell’s only blemish on his record other than the Linares setback, a split-decision points defeat to France’s Yvan Mendy in December 2012.
Campbell was shockingly off against Mendy, but he explained the setback in clear terms.
“I shouldn’t have got in the ring that night against Mendy,” Campbell said. “All of my body was aching and weak, and it had been like that all week. I wasn’t at the races. I wish someone had advised me not to get in the ring that night. I was a shadow of my former self and it was a tough lesson, which I didn’t need to learn, but at least I got the victory back over him.
“I had s— preparation for that fight, but I’ve accepted it, beat him in a rematch and moved on. I could easily be 22-0, though, because I thought I beat Linares by two clear rounds and I thought I could have nicked it against Mendy.”
Vasiliy Lomachenko overcomes being knocked down to finish Jorge Linares in the 10th round, winning a title in his third weight class.
Campbell’s best chance of achieving global fame and going down in history with an upset win is to knock out Lomachenko.
Lomachenko’s most significant flaw — perhaps the only one — is that he briefly looked vulnerable against a bigger man at lightweight against Linares in May 2018. The Ukrainian, who began his career at featherweight, was knocked off his feet for the first time in the paid ranks by Linares in the sixth round. Lomachenko was put on his backside by a straight right hand, but he quickly returned to his feet.
Linares hit Lomachenko more than he had been hit in other fights, and Campbell will take some heart from that. However, it should be remembered that Linares was finished by a body shot in the 10th round.
Campbell has shown he can be a dangerous puncher, too, halting two of his past three opponents since losing to Linares almost two years ago.
“We have to take it out of the judges’ hands,” Campbell’s trainer, Shane McGuigan, said. “When we win rounds we have to win them with a big margin. We have to dent him with power — and Luke definitely has the power to dent him.
“How do you negate his speed, ability and technical prowess? We have the size advantage, the power advantage. We’re not as quick or agile, but we can take that away with range and timing. We have the ability to beat him and even knock him out. This guy isn’t unbeatable, and if there’s one person, boxing-wise, with the ability to match him it is Luke Campbell, the Olympic gold medalist.”
When Campbell turned professional, after campaigning at the 2012 Olympics as a bantamweight, few expected him to begin by stopping 10 of his first 12 opponents. He went from being a beanpole bantamweight, who won all his fights at the 2012 Olympics on points, to a lethal lightweight in the professional ranks.
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 outpointing the great Sugar Ray Robinson in 1951.
Landing a knockout against today’s best boxer is Campbell’s best chance of cementing his place in history. But landing a decisive big shot is still a long shot for Campbell.
Size — does it matter?
Not when it comes to someone as brilliant as Lomachenko.
Campbell has a significant size advantage — the Briton is 3 inches taller with a 6-inch reach advantage — and he is Lomachenko’s tallest professional opponent to date.
However, the champion has overcome bigger opponents in his previous three fights.
“He is tall, he has a big reach, he is a smart boxer and has a high boxing IQ,” Lomachenko said.
There is a limit to how far Lomachenko can climb through the divisions — don’t expect him to do a Manny Pacquiao or Floyd Mayweather — but he has looked outstanding at lightweight against Crolla, Jose Pedraza and Linares.