In April, pound-for-pound king and unified lightweight world champion Vasiliy Lomachenko beat and battered England’s Anthony Crolla, a former world titleholder, in a fourth-round knockout victory to retain his belts at Staples Center in Los Angeles. On Saturday (4 p.m. ET on ESPN+, undercard 1 p.m ET), Lomachenko is poised to defend against another Brit.
This time he’ll face top contender and fellow southpaw Luke Campbell, a fresher, taller and more highly regarded fighter than Crolla, and he will do so on Campbell’s turf at the O2 Arena in London.
Not only will Lomachenko and Campbell — both 2012 Olympic gold medalists — meet for Lomachenko’s two world title belts (WBO and WBA) but also for the vacant WBC 135-pound strap, as both men eye an eventual fight for the fourth title and status as the undisputed lightweight champion.
“Four belts, it means you are the best in your weight class. The best,” Lomachenko said. “You are one world champion, not four world champions. One.”
Although Lomachenko is the clear favorite, he has always been a very focused fighter and never one to take an opponent for granted, no matter the odds.
“It’s a tough fight,” Lomachenko said of Campbell. “A lot of people talking about, ‘Oh, it’s an easy fight. Who is Luke Campbell?’ But they don’t understand boxing. He’s better [than Crolla].”
Campbell got a mandatory title shot in September 2017 and traveled to Inglewood, California, where he lost to then-champion Jorge Linares. Now Campbell has a second title opportunity against an even more formidable foe.
“I know I’ve got a big job to do, but if fighting the No.1 [boxer] on the planet doesn’t motivate you, then I don’t know what will,” Campbell said.
This is your Ringside Seat for the fight:
Lomachenko’s quest for history
Vasiliy Lomachenko is excited to fight in London and expects Luke Campbell to be one of the hardest challenges yet. For more Top Rank Boxing, sign up here for ESPN+ https://plus.espn.com/.
Lomachenko (13-1, 10 KOs), 31, of Ukraine, has already made a mountain of boxing history, going 396-1 — avenging the loss twice — and claiming Olympic gold medals in 2008 and 2012 as perhaps the greatest amateur of all time.
As a pro, he has won world titles in three divisions (featherweight, junior lightweight and lightweight) and continued to attack the record book. He set the record for fewest fights needed to win a world title (three, a tie), fewest needed to win a title in two divisions (seven), fewest needed to win a title in three divisions (12) and then he unified lightweight titles in his 13th fight by lopsided decision over Jose Pedraza in December.
Of his 14 pro fights, 13 have been world title bouts, including a sixth-round stoppage win over Guillermo Rigondeaux in a 2017 junior lightweight title defense in the only fight ever between two-time Olympic gold-medal winners.
If there’s a record to be had, Lomachenko wants to set it. He has been driven by making history since the day he turned pro. The one thing that eluded Lomachenko at featherweight and junior lightweight was the opportunity to unify titles.
While Lomachenko has unified two belts at lightweight and can add a third by defeating Campbell, what he wants most is all four titles.
“This brings me one step closer to my main goal of having all the belts,” Lomachenko said. “I want [to unify] all of the titles. That is my next goal in boxing. I have won titles in three weight categories, but I never won all four belts in a division. So, for me, Campbell is a very important name as I write my boxing history.
“When I turned pro, I wanted to win a world title right away, and I tied a record by winning a world title in my third fight. Now, I want to make a different [type of] history. Very few fighters have won all four titles. It would mean a lot for me to accomplish this.”
Only seven fighters have become undisputed champions in the four-belt era — four men and three women. The men include cruiserweight Oleksandr Usyk (2018), junior welterweight Terrence Crawford (2017) and middleweights Jermain Taylor (2005) and Bernard Hopkins (2004). On the women’s side, they are lightweight Katie Taylor (2019), middleweight Claressa Shields (2019) and welterweight Cecilia Braekhus (2014).
The table is set for Lomachenko to get the opportunity to become No. 8. If he wins Saturday, his next bout is supposed to be for the undisputed crown in the first half of 2020 against the winner of the fight between titleholder Richard Commey and mandatory challenger Teofimo Lopez Jr., who are likely to fight on Dec. 14 for the IBF world title.
But there is no undisputed fight without a victory against the 31-year-old Campbell (20-2, 16 KOs).
Another opportunity for Campbell
Andre Ward breaks down whether Luke Campbell can pull off the upset against Vasiliy Lomachenko.
When Campbell challenged Linares for the title, he got knocked down and lost a split decision in an overall good performance. Linares would go on to lose the title by 10th-round knockout to Lomachenko two fights later in May 2018.
Campbell has won three fights in a row since losing to Linares to put himself back in the title hunt as a mandatory challenger, and he will face in Lomachenko the toughest opponent he could possibly fight at 135 pounds.
“I’ve never shied away from a challenge,” Campbell said. “This is a big one, but it is the type of challenge I train and prepare for every day. I believe this is the two best lightweights in the division that are dancing off and this brings everything to the table — power, speed, ability. This fight has everything.
“We know how good he is from a young age, but I never really thought we would be facing off. We set our goals and one is to have the titles. When I was young, my father always said to me, ‘You’re going to be Olympic champion,’ and I never believed him. He also said in the pro game that I will hold all the belts, and I finally now believe him.”
He will have to go through Lomachenko, a man he said he very much respects.
“Lomachenko is a class act. He’s a super fighter,” Campbell said. ” I’m well aware of how good he is and what he is capable of doing, but I’m also well aware of what I can do and what I’m going to do.
“My straight-up prediction is that I win. Whether that’s by knockout or on points, I win this fight.”
Luke Campbell says he must focus on himself rather than Vasiliy Lomachenko ahead of their title fight in London. For more Top Rank Boxing, sign up here for ESPN+ https://plus.espn.com/.
At the 2012 Olympics in London, Lomachenko won the gold medal at lightweight and Campbell did the same at bantamweight. Lomachenko said he remembers seeing Campbell box at the Olympics and being impressed.
Lomachenko also boxed in London during his stint in the World Series of Boxing following the Olympics and said he has wanted to fight there as a professional. When the opportunity to travel to Campbell’s backyard for Saturday’s fight came up, Lomachenko did not hesitate.
“It’s a pleasure to fight in the U.K.,” Lomachenko said. “The British fans are special fans. They understand boxing and that is why I am excited to fight here. I have fought in Britain three times before and I loved it.
“Fighting at the O2 is a big chance for me to introduce myself to the British fans. There is a special atmosphere at the O2 because the fans love boxing. I can’t wait and I am excited. I want to try and feel the moment and the emotion from the fans. It’s a big memory for me. It was my second Olympic Games, my second gold medal. I had the time to see the city of London and I liked it. I have a good memory.”
Since his arrival earlier this week in London, he has been mobbed by fans, who chanted “Loma! Loma!” at the open workout on Wednesday. Even though he’s on Campbell’s turf, Lomachenko has been embraced in England.
“I have wanted to fight in London ever since I turned pro. The fans appreciate my boxing style, and every time I’ve come here, they make me feel appreciated,” Lomachenko said. “Campbell is from the U.K., but I feel very comfortable.”
Campbell is quite excited to get his second title shot at home after traveling halfway around the world to fight Linares.
“It makes a huge difference being closer to home and being able to go home every weekend and see my kids, watch my kids grow up and play football at the weekend,” Campbell said. “I’m only three hours down the road, so if they ever need me, I’m there. It’s hard when you have to leave your family, but you have to make sacrifices.”
When Campbell gets in the ring, he will see somebody quite familiar with his work in referee Victor Loughlin, who has worked as either a referee or judge on seven previous Campbell bouts.
By the numbers
Lomachenko: No. 1-ranked lightweight and No. 1-ranked pound-for-pound fighter by ESPN.
Lomachenko: Is a -2000 favorite, according to Caesars Sportsbook; fourth straight fight he pays -2000 or less to win.
Lomachenko: 12-fight win streak dating back to June 2014; has stopped nine of his past 10 opponents.
Lomachenko: Has the highest plus/minus (+18) among active CompuBox-tracked fighters and the highest since Floyd Mayweather (+24.7).
Lomachenko: Opponents land 17.2% of punches against him, according to CompuBox (second-lowest among CompuBox-tracked fighters).
Campbell: Seeking to become first unified lightweight champion from the U.K. since Ken Buchanan in 1972 (seventh to hold at least a share of the division title).
Campbell: U.K. fighters have won six of the past seven main events in London’s O2 Arena vs. non-U.K. fighters.
Campbell: Seeking to become ninth current titleholder from the U.K.
Campbell: 48.8% of his landed punches are to the body (CompuBox average is 29%).
Campbell: 10.2 of his 12.7 landed punches per round are power shots, according to CompuBox.