On paper, promoter Bob Arum put together a fight that very well could have been one for the ages. Never before had a pair of two-time Olympic gold medalists met inside a professional ring. Vasily Lomachenko and Guillermo Rigondeaux are two of the most technically astute fighters in the game. When Arum made the fight, the boxing world paid attention.
But, as often happens in sports, once the bell rang, reality set in. That piece of paper? It was shredded by Lomachenko. On Saturday night, at Madison Square Garden’s Theater, Lomachenko dominated Rigondeaux in every facet of the fight, scoring a sixth-round TKO to retain his WBO super featherweight title. It was the fourth consecutive contest in which Lomachenko’s opponent surrendered on the stool, rather than continue absorbing punishment.
Rigondeaux, who left Cuba in 2009, was unbeaten in 17 pro fights. Although he was the WBA and WBO 122-pound champion, he moved up two weight classes to challenge Lomachenko. He insisted that the weight would not matter and his pedigree seemed to support his confidence.
Not only was Lomachenko too big, he was superior in every aspect of the fight. He hit Rigondeaux often, from all angles, forcing the Cuban champion to hold repeatedly. Lomachenko also was as fast, or faster, something Rigondeaux likely never considered. Rigondeaux, a clever counterpuncher, is used to fighting at a certain pace, finding temporary moments of calm while he picked opponents apart. There were no such pauses on Saturday night. Lomachenko never slowed down and never stopped pressuring Rigondeaux.
The Ukrainian fighter was in such control that he seemed to be attacking Rigondeaux with the comfort of hitting a double-end bag in the gym. Even on those few occasions when Rigondeaux would land a hard left hand, it was not enough to even momentarily discourage Lomachenko.
“He’ll take anybody,” Arum said of Lomachenko after the Rigondeaux fight. He’ll go to 135 pounds, and he’ll make a joke of [world champion Jorge] Linares. He’ll make a joke of [Mikey] Garcia. They’re really good fighters, but this guy is super special. You’ve never seen anything like this. Maybe he’ll go to 140, I don’t know. He’s going to do this to everybody.
“I’ve been around great fighters, Leonard, Hagler, Floyd, Pacquiao,” said Arum. “I’ve never seen a fighter like this, even Ali.”
Given Lomachenko’s dominance and Arum’s confidence, here are some possible opponents for Lomachenko in 2018.
Mikey Garcia (37-0)
The one fight that would excite boxing fans the most. Garcia completely outclassed Adrien Broner at Barclays Center in July. But that fight was at 140 pounds, which might be a bit too far of a reach right now for Lomachenko. Garcia used to fight for Top Rank, but after a long legal battle, now fights for PBC. Although Arum didn’t think so, that’s another possible obstacle to making this fight.
Jorge Linares (43-3)
The WBA lightweight champion makes sense if Lomachenko is going to continue his climb in weight. Linares is probably the best 135-pounder in the world and has faced quality opposition for much of his career. The one weakness is that all three of Linares’ career losses have come via stoppage.
Orlando Salido (44-14-4)
He handed Lomachenko his only pro loss. This fight may be appealing for the revenge factor, Salido was stopped in Las Vegas on the same night Lomachenko defeated Rigondeaux. Given his last performance, putting him in with Lomachenko now would appear to be a mismatch.
Miguel Berchelt (32-1)
If a unification bout interests Lomachenko, than WBC super featherweight champion Berchelt is the most likely choice. He’s in his prime at 26 and can punch, scoring 28 knockouts in 33 fights.
Gervonta Davis (19-0)
This fight also would be a favorite among fans. Davis has had some high-profile wins on Showtime and is the crown jewel of Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s growing stable of fighters. Davis is an explosive puncher, scoring 18 knockouts in his 19 wins. Davis was stripped of his IBF 130-pound belt for failing to make weight in his last fight, so the lightweight division appears to be in his future. He’s a Mayweather-PBC fighter, which could make a fight difficult from a political perspective.