LOS ANGELES — Pound-for-pound king Vasiliy Lomachenko was a massive favorite to retain his unified lightweight world title against mandatory challenger Anthony Crolla, and he did just that in dominating fashion Friday night at Staples Center.
Lomachenko knocked out Crolla face-first with a right hand in the fourth round in the main event of the Top Rank Boxing on ESPN+ card before a crowd of 10,101 on the first anniversary of the streaming service’s launch.
Lomachenko was as dominant as ever as he retained his title for the second time. Crolla, a former titleholder, was completely outclassed.
It was a fight that Lomachenko (13-1, 10 KOs) didn’t really want. He took the fight only because it was mandatory.
Lomachenko, the brilliant two-time Olympic gold medalist, had unified two 135-pound belts with a one-sided decision over Jose Pedraza in a December fight in which he dropped Pedraza twice in the 11th round to punctuate the victory. That bout came less than seven months after he had torn the labrum in his right shoulder in his lightweight title victory over Jorge Linares last May. Lomachenko’s shoulder was not 100 percent going into the fight with Pedraza, but it was all good against Crolla.
“My shoulder wasn’t 100 percent in my last fight, but tonight I felt great. I have a great doctor [Neal ElAttrache], and I want to thank him for all he did,” Lomachenko said. “The crowd in Los Angeles was great. I always wanted a Staples Center fight. This lived up to my expectations.”
It was hard not to be impressed by Lomachenko’s performance.
“He’s fantastic, unbelievable. I’ve never seen a fighter of that size be at that level, and I’ve been doing this for over 50 years,” said Top Rank chairman Bob Arum, Lomachenko’s promoter. “It’s almost breathtaking.”
Teddy Atlas considers Vasiliy Lomachenko not only the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world, but the No. 1 entertainer in the world as well.
Lomachenko, who has won world titles in three weight classes, had expected to further unify the division by facing fellow belt holder Richard Commey on Friday night. Top Rank had in place a deal for the winner of the vacant world title fight between Commey and Isa Chaniev on Feb. 2 to face Lomachenko next. However, when Commey won the title by drilling Chaniev in the second round, he injured his right hand, putting him on the shelf for several weeks and making him unavailable to face Lomachenko on Friday.
That turn of events dropped the bout in Crolla’s lap, although Lomachenko likely will face Commey, who was cleared to return to training last week, later in the year.
Crolla could not have been more complimentary of Lomachenko.
“My pride is more hurt than my body as I wanted to give it my best, but he’s just phenomenal,” Crolla said. “I knew where I was when the shot hit me on the top of my head, but I just couldn’t get up. I wanted to go out on my shield, but the shot just caught me high and robbed me of my senses.
“He’s very special. He doesn’t waste a shot. He’ll go on to dominate and do whatever he wants to do in the sport. My team put so much effort in with me, but he’s incredible. It’s the first time in my career I’ve gone down like that. For it to end like that and as early as that is heartbreaking, really. He’s even better than I thought. His balance and his feet are incredible, and the angles he picks are just crazily good.”
Lomachenko, a 31-year-old southpaw from Ukraine, began the fight like he always does, methodically stalking his opponent and looking for any opening. He eventually began to find those openings against Crolla, landing his right jab and a few body shots. Crolla (34-7-3, 13 KOs), 32, of England, meanwhile, barely threw any punches and continually backed up against the slicker Lomachenko.
Lomachenko began to let his combinations flow in the second round and slipped in an uppercut that rocked Crolla’s head back in a dominant round.
Lomachenko had a huge third round. He was landing everything from all angles, like it was target practice. Straight left hands and body shots were doing damage. Crolla was in tremendous trouble and eating punches when one shot knocked him hard into the ropes.
Referee Jack Reiss called a knockdown because the ropes were responsible for keeping Crolla on his feet, but Lomachenko, the crowd and some of the California State Athletic Commission officials thought Reiss had waved the fight off. He had not.
Lomachenko had climbed the ring post to celebrate the victory and had to get down and collect himself. The ring was cleared and the fight resumed, but moments later, the bell rang to end the round.
When the fourth round began, Lomachenko, making his 13th appearance in a world title fight in his 14 professional bouts, pointed to Crolla across the ring and asked him if he was OK, and then proceeded to continue taking him apart.
He was landing punches at will and then forced Crolla toward the ropes. Lomachenko threw a left hand and followed with a clean right hook to the side of the head that crumpled Crolla, who went down face-first. Reiss began the count but quickly waved it off at three, giving Lomachenko the dominating victory at 58 seconds.
Crolla said he knows he is near the end of his career but would like a hometown fight in Manchester, England, to possibly say goodbye.
“I don’t want to go out like that. I’ve never said that I want to stay in boxing too long, but I know that I haven’t got long left,” Crolla said. “Hopefully [Matchroom Boxing promoter Eddie Hearn] does something in Manchester later in the year and I can go again.”
Lomachenko’s dominance was illustrated by the CompuBox punch statistics. He landed 72 of 249 shots (29 percent), whereas Crolla landed 12 of 96 (13 percent).
The fight with Commey (28-2, 25 KOs) could take place later this year, but the fight Lomachenko really wants is a unification bout with Mikey Garcia, who holds the fourth belt. Garcia was outclassed by Errol Spence Jr. in a shutout decision as Spence challenged him for a welterweight world title on March 16. Garcia has not decided whether he will return to lightweight to defend his title, stay at welterweight or drop down one division to junior welterweight.
It’s a hard fight to make, with Lomachenko fighting for Top Rank on ESPN and Garcia aligned with Premier Boxing Champions, which has its fights on Showtime and Fox. But Arum insisted after Friday’s fight that he would try to make it.
But Arum also has another plan in mind if it can’t be made, though the plan is unlikely. Arum promotes 21-year-old Teofimo Lopez (12-0, 10 KOs), the 2018 prospect of the year, who has been calling out Lomachenko.
Lopez, who was ringside, fights on the Terence Crawford-Amir Khan undercard on April 20 in New York, and Arum said if Lopez wins, Arum would like to match him against Commey for Commey’s title. And if Garcia decides not to return to lightweight and vacates, Arum would like to have Lomachenko face fellow Olympic gold medalist Luke Campbell (20-2, 16 KOs), of England, who is Garcia’s mandatory challenger, for the potentially vacant title. Arum said if Lomachenko and Lopez win those fights, he would match them for the undisputed title in early 2020.
The best-laid plans rarely work out in boxing, not to mention Lomachenko has his mind on one opponent.
“I want to fight with Mikey Garcia, but we’ll see. I don’t know,” Lomachenko said. “I stay at 135 as long as it’s possible, and I want to unify all [the] titles.”