The world's best lightweight? No one can claim it without defeating Lomachenko

Lance Pugmire
USA TODAY Sports+

NEW YORK – There was a moment during Vasiliy Lomachenko’s convincing battering of former lightweight champion Richard Commey that the former three-division champion delivered an extended glare to Commey’s corner, spread his arms in urgent anger and pleaded for them to stop the onslaught. 

If anyone knows when an opponent has taken enough of a beating, it’s Lomachenko, 33, the two-time Olympic gold-medalist who once so relentlessly and creatively inflicted blows on his opponents that four consecutive super-featherweight title foes quit on their stools. 

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“I saw his situation. It was very hard for him,” Lomachenko (16-2, 11 KOs) said of Commey (30-4). “That’s why I said, ‘Hey, stop the fight.’” 

Commey’s corner didn’t accept the memo. They let the Ghana fighter proceed to absorb a record 248 landed punches Saturday that likely forever remove him from consideration. 

Vasiliy Lomachenko trades punches with Richard Commey (left) during their WBO Intercontinental lightweight title fight Saturday at Madison Square Garden.

As for all those other young, talented lightweights holding belts — during recent three-week stretch of title defenses that emphasized the 135-pound division is the best in boxing — they undoubtedly received the message.

To truly stand as the division’s king, they’ll have to fight and defeat Lomachenko.

That was the double meaning of Lomachenko standing there in the ring, those arms spread wide: Which one of you truly wants this? 

“We have a lot of great fighters in this division, so we can organize a lot of great fights in the future,” Lomachenko said in the Madison Square Garden ring after Saturday’s fight, where a crowd of 8,555 hailed his work. 

USA Today Sports+ learned from an official familiar with the situation that the World Boxing Organization is poised to elevate Lomachenko from his No. 1 contender status to a mandatory challenger position against new WBO, International Boxing Federation and World Boxing Assn. champion George Kambosos of Australia. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not permitted to speak publicly on the matter.

The mandatory status is critical for Lomachenko, as part of the agreement among boxing’s sanctioning bodies in situations where a unified champion wears more than one championship belt, there’s an order to the cycle of when one of their challengers will get a title shot. 

The WBO is first in line.  

Kambosos produced a stunning Nov. 28 upset at MSG against Brooklyn’s Teofimo Lopez, the man who defeated Lomachenko by decision in October 2020. Following that lethargic showing, Lomachenko said he’d suffered a training injury to his shoulder that required post-fight surgery. 

Lomachenko said Saturday he’d be pleased to board the long flight to Australia to fight Kambosos on his native soil. 

Of course, World Boxing Council lightweight champion Devin Haney said the same thing Dec. 4 after retaining his belt with a unanimous-decision victory over former super-featherweight champion Joseph Diaz Jr. 

The unbeaten Haney’s bid to fight in a bout that would create a rare undisputed lightweight champion could trump Lomachenko’s mandatory pursuit, depending upon Kambosos’ wishes and ability to successfully negotiate his next bout. 

“There’s lots of great fights to be made at 135 and many great fighters to make them with,” Kambosos and Commey promoter Lou DiBella told USA Today Sports+ after Saturday’s bout. “But George is wearing most of the belts and he’s pretty much calling all the shots.” 

DiBella, a Harvard Law School graduate who has maneuvered through (and manipulated) many mandatory situations in his Hall of Fame career, effectively dared the WBO to order the Kambosos-Lomachenko bout. Recently, the sanctioning body has effectively done so by stipulating two key fights: the heavyweight-title upset by Lomachenko’s countryman Oleksandr Usyk over Anthony Joshua and Terence Crawford’s stoppage of former welterweight champion Shawn Porter last month. 

DiBella was undoubtedly impressed by the veteran Lomachenko, who returned from surgery to finish Japan’s Masayoshi Nakatani by ninth-round TKO. 

Saturday, Lomachenko was so much more, frenetically and precisely hammering Commey’s body and then knocking him down in the seventh with a masterful combination of head shots that dazed Commey, leaving him so wobbly-legged that a doctor was summoned to examine him between rounds. 

It was a prime-performing display by the sport’s former pound-for-pound king. 

“In boxing, you can’t use just one punch,” Lomachenko said. “You have to (target them) from the body to the head.” 

Elsewhere in the division, unbeaten Gervonta Davis won Dec. 5, posting a decision triumph that was only his second non-knockout in 26 fights. Davis blamed an injured hand. Promoted by Floyd Mayweather Jr. and handled by Premier Boxing Champions founder, Davis has yet to display significant interest in fighting outside that circle. 

Lomachenko said earlier in the week he holds out hope the others will give him a shot to pursue his dream as undisputed lightweight champion. 

“Lomachenko fight like the genius he is,” DiBella said. “You can argue he’s the most accomplished, experienced fighter in the division, but George can bang, move and box, and that’d be one hell of a fight.” 

First, someone has to move toward the division’s best boxer. 

Only then, can one of them rightfully claim the lightweight palace where the rebuilt and rededicated Lomachenko resides today.