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Column: Vasiliy Lomachenko needs a worthy opponent to solidify his greatness

Vasiliy Lomachenko v Anthony Crolla
Vasiliy Lomachenko celebrates defending his WBA/WBO lightweight titles after knocking out Anthony Crolla at Staples Center on Friday.
(Yong Teck Lim / Getty Images)

Neon lasers beamed down from the ceiling, making the boxing ring inside Staples Center appear as if it were protected by a high-tech security system.

The prefight display was designed to subliminally reinforce a message promoters have worked to implant in the public consciousness: Vasiliy Lomachenko is the sport’s post-modern master.

The confrontation that ensued Friday night confirmed the stylistic singularity of Lomachenko — the fluidity of his hands, the lightness of his feet, the coordinated movements resulting in an aesthetic beauty that diverted attention from the damage he was inflicting.

The showcase ended in the fourth round, when Lomachenko landed a short and explosive right hook to the side of Anthony Crolla’s head. Crolla dropped to his knees, then his top half also fell to the canvas.

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The technical knockout victory relieved whatever fears existed that the 31-year-old Lomachenko was diminished by a major shoulder operation he underwent last year, or the damage he sustained in a particularly violent victory over Jorge Linares shortly before that.

The performance, however, failed to answer one pertinent question. Specifically, how good is Lomachenko?

Is his style a gimmick, sort of how flamboyant flameout Naseem Hamed’s was, in which his unorthodox movements confound mediocre competition but wouldn’t be as effective against top opponents?

Or would his techniques really be effective even in the highest levels of competition, as his promoter Top Rank wants everyone to believe? As much as the eye test indicates the latter is the case, there’s no way to be certain.

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What Lomachenko needs most to prove he is an all-time great is something out of his control. He needs opponents.

Muhammad Ali was defined by Joe Frazier and Ray Leonard by Thomas Hearns. Lomachenko has … Crolla?

The reality is his fight against Crolla was a glorified sparring session. Most of his fights are.

Vasiliy Lomachenko, Anthony Crolla
Vasiliy Lomachenko, right, knocks down Anthony Crolla in the fourth round of the WBA and WBO lightweight title boxing bout Friday at Staples Center
(Damian Dovarganes / Associated Press)

Roy Jones Jr., who in his peak was as physically gifted a fighter as who ever lived, was condemned to the same fate. Most experts don’t consider him one of the top 10 fighters of all time, probably not even top 20.

Lomachenko is aware of the position he is in, which is why in his post-fight interview in the ring, he continued to say he wanted to fight fellow lightweight champion Mikey Garcia.

In his own quest for a career-defining fight, Garcia scaled up two weight classes to face Errol Spence. Garcia was whipped.

As the only fighter at or near Lomachenko’s weight class who is comparable to him in ability, Garcia represents the two-time Olympic gold medalist’s only opportunity to show the extent of his talent.

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But Garcia might not be able to lower his weight to 135 pounds any more, as he resculpted his body when he moved up to 147 pounds to take on Spence.

That isn’t the only problem. Garcia has an acrimonious history with Top Rank, his former promoter, and spent 2½ years freeing himself from its clutches.

Top Rank is unlikely to do Garcia any favors. Giving him an opportunity to take down one of the few name fighters in the sport would count as a major favor.

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As it is, Lomachenko already is stretching to give himself greater challenges.

By his own admission, he should be fighting in the 130-pound junior lightweight division, not the 135-pound category in which he destroyed Crolla.

Nonetheless, Lomachenko was marvelous.

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After a slow opening round, he started to back Crolla into compromising positions, against the ropes or in the corners. His hands started to flow in the second round, when he threw two-, three-, four-, and five-punch combinations. He reduced Crolla to a punching bag.

Lomachenko was rewarded a knockdown in the third round, when it was determined only the ropes kept Crolla upright. The fight could have ended then. In fact, several fight officials did, and prematurely entered the ring. The fight was over a round later.

Lomachenko was breathtaking. He gave the crowd a show.

But he didn’t prove he was worthy of being mentioned alongside the best fighters who ever lived. He might never get that shot.

dylan.hernandez@latimes.com

Follow Dylan Hernandez on Twitter @dylanohernandez


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