It is boxing’s oldest adage that a good big man always beats a good little one. But tell that to Vasiliy Lomachenko. The brilliant Ukrainian defied a large height and reach disadvantage to add the WBC world lightweight title to his WBA and WBO belts with a gaping points victory over Luke Campbell. Most boxing experts rate Lomachenko as the world’s best pound-for-pound fighter. Watching the master at work it was again hard to argue.
But on a night of jangled nerves and jumbled memories Campbell did himself proud with a brilliant and courageous performance. Two judges made it 119-108, with another giving it 118-109, which seemed a touch harsh on the 31-year-old from Hull. Certainly the crowd thought so. As the fighters embraced at the end 20,000 people at the 02 Arena stood up and chanted: “There’s only one Luke Campbell.”
They knew the mountain Campbell had to climb could not have been much steeper. In Lomachenko he was facing a man who had ended his amateur career with two Olympic gold medals and a 396-1 record – and then claimed three world titles at different weights in a record time as a professional.
“He’s a special fighter,” Campbell said. “I’m disappointed. “Tonight was Lomachenko’s night but my time will come.”
This was the biggest fight of Campbell’s life but he showed little apprehension in the opening stages, keeping his right hand high and pawing out his left almost in slow motion. Lomachenko for his part appeared on a recce mission, waiting to find out what was waiting in his opponent’s arsenal. The crowd had expected blood and thunder. Instead, initially, it was more like slow-motion shadow boxing – with Lomachenko landing only one punch in the opening three minutes.
The cageyness continued in the second as Campbell continued to use his five-inch reach and three-inch height advantage to keep his opponent off balance and at a distance. If Lomachenko was frustrated it did not show but he continued to have little success in prising Campbell open until a sharp combination landed at the end of the round.
Finally Lomachenko began to score more freely with a jolting right down the middle followed a left to the top of the head, leading to most of the crowd calling his name. Indeed as he heard the beery cries of “Loma‑chenko” he could have been forgiven for thinking he was in downtown Kyiv, not east London.
Yet it took until the fourth for Campbell to be knocked backwards by two vicious body shots, as Lomachenko went from first gear to fourth in a few seconds. His pace only intensified in the fifth as in a frenzied 20 seconds Campbell was hit by a blur of hooks that began pummelling his body and switched to his head and left him perilously close to going down before the bell saved him.
More inexperienced fighters might have rushed in at the start of the sixth round, looking for the finish. Lomachenko, though, sensed that Campbell still had plenty of spite – and fight – left in him. But he was soon peppering Campbell’s head again with short left hands.
The crowd appreciated Campbell’s bravery. “Campbell! Campbell!” they cried, and he responded with a sharp left hook to the body in the sixth and a good hook in the seventh buckled his opponent. They rose to their feet, sensing an almighty upset might be about to happen but Lomachenko responded magnificently with a right hook that had Campbell fumbling backwards and clinging on again.
In the eighth Lomachenko’s fists continued to contain the greater devilment but Campbell was giving it everything to stay with his opponent. He certainly was earning his opponent’s respect – and he may have also won the ninth round as Lomachenko took his foot off the gas.
With three rounds to go Campbell was continuing to do better than most had predicted. But he was getting desperately tired and with just over a minute left in the 11th round he was felled by a right and left hook to the body followed by a right to the head. Again he survived and the crowd were on their feet to applaud him as he came out for the last.
Campbell continued to press, hoping for a big punch to turn the tables. Instead he was left hanging on to Lomachenko’s legs after another frenzied attack from the Ukrainian nearly put him down. Still it was only right that he stayed on his shield after such a supreme effort. He will come again. But Lomachenko was – as usual – different class.