In any given workforce, the rise of advanced equipment has become preferred to good, old-fashioned, manual labour.

Whether it’s iPads allowing customers to open their own accounts in local banks or the replacement of farm hands with machinery in the dairy industry – people are on the way out. We all know of skilled tradesmen, chasing opportunities that seem few-and-far between. They’ll put the work in; they’ll sacrifice their time; they’ll stay longer onsite than they’d once been expected to, but when it’s time to clock off, they’re merely marking time until machine automation renders them surplus to requirements.

This weekend in Los Angeles’ Staples Center, one of the most exquisite fighters to have blessed the sport will take to the ring. It’s tricky to stumble across new superlatives when detailing the career of Vasiliy Lomachenko (12-1, 9KOs). From his almost unfathomable amateur career to his achievements as a three-weight, professional world champion – it’s all been said before. In anticipating his forthcoming clash with Manchester’s Anthony Crolla (34-6-3, 13KOs), it would be pointless to cover old ground. What is more meaningful is to pose this question: Are fighters like Lomachenko boxing’s equivalent of machine automation?

In the ever-charming Crolla, the UK has celebrated the epitome of its ‘never say die’ attitude.

He has risen from the canvas, emerged from defeats at varying stages of his career and still managed to achieve what most can only dream of. He suffered a fractured skull after stepping in to defend his neighbour who was being burgled, yet still returned to unite the city of red and blue, capturing the WBA lightweight world title almost four years ago. The Joe Gallagher-trained fighter twice opted to roll the dice; fighting Jorge Linares and coming up short, albeit valiantly. But as brave, determined and willing to gamble as ‘Million Dolla’ undoubtedly is, he sadly cannot be considered in the same bracket as the diminutive, Ukrainian maestro.

Everything Anthony Crolla does, Vasiliy Lomachenko, recently turned thirty-one, does far better.

Lomachenko is more athletic, lighter on his feet, far more innovative and alarmingly accurate. He is an incredible cocktail of natural ability and military preparation, shaken up with years of traditional dancing and walking on his hands. He is a machine. Built for elite competition, whether amateur or professional, he has continued pushing the boundaries until facing Crolla in what many would call a mismatch, in the most respectful sense.

Can a fighter of Crolla’s calibre ever realistically be expected to topple or outlast a generational talent such as Lomachenko?

Much like those clinging onto jobs as their industry is swept into the digital age, Crolla will battle to prove himself. He will offer resistance, proving himself a worthy option until the consistent performance of the two-time Olympic gold medalist proves far more efficient. As the workmanlike Crolla toils and struggles this Friday, becoming less reliable as the rounds progress, Lomachenko will continue to perform exceptionally – every round, every time.

His detractors will point to his only professional defeat, when challenging Orlando Salido and losing a split decision for what would have been a maiden world title, in only his second fight. Salido, a crude veteran of over sixty bouts, dragged the fresher man into uncomfortable situations throughout.

Could Anthony Crolla recreate that relentless pressure, pinning the champion to the ropes and draining him? It doesn’t seem likely.

Much like any form of technology installed in the workplace, there has to be a period of bedding in, a pilot or a trial, to refine outputs and tackle faults before it reaches its true potential. In his next (third!) fight he tackled Gary Russell Jr, who remains a world champion at time of writing, outclassing the American and controlling much of the fight with those fluid pivots and flurries. The creation of space was vital, as it has been in every fight since. Twisting and turning, he created angles, freeing himself excellently to complete his best work. Debugged.

His last fight with Jose Pedraza in Madison Square Garden last December, had been one of his least explosive, despite dominating and winning clearly on the cards. Since his fight with Salido, however, only Venezuelan stylist Jorge Linares has briefly come close to beating the reigning WBA and WBO lightweight champion. Linares put him on the seat of his pants with a straight shot down the pipe, but Lomachenko would clamber to his feet and stop him in the tenth round with a wonderful combination; culminating in a left hand to the liver that left the three-weight world champion writhing in agony on the canvas.

 

Crolla couldn’t come close to dethroning Jorge Linares when the pair squared off, leaving more questions than answers ahead of Friday’s main event. The one thing we know Crolla could rival Lomachenko on, is his heart. Long-time trainer, Joe Gallagher, tried to pull him out of the fight with Linares but the desperate Mancunian pleaded for more time. Pride comes before the fall. With solid work to the body in most of his best performances, could he make a dent in the seemingly tireless, Top Rank superstar?

The general consensus is that we should be happy for the Brit, given the opportunity to secure his future financially – and we should. But should we be disappointed in Lomachenko for taking the fight ahead of potential super-fights? It’s a mandatory, I guess. An injury suffered by Richard Commey squashed the possibility of a unification, with Mikey Garcia fighting Errol Spence back in March in one of the year’s more unusual contests.

It just seems tough to get excited about a fight which could lack a truly competitive edge. Fans of the thirty-two year old challenger are delighted he will have one last chance to upset the odds, which few would grudge him. He’s been the purest role model for young men and women chasing titles and he’s a talented fighter. But some of the best employees are sat down in offices across the country for that awkward conversation, let go and replaced by the infallible.

Ahead of the clash in the Staples Center, fans of both fighters remain loyal. Fans of the sport will relish the chance to catch one of the generation’s most fascinating fighters, now surely at the peak of his powers. Fighters like Lomachenko are special because they’re constantly evolving, challenging our understanding of the sport as enthusiasts lazily familiar with the same old routine. Everything is new. Their training camp contains clips of almost circus-like activities, juggling with one hand or catching various coins in a split second. It’s the new era. Boxing has moved on.

Although Crolla could give a solid account of himself this weekend, his dedication and reliability should only carry him so far. It’s boxing’s machine automation. He can look back on a career of highs and lows, remembered by his fervent fanbase, many of whom shall travel to Los Angeles.

Nothing is impossible. If he was to beat Vasiliy Lomachenko, it would be one of the sport’s greatest upsets. Crolla has taken on the role of underdog many times and has always left his heart in the ring – sometimes that’s all we can ask.

Article by: Craig Scott

Follow Craig on Twitter at: @craigscott209