By Joseph Herron: Boxing may be the only sport in existence in which its greatest advocates are also its greatest detractors.
On Saturday, May 20, the boxing community witnessed something very rare indeed; a PPV main event featuring the two perceived best of a talent-enriched division, squaring off in an elite level, offensive-minded chess match filled with consistent action throughout, and a suspenseful, dramatic ending.
In other words, everything that boxing’s long-suffering fans have been pining for.
Yet, the die-hard “supporters” of this now fringe pastime still found a reason to become disgusted with their self-proclaimed favorite sport.
Pre-fight betting underdog and former three-division world champion Vasiliy Lomachenko dropped a razor-thin but unanimous decision to the reigning and defending lineal and undisputed Lightweight champ, Devin Haney, in the main event of a near sold-out MGM Grand Garden Arena.
Fans who were initially expecting to see a mostly tactical and methodical exhibition of skill were pleasantly treated to a truly majestic and action-filled, physical battle of wits and will.
It was truly a special evening of boxing!
And if spectators are truly honest with themselves, at least those who possess a greater understanding of the action in the ring or how a prizefight is actually scored, very few truly knew who would be declared the winner.
Each combatant put forth a winning effort and a very impressive performance, easily Devin Haney’s career best and Vasily Lomachenko’s finest in years.
Then in one fell swoop, everything changed.
The three kings at ringside, who had the unenviable responsibility of determining the winner, turned in their final ballots, and the verdict was read: 116-112 and 115-113 twice, all in favor of the winner…
And just like that, the evening turned sour.
Why? Because the more unpopular competitor ultimately had his armed raised in victory? Boxing’s newest “villain” didn’t get his well-deserved comeuppance? The sentimental favorite, representing his war-ravaged country, didn’t get the nod?
Boxing’s brightest moment of 2023 immediately turned into its seemingly darkest hour with the mere declaration of the winner.
As both men exited the squared circle, a cascade of boos echoed throughout the capacity-filled arena. And on all popular social media outlets, the reaction was actually worse, believe it or not, with fans spewing personal venom at everyone involved.
Cries of robbery and corruption seemed to snowball into an online avalanche as the night carried on.
If fight fans are looking for someone to blame for this alleged “robbery,” look no further than Vasiliy Lomachenko.
Technically, boxing’s lynch mob could also hold the future Hall of Famer’s father and head trainer Anatoly Lomachenko responsible for the unfathomable judges’ verdict as well.
In his own words, the disappointed former champ revealed all during the post-fight press conference.
When asked by a ringside reporter what he could have potentially done differently during the fight to sway the judge’s decision in his favor, he had this to say:
“It’s a good question…I don’t know…I’m fighting every round, then I come back in the corner, okay, it’s my round, it’s my round, and I understand. Then I go into the twelfth round, and I understand…okay maybe I need a little bit defense, and I can give him this round. I don’t need to win this round because I was winning 11 rounds…not all 11 rounds, but I understand in 11 rounds, it looks like my score.” – Vasiliy Lomachenko.
From the mouth of the former champ, he consciously chose to play it safe and knowingly gave away the pivotal twelfth and final round.
In a highly-skilled, back-and-forth battle in which both men fought brilliantly with many impressive moments, why would a proud champion like Lomachenko not attempt to deliver the coup de gras? After an absolutely dominant effort in the two rounds prior, why would the 35-year-old ATG not carry his momentum into a round that would consequently determine what would be a career-defining victory?
Based on the instruction of his father and head trainer, who told his son he was winning the fight after 11 highly contested rounds, Vasiliy unwisely chose to merely shoot for par in the final hole at the Masters.
Had Loma elected to carry his dominant momentum into the final round with a greater sense of urgency, perhaps he could have scored a decisive knockdown or KO…it’s ultimately what he needed to win the fight on two of the judge’s scorecards.
Nonetheless, after hearing Loma admit to giving away the final stanza, it becomes apparent that fans screaming robbery post-fight are egregiously overreacting.
Here’s another major reason why many observers, as well as Lomachenko himself, believed he was further ahead on the judges’ scorecards than he actually was.
Prizefights are scored on a round-by-round basis, in which the winning fighter is rewarded a 10/9 verdict without the benefit of a knockdown. Here’s where both fighters’ and fans’ perceptions can often be skewed.
In the 10th and 11th rounds of action, Loma overwhelmingly won both rounds in which he visibly hurt his opponent and seemingly battered him from pillar to post.
Two of the judges at ringside scored both rounds 10/9 in favor of Vasiliy Lomachenko.
The same two judges scored rounds one and three, in which relatively little to no action ensued in Devin Haney’s favor. Both rounds were scored the exact same way, 10/9.
While admittedly, Loma did the much more decisive and consequential work in the 10th and 11th, compared to Haney’s round-winning work in 1 and 3, both tandem rounds were scored the exact same way.
Coupled with the greater admiration for his sharp lead left hands, combination punching, and aggressive nature, this is more than likely why both fans viewing the contest, as well as Anatoly Lomachenko from ringside, could have believed the former three-division champ was well ahead on the judges’ scorecards.
Hence the unwise decision to virtually hand Devin Haney the final round and, ultimately, the contest.
Either way, both men truly deserved to win this fight, and fans should not be souring this brilliant showing with absurd claims of robbery and corruption.
It’s important for fans to remember that boxing is a complex sport, and judges’ decisions, although not always satisfying, are part of the game. Instead of resorting to accusations of robbery or corruption, it is more productive to appreciate the skill and effort displayed by the fighters and engage in respectful discussions about the outcome.
Do you think Vasyl Lomachenko deserves a rematch, and do you believe Devin Haney would agree to it?
Joseph Herron can be heard every week on the “War a Week Radio Network” on YouTube with Coach James Gogue and future Hall of Fame trainer Ronnie Shields.