Vasiliy Lomachenko is tired. He rubs his eyes and his slumps him shoulders as he halfheartedly listens to voices swirling around. His foot taps away anxiously against a metal chair as another interview floats by. He doesn’t want to be here. ‘It’s always the same questions. Always.’
‘Here’ is Fitzroy Lodge gym in Lambeth, London under a bridge where trains rumble and roll overhead and ‘here’ is the limelight where the crowds of people gather round seeking their pound of flesh. They all want to know the same thing.
What makes him the most unique fighter in a generation? What is the secret to all the incredible things he can do?
Lightweight champion Vasiliy Lomachenko poses for Sportsmail in Fitzroy Lodge gym, London
The Ukrainian set the boxing world alight by winning titles in three weight classes in 12 fights, the quickest in history and 24 fewer than it took Floyd Mayweather to achieve the same feat
Lomachenko won a world title in his third professional fight after the greatest amateur career of all time. He won two Olympic golds, two World Championships and lost once in 396 bouts
He is preparing to unify the WBO and WBA titles in his next fight on Dec 8 against Jose Pedraza
How does a man trained by his father win two Olympic gold medals in perhaps the greatest amateur career of all time - he lost only once 396 fights - before becoming a three-division world champion faster than any man in history?
But, for now, he doesn’t want to reveal the key to his genius. Instead, he just wants to sleep in the car outside, away from the crowds and swaying heavy bags and the shrill blasts of a bell. A little corner of peace, just for a moment.
‘No more interviews after this one,’ his manager says.
Lightweight Lomachenko has burst onto the professional scene with 11 wins in his first 12 fights
To see Lomachenko in the ring is to witness greatness, akin to watching Lionel Messi at the peak of his powers. The basic principles of boxing remain but his abstraction through the prism of his father's training has resulted something quite breathtaking; a collision of violence and grace that has sent him soaring through boxing’s stratosphere in record time.
Boxing’s bible, Ring Magazine, have Lomachenko placed as the greatest pound-for-pound fighter in the world, ahead of Anthony Joshua, Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin. The Ukrainian has only fought 12 times professionally on his way to three world titles.
Floyd Mayweather took 34 fights to achieve the same feat.
Those dozen bouts have been put on by Hall of Fame promoter Bob Arum, who has seen plenty in his 45 years in the sport. He’s witnessed Sugar Ray Leonard, George Foreman, Evander Holyfield and Manny Pacquiao up close and had a front row seat for all the greats. ‘I've never seen a fighter as technically perfect as Vasiliy,’ he said last year. ‘I am telling you without any reservation that Lomachenko is the greatest fighter I have seen since Muhammad Ali.’
Vasily Lomachenko poses for Sportsmail's Simon Dael in London's Fitzroy Lodge gym
396 wins, one defeat
2 x Olympic gold medals (2008, 2012)
2 x World Championships: 2009, 2011
World champion at three weights: Featherweight, Super Featherweight, Lightweight
12 fights, 11 wins, 9 knockouts
Joint-fastest world champion (third fight)
Fastest ever triple world champion (12 fights)
Fewest fights needed to win titles in two divisions (seven)
Jose Pedraza, New York, December 8, WBO and WBA unification bout
In 2013, Lomachenko flew to New York with his manager Egis Klimas to meet potential promoters, but no one offered what he wanted. He wanted a fight for a world title in his professional debut.
Arum's Top Rank came closest to offering that and got the gig. Lomachenko had to wait until his second fight to challenge for a title, which he controversially lost before he claimed the WBO featherweight belt in his third bout in 2014, equalling the record for quickest world champion in history.
He is a man in a hurry in more ways than one as he prepares to take on Jose Pedraza in New York on December 8 for the WBO world lightweight title to add to his WBA version. Another fight, another belt.
‘I'm doing everything I can for my legacy, that's my goal,' he says. 'I'm doing all of this because I want to be the greatest.’
Unfortunately for Lomachenko, the road to eternal greatness meanders through an avalanche of interviews. Just one more picture, another question. He obliges gracefully then hastily disappears into the night.
Being a fighter destined for greatness is easy. Being famous; not so much.
Lomachenko began boxing when he was just four years old up until he was nine
He was made to stop by his father and trainer, Anatoly, in order to take up dance lessons
His unusual upbringing and training propelled him to gold medals at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics. Here the pound-for-pound champion shows off his London 2012 Olympic tattoo
It is impossible to separate Lomachenko and his achievements from his father, who also trains him. Anatoly’s image is tattooed on his son’s stomach and he is scorched on his brain.
- He is a former amateur boxer and PE teacher
- He was the Ukraine national team boxing coach, leading the nation to five medals at the 2012 games, including golds for his son and reigning Cruiserweight champion Oleksander Usyk
- He was named 'Boxing Writer's Association of America' Trainer of the Year in 2017
- He has coached his son, Vasiliy, for his entire career
- Russ Abner, Lomachenko's cornerman: 'He brings that old-school work ethic and mixes it with new innovations in training, techniques and the thought process, the things he practices, everything.'
In a sport littered with complex fathers and issues their relationship is straightforward. ‘He just gives me an instruction and I do it,’ Lomachenko says. ‘Simple’.
The whole family courses with talent; Vasiliy’s mother was a gymnast and martial artist and Anatoly himself was an amateur boxer and teacher before he became Ukraine’s national team’s boxing coach. It is he who’s moulded his son into something close to the ultimate boxer from the very start of his life in Bilhorod-Dnistrovsky, a small town on the Black Sea in Ukraine.
Lomachenko Sr, whom Arum once described as 'a mastermind', placed boxing gloves on his son’s hands when he was just three days old. He boxed until he was nine and then no more; Anatoly sentenced him to four years of traditional Ukrainian dancing lessons without allowing so much as punch thrown in anger so the multi-talented Vasiliy had the requisite footwork in order to hit and not get hit in the ring.
Before his hands could damage and his intellect could befuddle, his feet could move. ‘I think every single sport I did as a child, including dance classes, helped me to become who I am.’
Vasiliy rarely dances outside of the ring but is blessed with the most gorgeous feet inside it; his signature front-foot pivot teleports him around befuddled opponents to tee up a dazzling array of awkward punches from unusual angles. ‘It’s my favourite move. I’ve been training to do it all of my life.’
Once his feet were ready, Anatoly and Vasiliy together set about building perhaps the greatest amateur career of all time. Two Olympic golds, two world championship titles and just a single defeat later, they were ready for the pros.
Lomachenko's team aren't so much concerned with creating the perfect boxer, but rather the ultimate athlete. He trains on tennis courts, on football pitches and on horseback to hone every muscle and instinct and to craft a body capable of dealing with any situation.
5am starts are commonplace during camp and exercises differ from day to day; Lomachenko could be playing volleyball one day and competing against himself in a game of tennis the next, or doing lengths in the pool and then running on the beach nearby with a parachute strapped to his back.
Lomachenko teaches some young fighters from London some of the tricks he uses in the ring
The 30-year-old is back in the ring on December 8 in New York where he fights Jose Pedraza
Lomachenko says winning gold at the 2008 Olympics is the highlight of his career so far
He followed up victory in Beijing with a second gold in London at the 2012 Olympics
By mid-morning he is sleeping to recover before waking at 10am to get back into the gym.
He juggles and can walk on his hands across a ring. The grind of a normal training camp is a mainstay but it is his unorthodox all-round training which sets him apart.
One particular party piece is to hold his breath under water to demonstrate his incredible oxygen-carrying capability. What is his record? ‘Now it is is four minutes and 30 seconds’. The average person can manage around a minute.
The intensity and variety of training has its setbacks. 'He goes through a lot of shoes, they just catch on fire,' conditioning coach Cecilio Flores once said.
Anatoly is described by his team as ‘peaceful, patient and wisdom personified’, but rarely gives interviews.
‘He is my trainer but he has always stayed like a father to me,’ says Lomachenko. ‘Every day for me he's a father, in training, at home, father.
Are you still trying to impress him? ‘Yes. Of course’. Belts come and go but the pursuit of a father’s approval endures regardless.
Anatoly Lomachenko (L) with his son and lightweight champion Vasiliy Lomachenko (R)
Anatoly is the mastermind behind his son's ascent to the very top of boxing
Lomachenko his father and trainer Anatoly's image tattooed on his torso
In one rare interview he defined his philosophy in a few simple words. ‘Any sport at a high level comes down to intellect,’ he once said. ‘If you truly want to go higher it becomes a battle of intellect.’
Anatoly has handed his son an arsenal of weapons to work with in the ring. He moves, slips and sways, pulls opponent’s guard down with one hand and strikes with the other, and of course he dances.
But to make Vasiliy the ultimate fighter - to win that battle of intellect - Anatoly had another trick up his sleeve.
In London, he watches on silently in the background, unannounced and alone as his son sags under the weight of public demand. He watches studiously and pulls a baseball cap low down onto his face. Inside his mind are the blueprints for his son’s global domination. But he won’t be talking today.
Team Lomachenko includes cornerman Russ Abner (second left), strength and conditioning coach Cecilo Flores (3rd left), Lomachenko (centre), Egis Klimas (5th left), Anatoly Lomachenko (3rd right) and team psychologist Andriy Kolosov (right)
During a typical two-month camp:
- Wake up at 5am
- Cardio work and gym
- 45 minutes of mental strength training
- Sleep, rest and recuperate
- Wake again at 10am
- Second gym session
- Rest days on Thursday
In November, California slumped to its knees as 240,000 acres of wildfires ripped across its parched land; they were the most destructive in the state’s history. From both the north and south they raged with whole towns in their path. 85 people have lost their lives.
In the south, Lomachenko and his team were not immune to the panic and fear felt by thousands fleeing the scene. Oxnard is a peaceful and wealthy seaside town outside Los Angeles and has become eastern European boxing’s home away from home. He trains at the Boxing Laboratory alongside the likes of Tony Bellew's conqueror Oleksander Usyk, just miles away from where the southern fires started.
‘It was very close to us,’ says Lomachenko’s team psychologist Andriy Kolosov. ‘If the wind was blowing in our direction then our house would have been on fire. Luckily the wind was blowing towards the ocean. We stayed here but we were ready to leave if we needed to.’
Kolosov was there as an observer while Lomachenko mulled over the ashes of his only amateur defeat, at the 2007 World Championships in Chicago against Russia's Albert Selimov and was soon brought on board.
Mental training is his speciality. It is his job to frame Anatoly’s masterpiece and hone Lomachenko’s boxing