Fighter of the year: Lomachenko or Frampton?
By Sam Holderness: Who is the true Fighter of the Year for 2016? It seems that the press across the board has two main contenders for their fighter of the year, the undefeated Irishman Carl “The Jackal” Frampton or the Ukrainian technicians Vasyl Lomachenko.
Though both fighters are incredibly worthy of the imaginary yet prestigious title, I would like to spend this time to pose why I believe Lomachenko is the should be the winner, if all be it only by a small margin.
Carl Frampton had an incredible year, especially as he was coming off what was perceived to be a much more difficult unanimous points decision victory (to the late Alejandro Gonzalez Jr 25W 1L 2D) where he found himself down early on the cards due to two early knock-downs. At this point, the Jackals ceiling was at a questionable height compared where the early hype had projected it to be.
His first fight of 2016, a grudge match between UK rival Scott Quigg. After a long a fierce build up that included multiple rearrangements the fight finally took place in Manchester, the home of the 28-year-old fellow title holder. Talk of the these two pairing up had circled the UK press for a long time, with most pundits originally tipping Carl Frampton to easier win the bout. However, between the lackluster performance against Gonzalez Jr and Quigg’s thunderous second round stoppage of former Frampton opponent Kiko Martinez betting odds had narrowed. In fact, most pundits in the boxing world had suggested that Scott Quigg may even stop Carl Frampton. The fight its self very much was the tale of two halves’, the first half was a cautious Quigg losing round by round in a casual sparring session for the young pride of Belfast. The second half, however, a much closer harder fought fight, with most people having the Bury fighter slightly on top. None the less, the 12 rounds scored 116-112 twice for “The Jackal” and 115-113 once for Quigg, which to go to the home of a fellow champion and unify the division is an incredible task. Even if the interim belt had been upgraded under odd circumstances by the WBA before the bought, this left Carl with the IBF and WBA Super Bantamweight belts and this was a great achievement.
The second title challenge of 2016 was an even more difficult and impressive win for Carl Frampton and testament to his (and the manager and training duo of Barry and Shane McGuigan’s) skill. To step up in weight and challenge the undefeated 3 weight world champion Leo Santa Cruz, away from home again and as a huge underdog was brave, to then win the fight in such an impressive manner and become the WBA featherweight Super champion by doing so in exceptional.
With all of these achievements, it seems ludicrous that any other fighter would be even discussed. However, these are feats that have been done before (though maybe not by an Irishman).
On the other hand, Vasyl Lomachenko started the year on a high, meaning the hype train was still in full advance and with such a high hypothetical ceiling for the Ukrainian two-time Olympic champion I feel this is part of the reason he is being overlooked, as the incredible things he did inside the ring this year were almost expected of him. So entering the year he had already defended his WBO Featherweight title three times against fighters with a combined 102W 7L 3D not including the impressive win for the title in his third fight against Gary Russel Jr (24W 0L 0D).
On 11th June 2016, in his first fight of 2016 Lomachenko too stepped up in weight, to fight Roman Martinez. Not only did the challenger win, his impressive footwork led him to arguably the knock-out of the year with an impressive two punch combo in the 5th round of their fight.
The Ukranian next outage was against the feared puncher Nicholas the Axeman Walters, who’s 81% knockout percentage had given him a string of world titles including the WBA Featherweight title he picked up after an impressive demolition of former pound for pound fighter Nonito Donaire. The technical performance displayed by Lomachenko showed why he boast the title high-tech as the quick hands and masterful footwork that gives Vasyl the highest hit to not hit percentage of any fighter (in any division) and this certainly showed when he made Walters look nothing more than a club fighter. By beating him mentally and he began to break down the fighter’s body caused the fighter to surrender on his stool (to which Lomachenko aptly later described as a chief dropping his marinated meat off the skewer before it was fully cooked).
Now on paper, the two fighter’s achievements are very similar, both stepping up in weight and both winning multiple work titles and though Frampton unified a title by doing this there is one big difference. Lomachenko (though with one loss to his name) has still only had seven professional fights yet is now a 2 weight world champion, he appreciated his 300+ amateur wins and Olympic titles counted as experience so has pushed himself to take on the biggest challenges he could and due to this, he is quickly becoming known as a worldwide superstar. In a boxing landscape where the fighters can go 30-40 fights before taking on any real challenge, Lomachenko has presented a path to fighters straight to the top, one that I believe will change the path of high pedigree amateurs for the future. In essence, I believe Vasyl Lomachenko has changed boxing, highlighting the flaws that fans of the sport have accepted too easily for years. We should not accept the phrases learning fight from belt holders and if the route Lomachenko has taken becomes the norm, we will not have to.
What do you all think? Is Frampton your pick, or is Lomachenko your pick? Is neither?