Why Lomachenko vs. Marriaga Matters
By Donavan Leonard: When WBO super featherweight champion Vasyl Lomachenko (8-1, 6 KOs) steps into the ring this Saturday August 5th on ESPN, it will not be against an opponent for whom anyone wished. Lomachenko and his team had tried to lure Orlando Salido back into the ring so that he could avenge his only professional defeat.
Lomachenko’s fans and followers of the sport clamored for intriguing matchups with such opponents as Guillermo Rigondeaux, Miguel Berchelt, Jezreel Corrales, or Mikey Garcia. Unfortunately, the reality of the world of pugilism reared its ugly head, and the name on the other side of the poster ended up being Miguel Marriaga (25-2, 21 KOs). With fighters plying their trade so infrequently, especially when compared to the “glory days”, it is understandable that there is disappointment when a fighter of Lomachenko’s stature in the sport settles for an unheralded, non-mandatory opponent. However, he should be applauded for taking this fight, and other fighters should take note.
First, this allows Lomachenko to earn another paycheck, sooner rather than later. Fighters fight for the same reason that writers write and teachers teach. It pays the bills. There is a chance that holding out for another month of negotiations with Salido or beginning with Rigondeaux may have resulted in a slightly larger purse. There is also the chance that holding out for another month results in nothing being accomplished, and still settling for “Plan B”. Despite what many fans seem to think, there is no magic button for making a fight happen. Obstacles such as fighter’s purses, who handles the promotion, what venue, what network, what date, etc. muddy the waters, and sometimes it is wiser to make “a” fight rather than “the” fight.
Second, this gives Lomachenko another opportunity to fight a live opponent, which is quite different from sparring. This keeps him in his training regimen and helps prevent burnout from training aimlessly. Every training camp is an opportunity to learn, even with elite fighters, so no harm can come of having a fight which helps him stay sharp, and focused.
Third, and possibly most important in the long range of his career, is that this fight provides additional exposure. Too many fighters only climb into the ring once or twice a year, and unless they are named “Alvarez” or “Mayweather”, they are likely to be forgotten by casual watchers of the sport in between bouts. If Lomachenko can squeeze in a third or even a fourth bout in a calendar year, he is far more likely to be remembered by the less-devoted fans, much as “TV fighters” of the 80’s such as Rocky Lockridge and Rafael “Bazooka” Limon. If he can put on another impressive display, he can continue to “bank” those fans until the longed-for big payday arrives.
Lomachenko needs to win and win impressively. While Marriaga will not be confused with Garcia or Berchelt, he is a proud, heavy-fisted fighter whose only two losses were by decision to Nicholas Walters and Oscar Valdez, both undefeated at the time. He is the type of fighter who will come forward and make the fight. An unfocused Lomachenko could have an uncomfortable night. A prepared Lomachenko could put on quite a show, as he did against Rocky Martinez. Either way, fights like these are necessary stepping-stones to the fight fans truly desire. Supporting the fight helps to make those reality, as big numbers (viewers) tend to encourage promoters to start those conversations. In this way, these are the fights that make the big fights.