Vasyl Lomachenko vs. Jose Pedraza – preview & prediction
By Mike Smith: Vasyl Lomachenko (11-1, 9 KOs) is coming back from rotator cuff surgery to face World Boxing Organization lightweight champion Jose Pedraza (25-1, 12 KOs) this Saturday night on December 8 in a unification fight on ESPN & ESPN Deportes at Madison Square Garden in New York.
Lomachenko, 30, will have his WBA lightweight title on the line. He suffered a right shoulder injury last May in his 10th round knockout win over Jorge Linares. The shoulder injury has had seven months to heal, and he’s ready to go.
Lomachenko’s fight against Linares last May turned out to be a lot tougher than expected. Linares dropped Lomachenko in the 6th round when the 2-time Olympic gold medalist got sloppy and walked straight into a hard shot. Somehow, Lomachenko was able to fight through the pain of a torn right rotator cuff to stop Linares with a body shot in the 10th. The fight was still a lot tougher than it was expected. One reason for that is Lomachenko had developed some bad habits in his game due to his mismatches against Guillermo Rigondeaux, Miguel Marriaga, Jason Sosa, and Nicholas Walters. Lomachenko got used to walking down his opponents, standing in front of them, and throwing a lot of punches. When he tried to do that against against the highly technical Linares, he paid the price and took more shots than he had in many of his fights. The shoulder injury made things even tougher for Lomachenko, since he was fighting with just one good arm against a highly skilled fighter. This wasn’t just the average slugger that Lomachenko had been beating up. He had to use his brains to beat Linares, and that the fight harder for him because he’s had it so easy with the opposition that has been fed to him.
Rigondeaux was a good fighter, but he was so much smaller than Lomachenko. The 2-time Cuban gold medalist Rigondeaux had to move up two weight divisions without the benefit of a catchweight to fight Lomachenko. He was given no handicap. Lomachenko had so much of size and power advantage over Rigondeaux that he was able to treat him in the same way he’d been treating the low-skilled brawlers that Top Rank has been putting in with him. Lomachenko basically dared Rigondeaux to punch with him, and when he did, he got taken out in six rounds.
There’s some unknowns for Lomachenko going into this fight with Pedraza. Lomachenko doesn’t know whether his surgically repaired right shoulder will hold up. This is his first fight following surgery, and he doesn’t know for sure if it’ll hold up for the full 12 rounds or not. It’s possible that Lomachenko could blow it out again, and be forced to fight with just his left arm. The ramifications of Lomachenko reinjuring his right shoulder would be huge. It would mean not only more time off from boxing, but also the potential of a chronic problem or worse. His right shoulder could wind permanently weakened.
Some fighters are never able to regain the full strength and flexibility in their shoulder after suffering a rotator cuff. It’s like that with baseball pitchers as well. Once they suffer that type of injury, their careers are essentially over. At least with boxers, they have they can work around a weakened shoulder by retooling their game to develop their other arm, and use the weaker arm for volume punching. It’s a good thing for Lomachenko that his game isn’t based on power punching. If he fails to regain the full strength in his right shoulder, it won’t necessarily hurt his career. Lomachenko can make up for it by throw more punches with medium strength.
“We’ll see Saturday … the fight is a different challenge than when you use a sparring partner in a sparring session and you’re more relaxed,” Lomachenko said to the latimes.com. “On a fight day, you’re focused and you need to give 100% of your power and speed, with all your condition.”
It’s going to be a lot harder for Lomachenko to deal with the talented Pedraza on Saturday, as he’s not a sparring partner. Lomachenko obviously hasn’t been sparring with fighters as talented as Pedraza. If they possessed that kind of talent, they wouldn’t be working as sparring partners for Lomachenko. They would be winning world titles. Pedraza has similar technical ability as Linares; only he’s not as big a puncher as him. Pedraza moves better than the 33-year-old Linares, has a lot less mileage on him, and is younger at 29. Pedraza could be a lot tougher opponent for Lomachenko than the guys he’s been facing.
Lomachenko is accustomed to being the more mobile guy than his opponents, but that might not be the case against Pedraza. The Puerto Rican fighter moves extremely well. Lomachenko, 5’7″, is going to be giving away height and reach to the 5’8″ Pedraza, who will be enjoying a six inch reach on top of a one inch height advantage. Lomachenko has proven in the past that he can beat guys with more height and reach in fights against Nicholas Walters, Miguel Marriaga and Roman ‘Rocky’ Martinez. Still, it’s never easy for a fighter to give up six inches in reach to their more mobile opponents. Pedraza likes to jab frequently, and he could cause Lomachenko a lot of problems if he chooses to stay on the outside and fight in a controlled, safety-first manner. Pedraza will force Lomachenko to pressure him and cut off the ring. It might not be as easy for Lomachenko to walk the fleet-footed Pedraza down.
Pedraza won the WBO lightweight title from Ray Beltran last August in winning a 12 round unanimous decision at the Gila River Arena, Glendale, Arizona. Pedraza had too much boxing skills for the 37-year-old slugger Beltran. The win for the 29-year-old Pedraza was his third straight victory since he was stopped last year by the young 23-year-old Gervonta ‘Tank’ Davis in the 7th round in January 2017.
“I don’t like [Pedraza’s] style because he’s very defensive and every time he waits for your mistake,” Lomacenko said. “If you come in the ring with me and you want to win, you have to fight me.”
It sounds like Lomachenko is already dreading the fight, because he’s not going to be facing a fighter that will be standing stationary in front of him, slinging huge power shots and leaving himself open every time. Lomachenko loves fighting those type of guys. He obviously hates facing technical fighters who will make him work a lot harder than he wants to for his win. Lomachenko is going to have to get used to fighting better opposition that’s not just going to roll over on him and let him win by fighting in the manner that he prefers them to. Lomachenko is going to need to outsmart Pedraza, and try and move with him if he wants to win.
Lomachenko will win this fight, but it won’t be pretty. Pedraza is going to be catching him with jabs all night long, and forcing him to chase him down. If Lomachenko’s right shoulder gives out on him during the course of the fight, then all bets are off. Lomachenko was able to beat Linares with just one arm, but it’s going to be a lot tougher for him to do that against a mover with the size, jab and technical ability of Pedraza. Since Lomachenko is the A-side in this fight, he’s likely going to be given the victory even if he injures both shoulders and throws few punches. Pedraza is a big underdog, and he might need a knockout to win. Lomachenko will by a convincing 12 round decision, but it’s not going to be one of his better performances.
In the co-feature bout, WBO super bantamweight champion Isaac Dogboe defends against #2 WBO Emanuel Navarrete. Also on the card, Teofimo Lopez Jr. will be facing Mason Menard, and Alexander Besputin will be battling Juan Carlos Abreu.