If you’re a combat sports fan, you most likely know about Vasyl Lomachenko. You know he’s widely considered the best boxer in the world, that he’s a two time Olympic champion and you’ve probably heard that he had a 396-1 record as an amateur. That number makes for a nice, impressive and completely unverifiable soundbyte but ultimately that number and whether it is true or not doesn’t really matter. It is mostly a quick and convenient way for commentators to get across that Lomachenko was the man as an amateur before the first bell rings without having to start listing what really matters, his achievements. But we still have a good deal of time until the first bell of his fight with Luke Campbell, so let’s dive into the amateur career of Lomachenko.
Vasyl Lomachenko’s first splash came when, as a 16-year-old atomweight, he dominated the 2004 European cadet championships. He scored two RSCO (Referee Stopped Contest Outclassed) stoppages and outscored his other two opponents 23-8 and 34-12. Lomachenko recorded his first notable win just a year later at the 2005 Semen Trestin Memorial when, still a junior, he defeated Vyacheslav Goyan, a 2002 European silver medalist and future Olympic bronze medalist and European champion.
Lomachenko dominated again in 2006, winning the Junior World Championships, picking up wide wins over Sergey Vodopyanov (who would become world champion the next year) and Andrew Selby (a future European champion and two time world medalist) along the way.
His first major outing at the senior level wouldn’t go as smoothly. At the 2007 World championships, Lomachenko struggled scorewise despite dominating the fight against China’s Li Yang, only winning 14-13. And in the finals, he met the “1” in 396-1, Albert Selimov.
Selimov was the 2006 European champion and would add world gold, silver, and bronze to his trophy case by the time his career was over. The slick Russian southpaw managed to control Lomachenko, who still relied a lot on his quickness and athleticism to get on the inside back then, at distance for good stretches early in the fight to take a 16-11 win. The fight has been the subject of much debate and while like in any fight in the scoring machine era, some score worthy blows went unacknowleged by the judges, I don’t feel like Selimov was an unworthy winner. The loss was a learning experience for Lomachenko and seems to have prompted him to develop his distance and countering game. And let’s not forget that he still got a silver medal out of it. I can imagine worse things than the worst failure of your career being a silver medal at the world championships at 19 years old.
Lomachenko rebounded from the loss by winning the Klitschko Brothers Tournament in Kiev in May 2008. when he beat Cuba’s Idel Torriente (2007 Pan-aAmerican champion) and South Korea’s Han Soon-Chul (2006 Asian championships silver medalist, 2010 Asian championships bronze and 2012 Olympic silver medalist). He then crossed paths with Selimov again in the first round of the Olympics in Beijing, showing much better distance work than in the first fight and getting his revenge with a clear 14-7 win.
He went on to dominate Bahodirjon Sultonov (2003 World bronze, 2004 Olympic bronze, 2004 Asian champion, 2009 World bronze), Li Yang (2007 world bronze, 2007 Asian bronze), Yakup Kılıç (2007 world bronze , 2008 Olympic bronze) and Khédafi Djelkhir (2004 Euro silver, 2008 Olympic silver) to take the gold medal.
In 2009, Lomachenko was back in the World Championships as the favorite and lived up to the status. Lomachenko didn’t allow any opponent, including Oscar Valdez (2008 Junior world champion, 2009 World bronze, 2011 Pan-American Silver, former WBO featherweight champion), and Sergey Vodopyanov (2007 World champion, 2009 World silver), to score more than 2 points on his way to the title that eluded him two years prior.
With no Olympics or World Championships in 2010, Lomachenko moved up from featherweight to lightweight and stayed active by winning the Ukrainian title and a few international tournaments. He didn’t really pick up any notable wins by his standards save for beating a green Souleymane Cissokho, who would go on to win bronze at the Rio Olympics and a promising pro career.
If 2010 was a bit of a slow year, 2011 would be Lomachenko’s most impressive in my opinion. Now considered the best amateur boxer in the world, he started the year by winning another Ukrainian championship, and then went up to 64kg at the Nikolay Manger Memorial where he easily beat Denys Berinchyk, who won the light-welterweight silver medal at the World championships a few months later and did so again a year later at the Olympics.
Back at lightweight for the Makar Mazay Memorial, he picked up three other good wins over Han Soon-Chul (2006 Asian silver, 2010 Asian bronze, 2012 Olympic silver), Fazliddin Gaibnazarov (2015 Asian silver, 2015 world silver, 2016 Olympic gold), and Gani Zhailauov (2011 world bronze).
After smashing poor Tongan fighter Lomalito Moala in the first round of the 2011 World championships, Lomachenko went on an incredible run, in which he beat current WBC and WBO light welterweight champion José Carlos Ramirez, two future 2016 Olympic champions in Robson Conceicao and Fazliddin Gaibnazarov, World champion and four-time World medalist Domenico Valentino, and Yasniel Toledo, a future Olympic bronze medalist and three-time World medalist.
At 23, Lomachenko was entering his physical and technical prime and showcased it by going 19-0, with 8 of those wins over former or future world level medalists on his way to his second world title up a weight class from his natural weight.
After such an impressive year, Lomachenko was the heaviest favorite to take gold at any weight in the London Olympics. He stuck the landing and closed his great amateur career with wins over familiar foes Yasniel Toledo and Han Soon-Chul to take gold with an absolutely stunning performance to watch.
Following his second gold medal, Lomachenko had a stint in the World Series of Boxing, a team competition under the AIBA that used a rule-set close to pro rules. Lomachenko’s team won the competition and Vasyl got to close out the trilogy with a second win over up until then the only man to ever best him, Albert Selimov, before embarking on the pro career that led him back to London for this Saturday’s fight against fellow 2012 gold medalist Luke Campbell.
So, whether Vasyl Lomachenko actually went 396-1 as an amateur, which is plausible but completely unverifiable, doesn’t actually matter. What matters is that he went 85-1 in national and international competition, with 23 wins coming against world-level medalists and a further 7 against continental-level medalists. And most of all that he won two Olympic and world titles in amazingly dominant and exciting fashion. 396-1 has a nice ring to it though.