All of which contributed to a style that has been described as entering the Matrix, where Lomachenko looks as if he is fighting at a completely different speed to everyone else. Dozens of admiring YouTube compilations attest to his skills. “I train differently because my father knows a lot of things about boxing. He’s a genius, “ says Lomachenko, whose father Anatoly Lomachenko—lovingly referred to as “Papachenko”—sits directly across the table at the Italian joint from the son and who is particularly enjoying the crustaceans among the seafood pasta with the psychologist. “That’s why I’m different from other boxers.”

The elder Lomachenko—who doesn’t do interviews—first put the gloves on his son when he was four. He had his first scrap at six—against an eight-year-old. “It’s not usual. All little kids fight with the same age, the same size,” Lomachenko says. “I fought with a guy was bigger than me. All my competition was with bigger guys.” He thinks his father was trying to teach him the importance of a good defense. Anatoly even made young Vasiliy study Ukrainian national dance lessons—not ballet as is often reported—to get his feet quicker. The son has a large tattoo of his father on his belly, underneath the word “Victory.”

Anatoly Lomachenko (left) at the end of the team meal.
Anatoly Lomachenko (left) at the end of the team meal.
Image: Kabir Chibber

The result is a fighter with an amateur career of 396 fights, one defeat (back in 2007, avenged twice), and two Olympic gold medals—back to back in Beijing and London. The only comparable fighter might be Cuba’s Guillermo Rigondeaux, who also won two gold medals in a 463-12 amateur career. Lomachenko and Rigondeaux finally met this time last year in New York in what boxer-turned-commentator Roy Jones Jr. called the “the best professional fight that has ever been made.” Rigondeaux didn’t come out at the end of round six, his first loss in 14 years. He was the fourth consecutive opponent to quit on his stool against Lomachenko.

“My matchmakers have this game they play, it’s like fantasy boxing,” says Todd DuBoef, the stepson of legendary promoter Bob Arum and president of Arum’s company, Top Rank, which launched the careers of Floyd Mayweather and Oscar de la Hoya. “They way they think about it, you gotta go back in time and ask who is better than him at the same point in his career. Take Floyd. They would say that Lomachenko’s body of work after 11, 12 fights is arguably greater.”

Despite all those credentials, he can still walk down the street unrecognized and fight in front of 5,000 fans in the smaller theater at the Garden. Meanwhile, Saúl “Canelo” Álvarez will sell out 20,000 seats in the main arena of the same venue exactly a week later against a no-name opponent in the first fight of a $365-million deal that makes him the highest-paid sportsman in the world.

Lomachenko remains a boxer’s boxer. A pugilist for the cognoscenti. Even now as a professional and making millions a fight, he knows what he has achieved. “You can‘t compare anything to gold medals because that was my childhood dream,” Lomachenko says. “The first gold medal was the biggest achievement in my life.” So what does he want to prove now? “I want to prove my father is the best coach in the world,” he says. “I want to prove that I’m the best pound-for-pound boxer in the world.”

First, there is the small matter of dessert. After much searching of the menus, Lomachenko finds what he is looking for: Italian cheesecake and an assortment of ice creams. Yet when they arrive, he’s full after a few bites. It’s  common for boxers to fight at heavier weights over time. Lomachenko started his career at atomweight (under 105lbs) in 2004; a couple of hours ago, he weighed in today at 134.4lbs. The meal is over and is paid for in cash. There are hugs and laughter before a return to the hotel room.

The next night, there would be a final tradition before the ringwalk. In the dressing room, when it is time, everyone who is there must sit. “We even ask the inspector to sit down,” Klemis said. Time stops for a moment. Enough for Lomachenko to think about all he has done to reach this point and what he has to do to go even farther. Lomachenko would then step out and easily defeat Pedraza over 12 rounds, including an 11th where Lomachenko landed 42 punches practically uninterrupted.

The top comment on ESPN’s YouTube page showing the highlights would later say: “I’m surprised Lomachenko didn’t teleport behind him.”

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