Training Ukrainian boxer Vasyl Lomachenko is done by his father with some assistance from a psychologist. It includes street skating, juggling, handstands, solo tennis, marathons and 10-kilometer swims. Sparring sessions are 15 four-minute rounds with 30 seconds of rest in between. Fresh sparring partners rotate in every three rounds unless they are overwhelmed by too many punches, in which case they rotate sooner. Each punch is recorded and calibrated via computer chips that are placed in Lomachenko’s hand wraps.
When the hand wraps come off, the psychological workout begins: a battery of tests and exercises utilizing a reaction timer, as well as small blocks or numerical charts that were popular as a diagnostic tool for Soviet-era pilots and cosmonauts. The goal is to achieve “the moment.”
“The moment” is where everything melds into one – the physical and psychological training, the father and son, genetics and ambition.
Vasyl was only three years old when his father, Anatoly, a physical education teacher and boxing coach, put his little hands in a pair of gloves. Vasyl cannot recall the first time he went to a gym. He honestly does not remember not being in a gym.
He trains with a genuine delight, coming across as that rare and most dangerous of fighters – the happy one. When reflecting on the perils of collaborations between fathers and sons, specifically in the anguished history of combat sports, the Lomachenkos may still prove to be a most glorious exception.
Vasyl’s place of birth, Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi, is a town of 50,000 with a famous “White Castle” on an estuary heading to the Black Sea. Father Anatoly once proclaimed that he would like to produce a champion from their hometown, but did not provide any details.
Anatoly had been an amateur fighter, but never spoke about any personal ambitions or goals.
His father turned Vasyl into a left-hander before he began sparring. At age four he beat a 6-year-old. At age 6, when he asked his father if it would mean more to win an Olympic gold medal or an amateur title, Anatoly’s reply was the gold. The youngster took winning an Olympic gold as a personal vow to prove his superiority to his father and himself.
The more he worked at his craft, the more apparent became his gifts of ambition and genetics. While Anatoly had been a boxer, his mother, Tetiana, started out as a gymnast. The two met studying at the State Pedagogical Institute in Odesa. Anatoly suggested that Tetiana try judo and after one year she placed fourth in the Soviet judo championships.
Anatoly valued athletic performance, but also emphasized that Vasyl had to maintain good academic standing, believing an educated body was ruled by an educated mind, intellectually stimulated and capable of decision-making under duress. Anatoly did not favor the kind of early specialization so prevalent today. While he learned to box, Vasyl played hockey, soccer and wrestled. At age 10 he began traditional Ukrainian folk dancing.
The notion was a simple one, which came to fruition after four years of prancing around in bright boots, billowy satin pantaloons and a sash tied around his waist for two hours every day after school. Today he is regularly lauded as having the finest footwork in boxing.
Vasyl’s amateur record was 396-1, his one loss to Albert Selimov in 2007 that Lomachenko twice avenged. With Anatoly coaching Ukraine’s national boxing team, Vasyl won gold medals in 2008 and again in 2012, one of five medals Ukraine took home from the London Olympics. Word among the boxers was that the elder Lomachenko built a special spirit on the team and motivated by explaining the sport’s nuances rather than yelling or intimidating his boxers. The Lomachenko training system included crossword puzzles, walking on hands, volleyball, basketball, tennis, marathons and distance swims. His boxers achieved a unique version of mental supremacy.
To further accentuate mental supremacy, Anatoly hired a psychologist, Andriy Kolosov, ahead of the 2012 Olympics. Kolosov was a young Ph.D., an ex-gymnast whose primary experience was working with air force pilots, not boxers. In time, Kolosov became the second most prominent voice in the Lomachenko camp after Anatoly. He was there when Vasyl won his second gold medal and when he turned professional.
Now with a pro record of 14-1, a champion in lightweight, featherweight and junior lightweight, Vasyl has achieved what the House of Lomachenko always coveted: a claim as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world and everlasting consideration as an historic fighter.
Strength and conditioning coach Cicilio Flores, in the business for over 20 years, calls Vasyl the most dedicated fighter he’s ever had as a client. His regimen includes shooting three-point baskets and kicking a hackysack 75 times before it hits the floor. The goal is physical dexterity and mental flexibility.
To be a truly successful boxer, it is imperative to remain unprovoked, to resist the urges and spasms which affect lesser fighters. Pressure in training opens a boxer to situational possibility as explained by psychologist Kosolov. Psychic resources are required for a boxer to adapt in the ring. A boxer cannot afford to be tense, angry or afraid, but instead a boxer must be able to recognize possibility during a bout.
The psychology can be looked at as creativity. For Lomachenko, it is art: he moves like a dancer, his punches vary in angle, power and cadence, yet they come with a consistent rhythm, a “flow.” In a flow state, a person is fully engaged in a challenging task, intrinsically motivated, very happy. Improvisational brilliance is born of repetition – a boxer creates amid violent circumstances.
As reported by ESPN Boxing, prior to a 2017 match between Vasyl Lomachenko and Guillermo Rigondeaux, strength and conditioning coach Flores asked Anatoly Lomachenko if he knew what his son was going to be. The father reportedly replied that it was all designed and written down. Asked when was “The Moment,” Anatoly replied, “Before he was conceived.”
Ihor Stelmach may be reached at email@example.com.