An opportunity to test oneself against the very best in the world as the home fighter is rare but Luke Campbell faces the boxer regarded as the No 1 pound-for-pound in the world at present in Ukrainian Vasyl Lomachenko at the O2 Arena, Docklands, on Saturday night.
More than claiming the three lightweight titles on the line – World Boxing Association, World Boxing Organisation and vacant World Boxing Council baubles – or indeed the Ring Magazine gong, bestowed on the best in each weight category, a victory over “The Matrix” for Hull’s Campbell would etch him into folklore.
The two fighters with the southpaw stance collide seven years after becoming Olympic gold medallists at London 2012, Lomachenko having also claimed the gold medal in Beijing four years earlier. Suffice to say, his boxing is near genius level. Yet Campbell refuses to be phased, having flat-batted every analysis this week that he will be undone, outboxed, outthought, or even beaten up by the man who is four inches shorter, and in reality, boxing two weight divisions above his natural weight at the 135lb lightweight limit.
“I’ve been through a lot having the experience of the London Olympics, the crowds, the pressure of going out there, getting a medal and winning. And, obviously, in my professional career, I’ve been to America to fight Jorge Linares for a world title,” the 31-year-old explained, having lost that contest by a whisker. “I’ve learnt from my experiences, and boy, do I love a challenge. I’ve said for years being in boxing, to be the best, you have to beat the best. And this is certainly one of those challenges.”
And yet, pity Luke Campbell. Lomachenko fighting in the UK bears comparison with the very greatest appearing on these shores – alongside Muhammad Ali twice against Henry Cooper in the Sixties, Marvin Hagler against Alan Minter in 1980 – and British fans have made Lomachenko feel like a returning hero this week. Indeed, the Ukrainian’s octogenarian promoter Bob Arum – who also brought Ali here – on Friday told Telegraph Sport that Lomachenko is “an artist, one of the greatest I have ever seen who has the same skills as the young Ali”.
With just 14 prize fights as a professional boxer, the ring generalship of the 5ft 7in tall, 135lb fighter and his sublime skills have earned him world titles in three weight divisions, after an amateur career of almost 400 fights and just one defeat.
He is now widely considered the No 1 pound-for-pound boxer in the world, an accolade held previously by Floyd Mayweather, and then Andre Ward. Both were long-term, undefeated kings of the ring.
“I think it will be like an amateur fight, with high IQ boxing, and with knockouts. I only think of the result – a win,” said Lomachenko. “Campbell’s reach and boxing IQ make it a difficult fight but I have prepared for this with guys twice as big as Campbell. He has an ego, I have an ego, we both believe we are the best. Now it is time to find out.”
Campbell must force Lomachenko with unorthodoxy on Saturday night, use his reach advantages to stay away and win the early rounds from range, yet there is the danger that the Ukrainian will indulge in a chess match for the opening third of the contest, before working his way inside for body attacks against the taller fighter.
It is likely that Lomachenko will win on points, or by late stoppage, targeting head and body. But Campbell must dream of the unthinkable, and make it happen.