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Obviously, a fighter can suffer a loss for any number of reasons.  He can be sick: he can be the victim of boxing’s absurd scoring “system”, like Amir Khan against Lamont Peterson (Khan lost two points for fouling): he can be robbed by a questionable decision, especially if he fights a popular fighter on his home turf (again, like Khan against Peterson, as well as a million others): he can bounce his opponent around the ring like a basketball for round after round, then get flattened by a single punch (as Herol Graham did by Julian Jackson): a panicking referee can make a bogus stoppage (like the one Howard Foster inflicted on George Groves against Carl Froch): he could come up against a fighter on performance-enhancing drugs (as, er, Amir Khan did in Lamont Peterson): or he can just have a bad night, like any sportsman.  I saw Rafael Nadal play Djokovic in the ATP World Tour Finals in 2013, and for the first twenty minutes Nadal could hardly keep it on the island, losing his first two service games.

Equally obviously, it is important how many losses a fighter has, and what the rest of his resumé looks like.  A fighter with five losses to high-quality competition but sixty-odd wins is different than one who is 5-5.  But, like other statistics in boxing, a winning record only points in a certain direction.  We have to use our judgement to make sense of it.  The reality is that a fighter’s having a handful of losses in an otherwise successful career just makes him more interesting.  Even leaving aside the nonsensical way in which boxing is scored, there is always a story behind every one of a top fighter’s losses, and (perhaps more importantly) behind his response to those losses.

To me, there is no question that Vasyl Lomachenko’s loss to Orlando Salido enhances his reputation.  For one thing, people will forever say, “how d’ya like that kid, he fought Salido for his title in only his second pro fight!”, and I like anything that makes people talk like a character from a Mickey Spillane novel.  What’s more, if there wasn’t a conspiracy to punish him for his audacity in attempting to win a title in only his second pro fight, everyone certainly did a good job of giving that impression.  His opponent had clearly made no attempt whatever to make the weight, and more importantly ballooned in size by an absurd 19lbs between the weigh-in and the fight.  Salido then proceeded to combine a mixture of holding, headbutts, and flying elbows with an extravagant reliance on the strategy immortalized by Roy & HG as “the battered sav[1]”.  This failed to elicit even the mildest of rebukes from comedy “referee” Laurence Cole.

To his immense credit, Lomachenko responded as if he were in a boxing match, outworking and outboxing Salido to land more blows at a higher success rate (164 out of 441 for 37% versus 142 out of 645 for just 22%), and badly hurting Salido in the twelfth, but still losing a split decision.  Better still, Lomachenko refused to complain about any of this outrageous treatment, even when heavily goaded by Max Kellerman in the post-fight interview.

Where fighters put nothing meaningful at risk, a fight means nothing[2].  When they do, the fighters ennoble themselves, win or lose.  What’s more, plenty of fighters come back from a loss just as good or stronger.  Plenty of losses are avenged, and even when they are not, the attempt at revenge is often heroic: unlike the movies, in boxing, a sequel is frequently as good as, or even an improvement on, the original (the examples are too numerous to list, but think of Leonard-Hearns 2, or Ali-Frazier 3).  This being so, it is a shame so many good fighters are afraid to break that fragile little egg nestling in the second part of their records.  Here’s hoping a few more live up to the standard set by Vasyl Lomachenko.

[1] Note for Americans: the “sav”, or saveloy, is a highly spiced, bright red sausage, often served fried in batter, which British and Australian people sometimes eat instead of food.  See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saveloy.

[2] I suspect that a mangled, dim grasp of this important truth is behind many fighters’ obsession with winning what are, in fact, almost meaningless belts and titles.