The last time Ukraine’s Vasiliy Lomachenko won a world title fight was in the summer of 2019 when he turned back the spirited challenge of Luke Campbell in London. Coincidentally or not, it was also the last time he chose to wear the blue and yellow colours of his country’s flag on his shorts and gloves.

Those colours, which would blur into bright green when he was in top gear, were for a long time as synonymous with ‘Loma’ as his swashbuckling and seemingly unbeatable skillset. Every hardcore fan’s favorite boxer and every inch a national treasure, the Ukrainian southpaw – a two-time Olympic champion and three-weight titleholder in the professional ranks – could do no wrong.

Fast forward to the spring of 2024. The 36-year-old Lomachenko, 17-3 (11 KOs), is preparing to face George Kambosos Jr. in a fight for the vacant IBF lightweight title. Lose, and his career at the level to which he’s accustomed is surely over. Whatever the result on May 12, he may already have forever lost the support of his countryfolk.

It’s a startling transition.

In his pomp, Lomachenko appeared so otherworldly it was as if he was redesigning the way to fight. The feints he utilised to draw mistakes and second guesses, alongside the ever-changing position of his guard, as he jinked left and right and up and down, made the job of reading his style and intentions all but impossible.

In attack he was just as unpredictable yet the execution, as balletic as it was ruthless, always so free and easy. It might all begin with a right hook to the body designed to bring down his rival’s guard and end, after a deft shift of weight from one foot to the other, with an uppercut that exposes the gap. The rules were tweaked, too. Loma would effortlessly pull a rival’s left glove out of position with his left hand while firing a right hook yet stay so close and so open it defied logic that he rarely got hit back.

Anthony Crolla, an accomplished former world champion himself, faced Lomachenko in 2019 and was arguably the last man to encounter the best of the Ukrainian. He was knocked out in four rounds.

“I definitely copped for a ruthless and vicious Lomachenko that night,” Crolla said as he attempted to describe the physical and psychological complexities of going into battle with a boxer once known as ‘The Matrix’. 

“The plan early on was to try and box. And, yeah, people might say ‘You can’t outbox Lomachenko’ but I didn’t want to go in there straight away and just walk him down.

“If you do that it becomes easy for him. It becomes like a bull and a matador. I was making him try to fall short a little bit and then look to stand there with him and my size and strength, or so I believed at the time, would come into play.

“That sounds stupid now. But at the time I felt fantastic, and I genuinely believed I had a great chance of shocking the world. I thought if I could drag him into the kind of fight I wanted then I was going to win.” 

Lomachenko was not for the dragging, however. It was he who controlled the pace and distance, he who decided what kind of fight it was going to be. “I was soon put in my place,” Crolla said.

“It’s hard to explain what he was like to fight. But once you’re in there with him, every slight mistake got punished. So even though you know you can’t just walk him down, nothing is working so you wonder if you should just try and walk him down. 

“I knew how good he was,” Crolla continued before correcting himself. “I thought I knew how good he was. How good his speed was, how good his judgement of distance was. But it was surreal being in there.”

“He’d sort of vary the punch power and the speed so you couldn’t get really used to it. Every punch was a surprise, which I know sounds stupid. He hit hard, and people might say that’s obvious because of the way the fight finished. But the shot that knocks you out is always the shot you don’t see coming. If you didn’t see it coming you didn’t expect it. He’d touch you, touch you, then whip in a hard shot. 

Lomachenko made good fighters look ordinary and feel even less so. “He makes you feel useless,” Crolla added. “Throughout my career my defence served me well, even at a decent level. But he opened me up very quick. He reads a fight so well.”

The Englishman hit the canvas face first in round four, the most unbecoming of falls. Never a concussive one-punch hitter, Lomachenko nonetheless specialised in bewilderment. By the time Crolla was on the brink of being counted out in round four, the sense of discombobulation was like nothing the former WBA lightweight champion had experienced before.

“I was thinking, ‘what am I doing down here?’ And that was it.”

Things have changed since then. The demolition of Crolla was followed by the points victory over Campbell. Lomachenko then lost two of his next five bouts – world championship defeats to Teofimo Lopez and Devin Haney sandwich non-title wins over Masayoshi Nakatani, Richard Commey and Jamaine Ortiz. Worse, at least in the real world, are the accusations he’s facing that he’s turned his back on his country, now at war with Russia, when it needs him the most.  

Boxing writer Sean Nam’s deep dive into the subject on is worthy of anyone’s time. Though Lomachenko, now a devout Orthodox Christian, was photographed helping his country’s war effort at the start of the conflict, his subsequent indifference when asked about it has raised alarm. Not once has he criticised Russia – nor, it should be noted, has he declared his desire for anything but peace. However, his wish for the warring nations to come together as one chimed with the desires of Russian president, Vladimir Putin. 

Nam writes: “With the war posing a fraught reality for many Ukrainians, such equivocation, perhaps tolerable in the past, is now regarded as entirely unacceptable… That celebrated athletes like the Klitschko brothers, former soccer star Andriy Shevchenko, tennis player Sergiy Stakhovsky, and current unified heavyweight champion Oleksandr Usyk have all chipped in to help and publicize the Ukrainian plight, makes Lomachenko stick out.”

Nam points to Lomachenko’s Instagram page for further clues. During his peak, it was largely dedicated to his trade. Now it is dominated by religious posts, no mentions of Ukraine, and boxing seemingly an afterthought. The suggestion that Lomachenko’s newfound faith coincided with his dip in form – and his sense of patriotism – is worth consideration.

“A Ukrainian boxer publicizing his faith would not ordinarily be a controversial matter,” Nam writes. “After all, Ukraine is a predominantly Orthodox Christian nation. A recent Pew Research Center survey concluded that nearly 80 per cent of Ukrainians (8-in-10 adults) identified as Orthodox Christian, up from roughly 40 per cent in 1991, the year the Berlin Wall fell, and Ukraine became an independent nation. (Unlike Roman Catholicism, the Eastern Orthodox Church is decentralized; it does not view the pope as the top authority and instead, it functions around the basis of autocephalous, or “self-headed,” churches.)

“But Lomachenko belongs to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which, despite its name, has historically had connections to and taken its cues from the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church. Understandably, the very existence of this institution in Ukrainian society has become a flashpoint in the debate over national security, patriotism, and religious freedom, amid intensifying efforts from the government to rein in and at times stamp out elements perceived as pro-Russian.”

The fighter himself pinpoints the aftermath of his 2020 loss to Lopez as “the moment that changed my attitude towards life and my attitude towards faith. I could see what I was doing wrong.” 

What he was doing wrong, in a boxing sense, was frankly very little prior to that loss to Lopez. There was a feeling in that bout, however, that Lomachenko had perhaps grown overconfident and somewhat presumptuous about his own brilliance. Some have suggested that inflated sense of self-worth is what the boxer sought to change. 

Whether Lomachenko’s form is really in the process of atrophying is debatable – after all, he looked terrific in large sections of the Haney bout and victory over Kambosos is widely anticipated. Yet it is the crumbling of his reputation in his once beloved Ukraine that might prove significantly harder to repair – should he wish to try, of course.

“He has never given any proper explanation of what he thinks,” Ukrainian promoter Alex Krassyuk told Nam last year. “It’s up to him. If he wants to send a message to the people, he needs to do it himself.”