When Vasyl Lomachenko took to the ring on March 1 the two-time Olympic gold medalist learned that professional is vastly different from the amateurs.
Lomachenko, one of the most decorated amateurs in history, performed well against then-WBO featherweight boss Orlando Salido but the Ukrainian southpaw clearly lacked the knowhow and seasoning of the pro game.
Salido, who won a split decision, missed weight, coming in three pounds above the 126-pound weight limit (and forfeiting the title on the scales). The hardnosed Mexican veteran then used his considerable pro experience to add nearly 20 additional pounds, which he effectively imposed on Lomachenko over the first half of their hotly contested fight.
Looking back Lomachenko (1-1, 1 knockout; 7-1, according to Fight Fax, Inc., which includes his World Series of Boxing “semi-pro” bouts) believes things could have been different.
“I think if it was my fifth or sixth bout and I had a little bit more experience I think for Salido it would have been much harder," Lomachenko told RingTV.com through manager Egis Klimas. “If I would take a step back and I see what's going on in professional boxing – an example is the (Denis) Lebedev and Guillermo (Jones) fight that didn't go on, it was cancelled because one of the fighters didn't do what he was supposed to coming in the fight – I likely wouldn't (have) taken that bout. That bout wouldn't have happened.”
That said Lomachenko meets undefeated 2008 U.S. Olympian Gary Russell Jr. on Saturday at the StubHub Center in Carson, Calif., for the vacant WBO featherweight title.
“I'm not going to talk about his weaknesses,” he said, “but as far as pluses, I can see, first of all, he has speed and second, probably experience.”
Golden Boy Promotions won the purse bid to Lomachenko-Russell, bidding $1,052,500 million (just $2,500 more than Lomachenko’s promoter, Top Rank). Because Lomachenko is fighting in Russell's home country he gets 60 percent of the fee, totaling $631,350, while Russell makes the remaining $420,900.
The fascinating featherweight title matchup is part of a three-fight Showtime telecast that includes a returning Robert Guerrero who meets Japan's Yoshihiro Kamegai, while former IBF welterweight beltholder Devon Alexander looks to get back to winning ways against perennial gatekeeper Jesus Soto Karass. The Showtime broadcast starts at 10:00 p.m. (ET/PT).
Anson Wainwright – What are your thoughts on Saturday’s fight?
Vasyl Lomachenko – I am preparing for this fight like I prepare always for any other fight.
AW – When you look at Russell, what do you see in terms of strengths and weaknesses?
VL – I'm not going to talk about his weaknesses but as far as pluses, I can see, first of all, he has speed and second, probably experience.
AW – A win would see you equal the record for winning a world title in just your third pro fight. What would that mean to you?
VL – Now it's not interesting anymore. My goal was to win this title in my second fight. I didn't do it. Now it's just like a regular bout.
AW – Talk us through the Salido fight.
VL – I think if it was my fifth or sixth bout and I had a little bit more experience I think for Salido it would have been much harder. I don't like to talk about what happened. It's already history. Anything that happened, it's going to stay in our team. We spoke about that, we made some decisions, we prepared for it, that's for us.
AW – When you talk about gaining more experience, would that be things like Salido coming in overweight, then hydrating to 147 by fight night, compared to your 136?
VL – If I would take a step back and I see what's going on in professional boxing – an example is the (Denis) Lebedev and Guillermo (Jones) that fight didn't go on, it was cancelled because one of the fighters didn't do what he was supposed to coming in the fight – most likely I wouldn't take that bout, that bout wouldn't have happened. It's already (too) late to talk about.
The title was at 126-pounds but when he came into the fight I was fighting a welterweight, a 147-pounder.
AW – So you've learned from that and maybe you would do things a little different now?
VL – It's experience. Everyone has to go through it to make the right choices and right decisions.
AW – How have you found the move from amateurs to the pros? What are the big differences?
VL – Most of it is rules. You hit open handed in a professional fight, sometimes you can hit below the belt line. In the amateurs the referee notices right away and takes a point away. Of course, the big difference is they don't tape hands and the gloves (in the amateurs).
Then you go into the round, they don't count points. In the pros most of the judges count how active you are in the ring. In amateurs they count exactly how many clear punches, even head or body, but it has to land clearly. In pros you can land cleanly but if your opponent is more active, he moves and throws more punches even if he's not landing the judges give it to the fighter who's more active.
They way I found out that is if you watch my fight (with Salido) some of the rounds I landed much more punches than he did but he was more active so if it was in the amateurs I would have won that fight but because we were in the professionals the judges gave it to him.
AW – Do you feel you won the Salido fight?
VL – I never talk about that. I don't want to talk about that. If the judges made that decision and if referee didn't pick up my hand and I didn't have a title here (points to his stomach). Right now I'm preparing for another title shot.
AW – You had an incredible amateur record of 396-1. Was it hard for you to accept the pro loss?
VL – In the beginning it was a big tragedy. In the beginning it was very hard and I thought about it a lot. Again like I said I don't like to watch back, I don't like to see what happened. (Going forward) I want to put my name into the history of boxing.
AW – What makes you special?
VL – So far I haven't done anything special. I've had two pro fights. You can’t judge on two professional fights. I'm just a regular professional boxer. In boxing people need to see what you can do and not talk about it. What's the point talking about something that in the end doesn't happen?
AW – Egis, what do you think makes Vasyl a special talent?
Egis Klimas – I can't say something about talent. I can say only one thing, he's very dedicated. He lives for boxing. He likes boxing and he trains hard. He is always the last one to finish training, that's what makes him a special guy.
AW – As a standout amateur, one of the best of the past couple of decades, when you look at the pros, what goals do you have that you'd like to realize?
VL – I would like to leave my name in the history of boxing. I would like people not to know Lomachenko as not just a fighter but as one of the greatest fighters.
AW – How popular are you in Ukraine?
VL – The people in sports, they know me. I don't think everyone in the Ukraine know me.
Egis Klimas – There was a soccer game (the most popular sport in the Ukraine) and they showed Lomachenko on the TV and his rating was greater than for the soccer game.
AW – Lastly, do you have a message for Gary Russell Jr.?
VL – No. Just be ready (laughs).
While speaking with Lomachenko, it is clear that he's not comfortable with talking about himself as a star. He merely thinks of himself as just another boxer. However, while witnessing his talents it's clear he is anything but just a regular talent. Lomachenko is the type of guy who gives 100 percent in anything he does. He's technically very gifted and with his drive and desire would likely have succeeded in any number of other sports.