It takes a rare talent to pull off what Vasyl Lomachenko is attempting to do at the Alamodome in San Antonio on Saturday night.
With fewer than 10 professional boxing matches under his belt, Lomachenko is stepping into the ring against a harden veteran, Orlando Salido, and trying to take away his WBO featherweight championship belt.
Salido, 30, has been in 54 professional fights (40-12-2 with 28 KOs) and has stepped in against some of the best featherweights of his era, including Marco Antonio Barrera, Yuriorkis Gamboa, Mikey Garcia, Robert Guerrero and Juan Manuel Lopez. He has beaten Lopez twice.
But Lomachenko is unfazed.
“He’s a very tough fighter. He’s a very good fighter. It’s going to be a big battle. He’s not going to give away his championship belt,’’ Lomachenko said. “But I’m prepared to win.’’
Why is he so confident?
“I did a lot of work. I went to a lot of tournaments and the two gold medals can prove that I’m ready,’’ he said.
The 26-year-old Lomachenko was 396-1 as an amateur and won Olympic boxing gold medals for Ukraine at the 2008 Beijing Games and the 2012 London Games. He eventually avenged that one loss.
The subject of his professional record is up for debate. His promoters at Top Rank are billing his match against Salido as Lomachenko going for a world title after just one professional fight. But Lomachenko participated in the World Series of Boxing where he fought six times.
The participants didn’t wear head gear, used pro weight gloves and were paid – all things that would eliminate a boxer from being considered an amateur. Those fights aren’t listed on BoxRec. But FightFax and the Association of Boxing Commissions, which uses FightFax as its official keeper of records, considered them pro matches.
Whatever the case, fighting for a world championship with under 10 pro matches on your record is an amazing accomplishment – if you can pull it off.
Two boxers have challenged for a world title in their pro debuts and both failed. Heavyweight Pete Rademacher was knocked out by Floyd Patterson in the sixth round in 1957. Light flyweight Rafael Lovera was knocked out in the fourth round by Luis Estaba in 1975. Lovera finished his career 0-1. He never fought again.
The fastest guy out of the gate is Saensak Muangsurin of Thailand, who won the WBC super lightweight championship via eighth round KO over Perico Fernandez in 1975.
When Lomachenko signed with Top Rank last August he wanted to fight for a world championship in his pro debut with them.
“He pushed for it,’’ said Carl Moretti, Top Rank Chief of Boxing Operations. “We were like, “I get it. I get it. What about seven fights?’’ He was like no. He really wanted to do it in the first one.’’
They compromised on the second fight after he knocked out Jose Ramirez in the fourth round in his debut last October.
Moretti said he was sold on Lomachenko as the real deal after watching him against Ramirez and watching him work out. He said Lomachenko defeated the three top prospects in their company – Felix Verdejo, Oscar Valdez, and Jose Ramirez – in the amateurs. Moretti is as intrigued by this match as every other boxing fan.
“He’s fighting Salido. He’s a real guy. It’s not like it’s a vacant title,’’ Moretti said. “That’s what’s intriguing about it. Everybody is saying Salido early and Lomachenko late. A part of me thinks he can wear him down and take him out. But I really don’t know how this is going to end.’’
Lomachenko was born in Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi, Ukraine but now lives in Marina Del Rey, California. His father was a boxing coach in the Ukraine and first took him to the gym when he was four years old. It was the beginning of a precocious nature in the sport that he has yet to shake. It wasn’t long after that when he had his first fight. And before he knew it he was on his way to an outstanding amateur career that saw him win gold medals at the Beijing Games in 2008 and the London Games in 2012.
With all that Olympic glory for Ukraine, it has been painful for Lomachenko to watch from halfway around the world as the government in his home country has collapsed following violent clashes with opposition parties. One of the leaders of the opposition is former heavyweight champion Vitali Klitschko, the head of the Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform. Klitschko has been calling for democratic reforms, including an alliance with the European Union as a way to secure the economic and political future of Ukraine. He also called for the ousting of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who has been removed by Parliament and is in hiding.
Lomachenko is very careful to tiptoe around political questions as turmoil still swirls in Ukraine.
“I’ve been asked a lot of questions about what’s happening,’’ Lomachenko said. “I try to stay out of it. Too bad a lot of innocent people are dying.’’
He said he doesn’t really know the Klitschkos, though he is proud of what they have done in boxing and how well they have represented Ukraine.
“They’re from a different time (era) and from a different part of the country,’’ he said. “I met them at the Olympic Games. I don’t really have a friendship with them.’’
Perhaps Lomachenko can be as dominant in boxing as the Klitschkos have been. It’s a plan. And his quick start out of the gate may be the wave of the future.
“The days of finding an amateur and giving him 25 or 30 fights before getting him into a championship is over,’’ Moretti said. “Nobody has four years of putting into anybody and hoping he wins a championship. The business doesn’t work like that anymore.’’