Gary Russell Jr. vs. Vasyl Lomachenko: Preview and Prediction for Title FIght

Briggs Seekins@BriggsfighttalkFeatured ColumnistJune 15, 2014

Gary Russell Jr. vs. Vasyl Lomachenko: Preview and Prediction for Title FIght

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    USA TODAY Sports

    This Saturday in Carson, California, undefeated Gary Russell Jr. will face former Olympic star Vasyl Lomachenko for the vacant WBO featherweight belt. Lomachenko came up short in a bid to capture that title last March, when he lost by split decision to Orlando Salido. 

    But Salido had already lost the belt on the scales, when he failed to make weight. That left the title vacant, and the winner will take it home on Saturday night. 

    Boxing fans have been waiting years now to see Russell step up for a title fight. Lomachenko, meanwhile, will be shooting for a title for the second time in just three professional fights. 

Tale of the Tape

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    USA TODAY Sports
    Per BoxRec      Gary Russell Jr.     Vasyl Lomachenko
    Record:     24-0, 14 KOs      1-1, 1 KO
    Height:     5'4"     5'6.5"
    Reach:     61"     unlisted
    Weight:     126 lbs     126 lbs
    Age:     26     26
    Stance:     Southpaw     Southpaw
    Hometown:     Capitol Heights, Maryland     Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi, Ukraine
    Rounds:     96     16

    Lomachenko has just two professional fights, but in a sense, he is still the more experienced man here. He fought nearly 400 times as an amateur, and his last opponent, Salido, is much tougher than anybody Russell Jr. has faced.

    Lomachenko's reach is not listed, but I suspect he'll have an advantage of a few inches over Russell, who BoxRec lists at just 61".

Main Storylines

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    Russell Jr. was ESPN's Prospect of the Year in 2011 and at the time looked to be on the verge of moving up to the world-class level. He's fought five times since and remained undefeated, but he has yet to seriously improve the quality of his opposition.  

    But he'll finally be challenging for a world title this Saturday in Carson. A win over Lomachenko will mean Russell might finally be developing into the star many have been expecting him to be. 

    While Russell's development into a world-title challenger has been slow, Lomachenko's has been the quickest in professional boxing history. After winning two Olympic gold medals and compiling a 396-1 record as an amatuer, the Ukrainian jumped straight into the deep waters as a pro. This is his third fight but his second time challenging for the WBO featherweight belt. 

    Last March, Lomachenko came up short against Salido, who relinquished the title on the scales when he didn't even seriously try to make weight. Salido ended up close to 20 pounds heavier than Lomachenko on fight night, and the former elite amateur was bullied by Salido's awkward and bruising style.

    Still, Lomachenko absorbed some heavy punishment and adjusted to fight well in the later part of the fight, even earning the decision on one judge's card. Against Russell, he at least won't have to contend with fighting a much larger and more experienced opponent.

Strengths

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    Russell Jr. has some of the quickest hands in boxing. He's an explosive athlete with good punching power. 

    Russell throws quick, multi-punch flurries that overwhelm his opponents. He is a fluid puncher and varies his attack well to the body and head. 

    Lomachenko has been one of the most highly anticipated prospects to debut in years, and for good reason. He's an extremely well-rounded fighter. He has outstanding footwork and defense. 

    Offensively, he is a quick, combination puncher with good power. He has a very high boxing intelligence and adjusts well to his opponent.  

Weaknesses

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    Russell Jr. has a tendency to stand flat-footed in front of an opponent while waiting to light him up with his superior hand speed. I think he could have trouble against a skilled boxer who can fight him from a distance and turn him. 

    Lomachenko gained a lot of experience in his loss to Salido, but he remains very inexperienced in the professional side of the sport. He'll face a lot of pressure Saturday to avoid dropping below .500 for his career. 

Gary Russell Jr. Will Win If...

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    Lomachenko might have a mere two professional fights, but he's the best athlete and by far the most skilled fighter Russell Jr. has ever faced. In 24 fights, he has so far faced nobody of real note. 

    He's won most of his fights to date simply by exploiting the tremendous gap in talent between him and the other man in the ring. But he won't be able to rely on that alone against Lomachenko.

    To win this fight, Russell is going to need to use his boxing skills and footwork. He can't just stand in front of Lomachenko, waiting to beat him to the punch, because the Ukrainian will adjust and hit him from another angle. 

    Russell will have to be ready to move with Lomachenko. He's also got to throw punches to both the body and head. 

    Lomachenko is very good at lowering his level to get under punches. Russell should take advantage of his more compact frame and look to catch Lomachenko with a follow-up uppercut when Lomachenko ducks under the hook. 

    A good combination for Russell might be the right hook upstairs/left uppercut/right hook to the body. 

Vasyl Lomachenko Will Win If...

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    In his last fight, Lomachenko faced a much larger opponent in Salido. Salido fought with a mauling, physical style and was able to push through Lomachenko's power shots and make the fight ugly.

    This time the challenge will be of a different order. Russell Jr. won't have a size advantage over Lomachenko, but he is among the quickest punchers in the sport. So Lomachenko will need to fight from a distance and use movement and angles to turn Russell Jr., to prevent the quicker fighter from beating him to the punch with rapid-fire flurries.

    This is a matchup of southpaw vs. southpaw, so Lomachenko should look to get his lead right foot to the left of Russell's, allowing him to attack from an angle. When Russell turns, Lomachenko should go on the offensive before he gets the chance to reset himself. 

    Russell has the speed to get off a lot of punches, so Lomachenko needs to control the distance and prevent Russell from getting into range. Lomachenko is going to need to stay busy, but he has to dictate the terrain. 

Prediction

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    This is a very intriguing matchup. Both Russell Jr. and Lomachenko look to have outstanding potential, but fans have yet to really see either in a fight that allows them to truly shine. The winner Saturday night will not only have his first world title, he'll also have the first notable win on his resume. 

    In his last bout, Lomachenko ended up in the ring with a man who was basically two to three weight classes bigger than he was. And it was Salido's size that gave Lomachenko more trouble than anything else. 

    He won't face that problem against Russell. He will be facing an extremely quick fighter, but that's a much less difficult problem to address with technical skill.

    So I'm picking Lomachenko to win a close, competitive decision. Russell has skill and tremendous athleticism, but Lomachenko has more skill and I think this will be the kind of fight where skill makes the difference.

    Both fighters should have bright futures in the sport, regardless of who wins this matchup. I'd love to see Lomachenko against super bantamweight champion Guillermo Rigondeaux, in a clash of Olympic legends.