The Robert Guerrero vs. Yoshihiro Kamegai bout is getting top billing on Showtime this Saturday, but the most interesting fight on the tripleheader is the "Mr." Gary Russell Jr. (24-0, 14 KO) vs. Vasyl "Hi-Tech" Lomachenko (1-1, 1 KO) clash for the vacant WBO featherweight title.
There are hopes that this fight could be the first step toward breaking down the barriers of the Cold War between Golden Boy Promotions, with whom Russell Jr. is affiliated, and Top Rank who promotes Lomachenko.
Beyond what's going to happen in the ring in that bout, this fight is hopefully the first of many cross-promotional events in the sport between athletes from the two biggest factions.
This will be Lomachenko's second-straight attempt to capture the WBO crown, despite having only two professional bouts.
Lomachenko lost a close split-decision to then-champion Orlando Salido on March 1. However, Salido vacated the title because he didn't make weight before the bout.
Lomachenko is a native of the Ukraine who has an impressive amateur record (396-1).
While many may have argued against Lomachenko getting a title shot so early in his professional career, the 26-year-old showed flashes of brilliance late in the Salido bout.
The 26-year-old Russell Jr. has long been considered one of the best young fighters in the world. Some have suggested that he has been coddled as a young potential superstar and has never been tested against a talented professional.
That notion is about to be put to rest. Two extremely talented young lions are about to square off for a world title. How often does that happen?
If you love boxing, you'll want to see this.
When: June 21 at 10 p.m. ET
Where: StubHub Center, Carson, California
Live Stream: BoxNation (subscription required and region restricted)
The Book on Russell Jr.
Getting a label as a fighter who ducks opposition early isn't a good look for a young fighter. But that's exactly what happened with Russell Jr.
Shortly after the bout with Lomachenko was announced, Sports Illustrated's Chris Mannix wrote:
To those who believed Gary Russell Jr. would go ahead with a fight against Vasyl Lomachenko, a tip of the hat to you. You were in a rare minority, like the few who thought Oscar De La Hoya beat Floyd Mayweather and the handful who actually enjoyed the series finale of Lost.
Russell Jr. knows the criticism and jokes about his past opponents exists, but he wants to assure fans that a fight with Lomachenko was indeed what he wanted.
He talks about it in this interview with FightHype via YouTube. He also questions Lomachenko being allowed to fight for a world title in his second and third professional fights.
It seems Russell Jr.'s team had a plan for its fighter. Low-risk opponents were on tap until he got in range for a title shot. Now that he's finally in line to fight for gold, he'll be taking on another young and formidable talent.
Though Lomachenko has little experience as a professional, he undoubtedly represents a real challenge for Russell Jr.
The Book on Lomachenko
Early on against Salido, Lomachenko looked befuddled by the rugged and battle-tested Mexican veteran. While Salido's win was a just outcome for what transpired in the fight, Lomachenko was coming on quickly at the end of the bout.
By the time the final bell rang, there was a real question as to who the better fighter was. Unfortunately for Lomachenko, he started using his speed and athleticism a little too late.
In an interview with Anson Wainwright of The Ring Magazine, Lomachenko inferred that Salido's illegal weight was the biggest factor in his loss.
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.
Armed with the experience gained from the fight with Salido, Lomachenko is prepared to step in the ring with another of the sport's young guns.
Who will win?
This is one of the most difficult fights to predict in recent memory. Lomachenko's professional body of work is not vast, and Russell Jr.'s action against top-level competition is scant, if not nonexistent.
Which fighter has shown the most in their careers thus far?
Russell Jr. possesses the fastest hands I've seen since Meldrick Taylor. That's high praise, but one look at the way "Mr." puts together five- and six-punch combinations is all the proof you should need to validate the comparison.
The eyeball test says Lomachenko's arms are longer as well.
Could Russell Jr.'s lack of length be his downfall in this bout? The best way to beat a length disadvantage is with explosiveness, and Russell Jr. definitely has that.
That said, Lomachenko seems to have nice pop on his punches as well. He delivered a well-placed left-hand shot to the midsection of Jose Ramirez in his debut. The punch ended Ramirez's night.
Russell Jr. is no Jose Ramirez, though.
His speed and power must be respected, and ultimately his physical gifts, confidence and experience will be the difference.
The official prediction is a scintillating KO in the fifth round for Russell Jr., but take this caveat under consideration.
If this prediction were in a football confidence pool, it would have a No. 1 next to it.
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