In just his third professional fight, junior featherweight Vasyl Lomachenko established himself as an elite boxer over the weekend against Gary Russell Jr.
Lomachenko outworked Russell to win a majority decision at the StubHub Center in Carson, California.
Lomachenko’s performance in the win, which probably should have been unanimous, was no surprise.
After all, Lomachenko is a fighter who looked like an elite boxer the very first moment he entered a professional prizefighting ring. Against Jose Ramirez in October 2013, Lomachenko walloped a 28-fight veteran with sharp jabs, crisp counters and hard hooks. The scheduled 10-rounder was over within just four rounds.
The age of Lomachenko was at hand.
But in attempting to win a world title earlier this year in his second professional fight, Lomachenko ran into a perfect storm against Orlando Salido.
Salido couldn’t make the 126-pound limit, so by fight night he was practically a giant compared to Lomachenko. Moreover, the grizzly veteran pulled out every trick he had against Lomachenko.
He hit low. He held. He used arms and elbows to control the distance. He flurried to pick up rounds.
Salido fought smart and well. He used guts, guile and craft to pick up a well-deserved split decision over Lomachenko.
By the end of things, though, Lomachenko had still almost managed to get the job done. If Salido was the perfect storm, Lomachenko was almost the perfect sea captain. He hurt Salido badly in the last round but couldn’t quite finish the job before the bell sounded.
So against Russell on Saturday, a flashy, undefeated fighter looking for a breakout victory of his own, Lomachenko had an opportunity to prove he’s the real deal. The win garnered him the WBO featherweight title.
It was an impressive showing. Russell is no slouch, and regardless of how he fared against Lomachenko, the 26-year-old will still help shape the future of the lighter weight classes. But even after 24 professional fights, Russell, a fighter with unrivaled talent, had no answer for the technical superiority of Lomachenko.
It was apparent from the outset. The two fighters met in the middle of the ring ready to test each other’s mettle. Russell used his blazingly fast hand speed to reel off a host of quick jabs.
But Lomachenko was ready for them, and from the very first round he was able to time Russell’s speedy lobs with excellently timed counters.
BoxingScene.com’s David Greisman broke down the statistical domination in his Monday column:
Lomachenko handled Russell’s hand speed, using good movement and defense to make him miss nearly everything thrown. CompuBox had Russell going 83 of 806 on the night, a paltry connect rate of about 10 percent. Most of those shots were jabs. Russell was 18 of 425 in that category, a connect rate of just 4 percent. Even if you took those out of consideration and included just power punches, Russell was still a mere 65 of 381, a 17 percent connect rate. That’s fewer than six landed power shots per round over the course of 12 rounds.
Timing usually beats speed, and Lomachenko proved it.
TheCruelestSport.com’s Jimmy Tobin agreed with Greisman. He said Lomachenko looked like a professor next to the talented, but less educated, Russell.
Lomachenko, 125 1/2, did not struggle at all, providing boxing with another clinic on the limitations and inflated value of hand speed. Russell had his moments, strafing Lomachenko with his invisible blows, but for much of the fight Russell’s offense consisted of barks and pitty-pat arm punches that did little to give Lomachenko pause.
The difference in the two competitors was easy to spot. While Russell was constantly and erratically flowing with energy, Lomachenko operated in the ring with machine-like precision. His footwork kept Russell in positions his absurd hand speed couldn’t make up for, and his punches to the body kept Russell from being able to move around in the latter stages of the fight.
Lomachenko is the kind of fighter to be excited about. He’s a ruthless, aggressive stalker with great skill and a crowd-pleasing style. He has nowhere to go but up in a sport always angling to find its next big thing.
Lomachenko is exactly that: the next big thing in boxing.
Still, Lomachenko isn’t a perfect fighter. Not yet. He’d have tough times against the very best in the sport, namely Guillermo Rigondeaux, and he has some kinks to iron out before he moves forward against the biggest and best names in the sport.
One of those things, as noted by 15Rounds.com’s Bart Barry, is Lomachenko’s aversion to blocking and parrying body punches.
Lomachenko still shows a crazy aversion to others’ body punches, hula-hooping his torso backwards with sincere fright, but he otherwise serves auspicious surprises to opponents, both in his quickness and commitment, that justify most of the confidence he has in himself. And it is to his redounding credit that he complained so little during and after his match with Salido and returned from it so quickly, too.
Another thing, and this might be splitting hairs for a fighter in just his third professional fight, is that it appeared Lomachenko had some chances to end the fight against Russell but didn’t quite have enough wind left in his sails to do so.
Regardless, the 26-year-old southpaw from Ukraine is on his way to a special career. Already hailed as one of the finest amateur boxers of all time, the two-time Olympic gold medalist appears to be heading that way as a professional, too.
No matter how his future plays out, this much is clear after seeing him against Russell: Lomachenko is elite.