As a former (unsuccessful) amateur boxer, I have a strong passion for technical boxing in its purest form, and although I dedicate most of my time to professional boxing, I still have some interest in amateur boxing. So when it was announced that Vasyl Lomachenko (a two time Olympic gold medalist who went 396-1 as an amateur) would be making his professional debut, I was more than excited.
Lomachenko‘s first pro fight was a bout that scheduled for 10 rounds against Jose Ramirez. Few were familiar with Ramirez, but he had fought as a pro for seven years, and had previously fought in 10 and 12 round fights. He was a well-established pro, with a 23-3 record, and he truly represented a tough challenge for the Amateur star in his first pro fight.
Ramirez no doubt knew that he was brought in to lose, but he wasn’t going down without a fight. The game Ramirez did his best to take the fight to Lomachenko, but he was outgunned in every way. Lomachenko went on to stop Ramirez in the forth round, and he looked very impressive in doing so. He displayed a skillset that had many observers convinced that he had the style and ability to do big things in the professional ranks.
When it was first revealed that Bob Arum was looking to give Lomachenko a title shot against the winner of Orlando Salido-Orlando Cruz, there was mixed public opinion. Given his decorated amateur career, and the fact had handled Jose Ramirez with such ease in his professional debut, many boxing fans and members of the media were backing Lomachenko to win quite handily. Yet many others also thought it was outright disrespectful for someone with such little pro experience to be given a title shot, and they thought that the veteran champ would be far to strong for Lomachenko.
As we know, Lomachenko and Salido both won their respective fights on the Marquez Bradley undercard, and a clash between the two was soon made official. While I didn’t think Salido would be an easy task by any means, I was still backing Lomachenko to win the fight. Like most boxing observers, I was expecting Lomachenko to start out strong and outbox Salido for the first half of the fight. I then expected to see Salido’s pressure become a heavy factor in the second half of the fight. I was certain that the outcome of the fight would ultimately come down to Lomachenko’s ability to deal with Salido’s pressure in the later rounds.
In what turned out to be an extremely rare occasion, I was proved wrong in nearly every aspect of my prediction. And the fight that I had anticipated so much, turned out to be somewhat of a non-event, with neither of the two men really delivering on their strong points.
In my opinion, Lomachenko did have a few extra hurdles to jump over coming into this fight, but had he and his team been more astute to the workings of professional boxing, things could have been a lot easier for him. Laurence Cole was the referee, and as per usual, he officiated the bout with the same level of incompetence that he has consistently shown in the past. Cole let Salido get away with repeated low blows, yet Lomachenko and his corner made no appeal. Also, Salido failed to make weight, then rehydrated to 147 lb. on the night, compared to 136 lb. for Lomachenko. Which was essentially a rooky lightweight fighting a veteran welterweight. Had Lomachenko’s team set a maximum fight weight in the contract, Salido may have made a better effort to make weight.
In the opening round, over a minute had past before the first punch was even thrown and both men remained very tentative for the first three rounds. The early rounds were actually very difficult to score, because both fighters made such little attempt to engage. This turned out to be the case, to some degree, for the majority of the fight.
While Lomachenko did have some moments in the first half of the fight, they were few and far between. It really appeared as though he had absolutely no interest in trying to land a significant shot on Salido. After the third round, Lomachenko had still not done anything to earn Salido’s respect, and as the fight went on, Salido gradually got busier and landed some good punches to the body (predominately below the belt) of Lomachenko.
Round after round passed by, and the only thing that really separated the two, was the fact that Salido was slightly busier and could constantly land low blows. I'm not sure why, but Lomachenko completely abandoned his jab, and when he wasn’t clinching, he seemed content to just throw single punches and pitter-patter combinations. All in all, for the first ten rounds, nothing really happened. No one landed a significant shot and neither man was able to impose himself. While Salido was the slightly busier man, he still failed to capitalize on Lomachenko’s inactivity, and he did still give rounds away as Lomachenko slowly came on in the second half of the fight.
Surprisingly, it was Lomachenko who came on strong in the championship rounds. He came out like a man possessed; throwing good, hard combinations, that had Salido backing up with no answer. He also displayed very nice footwork, which we had only seen glimpses of earlier in the fight. He managed to hurt Salido badly in the final round but this time it was Salido who was clinching and he managed to stay on his feet and survive the fight.
I didn’t score the fight round by round, but as a whole fight, it appeared very close. I wouldn’t have been upset with a draw or a close decision either way. Given that the fight was held in Texas I was kind of expecting some kind of outrageous score in. I will have to go back and score the fight round by round to compare, but I feel that the close split decision win to Salido was a pretty fair call.
A lot of people have written Lomachenko off after his performance on Saturday night, but I am not one of those people. I am actually more sold on him then I was before the fight. While the fight didn’t live up to the expectations and he underperformed on the night, I still think he showed a lot in losing.
There were a lot of things that Lomachenko has shown us he can do, that we simply did not see on Saturday night. I’m not sure whether it was the pressure of the big stage, or him trying to conserve energy, or perhaps both, but Lomachenko seemed to have reverted back an amateur style of fighting for the majority of the fight.
Obviously Salido was a big step up from Ramirez, but in the Ramirez fight, he was fast on his feet, he threw vicious combinations and he changed levels seamlessly, while going upstairs and downstairs. He also mixed it up well with his offense, switching between power and speed very well. Anyone who has followed Lomachenko knows this is something he has always done very well, but we didn’t really see any of that until the final two rounds. I honestly believe that for the majority of this fight, he fought with more of an amateur style than he did in his WSB fights, and even more so than he did in a lot of his amateur bouts.
While Lomachenko may have underperformed, he still only just lost a close split-decision to a seasoned champ, who outweighed him by 11 pounds. It was Lomachenko who came home strong; he nearly knocked out Salido in the final round, and he looked like he could easily have gone another six rounds. And like I said that, he did that while not performing close to his best.
I think there was a few flaws with the team Lomachenko game plan, and I think he definitely conserved too much energy for the later rounds. The thing is, he had never fought past six rounds, so it was unknown territory for him. I remember saying at the time of the Ramirez fight, that it would have been beneficial for Lomachenko to let Ramirez off the hook and drag that fight out, to get some rounds in.
I’m not sure who Lomachenko’s trainer is, or if they have much experience at an elite pro level, but they really didn’t seem to be pushing him to come out and fight with any sense of urgency, and they made absolutely no attempt to make the referee aware of Salido’s constant low blows. I think Lomachenko’s lack of experience cost him the win, but I also think he showed that he does belong at the top level. I am more concerned as to how his team and his corner can perform at this level, rather than how Lomachenko can perform as a fighter at the top level.
I know that a lot of people will not want to see Lomachenko get another title shot for a while. But now that the 126 lb. WBO title is vacant and Salido will be moving up to 130lb, I would be happy to see Lomachenko fight for that title in his next fight. After his performance on Saturday night, and taking into account what he would of learned from that fight, I would pick him to definitively beat Salido in an immediate rematch.
Garry Russell Jr is the is the mandatory opponent for the WBO title and I genuinely believe Lomachenko has proved a lot more in two fights than Gary Russell Jr has in 24 fights. Obviously it will be hard to make that fight because they are on different sides of the promoter cold war, but it could just go to a purse bid to decide who would promote it.
I think Lomachenko’s step up was extremely admirable, as was the way he dealt with his loss. I didn’t expect him to behave the way that Zab Judah did after losing to Kostya Tzsyu, but this is a guy who went 396-1 as an amateur, so he is clearly not accustomed to losing. Yet he didn’t make one excuse, and he simply said, "I did my best and it didn’t work out." Whatever Lomachenko decides to do next, I will tune in. I am a massive fan of his skills, and after his performance and the way he dealt with his loss, I am now a fan of him as a person too.