By Sean Crose
Vasyl Lomanchenko wasn’t going to a coronation this time around. After being sorely disappointed by Orlando Salido in just his second professional bout, the Ukraine’s would-be superstar clearly knew he was in with a formidable foe when he signed to fight undefeated American Gary Russell Jr.
Photo: Chris Farina/Top Rank
For Russell stepped into the ring at the Stub Hub Center on Saturday with an undefeated record and a reputation for having the fastest hands this side of Mr. Mayweather. Lomanchenko, however, had one of the greatest amateur records in all of history. He also entered the fight in possession of a serious skill set.
And so, Lomanchenko faced Russell for the WBO featherweight title in just his third professional fight. Although it may have seemed a bit off putting that Lomanchenko, with a one and one record, was leading such a charmed life, it seemed in the first few rounds that the man might indeed have been worth all the hubbub.
Unlike in the Salido bout, Lomanchenko began dominating the fight with Russell from the get go. Moving like a boxer, while slipping in and out to tag his foe like an aggressive puncher, the lauded Ukrainian looked polished, damaging and downright impressive throughout the first half of the bout.
Truth be told, Lomanchenko was winning the fight with this legs. Russell was faster, but Lomanchenko wasn’t allowing himself to be damaged. After a point, it became clear that Russell would have to use those speedy hands of his to work Lomanchenko’s body. For Russell had to slow those legs of Lomanchenko’s down if he wanted to carry the night.
By the seventh, however, it was Lomanchenko who was working the body. Man, was he working the body. His punches didn’t just land on Russell’s sides, they literally thudded against them. As Showtime’s Paulie Malignaggi mentioned in the eighth, Lomanchenko’s body work was starting to slow Russell down. Lomanchenko, surprising though it seemed, was actually starting to beat his opponent to the punch.
Russell got more aggressive as the bout wore on…but it didn’t seem to be enough. For by the end of the tenth, Lomanchenko had landed two atomic bombs, which convinced this writer that the fight was over. Russell remained on his feet, but it was hard to imagine how he could win on points – and it was very doubtful he was going to knock Lomanchenko out, either.
It was a good fight, sure. It was a fast paced, fun fight to watch, too. But the night belonged to Lomanchenko. Russell proved to be a real warrior, but he simply didn’t have it. Perhaps he’ll go back and work on his footwork. That may greatly improve his performance the next time he enters the ring.
At any rate, Lomanchenko won both the fight and the WBO belt by decision (as usual, one judge scored in ridiculous fashion). What’s it all mean, though? Well, for starters, Lomanchenko certainly started looking to be worth all the hype.
Or did he? After all, Lomanchenko was promoted as the next great thing. That’s a potent word, “great.” It was worth wondering, for instance, why Lomanchenko wasn’t able to knock Russell out. He had certainly tagged Russell clean enough. That may be harsh criticism, but keep in mind Lomanchenko is being presented as an historic figure while he still has less than four pro fights under his belt.
Make no mistake about it, though; Lomanchenko looked good on Saturday. Real good. There’s no doubt he’s someone to keep an eye on. All things considered, that’s pretty high praise. If he keeps looking like he did at the Stub Hub Center on Saturday, fight fans will be seeing him perform quite a lot in the future.