Caption: Esther Lin/SHOWTIME

Vasyl Lomachenko wins title

While Guerrero-Kamegai was the main event, most fans knew (or at least felt) that Vasyl Lomachenko vs Gary Russell Jr. for the vacant WBO featherweight title was the real main event. The fight was everything you could possibly want if you’re a fan of the sport. A prospect with blazing hand speed and power in both hands against one of the greatest and most decorated amateur boxers of all time.

Lomachenko came in suffering a 12 round loss to Orlando Salido, though it was a close fight in which Lomachenko was given a crash course in rough, professional style boxing by Professor Salido. Russell came in fighting and beating 24 overmatched opponents. The thought for those who picked Russell was that 108 rounds of experience would be enough to overwhelm Lomachenko’s 16. They were wrong.

Round 1 began. Russell came out on fire. His hand speed and combinations were sizzling. It was everything we had expected of him. Lomachenko was backing up.  Then Lomachenko started to use his feet. He put himself just out of range. Russell had no answer. Lomachenko landed the first significant punch with a solid straight left. He followed it up with a right hook to the body. Russell, feeling Lomachenko’s power and speed, began to slow down as the rounds went on.

Most of the rounds were predictable. Russell would come out and try to throw a rapid fire jab. Sometimes 2 jabs, sometimes 3. Lomachenko would block and move laterally. Russell would slow down, Lomachenko would back him up landing body shots and then landing to the head. Lomachenko’s work was brilliant.You would have never guessed he was the one with 2 pro fights if you’d never heard of either guy.

Throughout the fight, Lomachenko was able to force Russell to fight how he wanted. When Russell came inside, Lomachenko tied him up and expertly worked out of the clinch. On the outside, Lomachenko used feints to draw Russell into his guard or to attack so Lomachenko could counter. By the 4th round, it looked like Russell was completely out of it.

If you’re only going to watch one round from this fight, you may want to watch the 5th.

The 5th started like every other round. Russell came out with his blazing speed. Lomachenko landed one stiff counter or two and Russell began to back up. Then V-Tec kicked in. Lomachenko appeared to hurt Russell and he went in for the kill. Lomachenko unloaded everything. Russell survived the round, though he didn’t throw anything in the last minute of that round.

If you were looking for a round to give Russell, it was the 6th and 9th. Lomachneko clearly took the 6th off and he didn’t do much in the 9th. When Lomachenko actually boxed, Russell couldn’t do anything. j

For those of you that wondered whether Lomachenko, fighting on a rival promoters card, would get a fair shake, the answer came when they read the scorecards.

The scores were 116-112 twice and 114-114.

I scored it 118-110. I can listen to an argument for 116-112, but it’s a weak one that’s far too generous for Russell. The 114-114? Negligent. Lisa Giampa isn’t doing women in boxing any favors with that card. There’s hardly any new take anyone can provide on the subject of poor scoring, as the sport has been plagued by them since it’s inception.

As for Lomachenko’s future, it’s a bright one. Those that weren’t on the bandwagon are now firmly strapped in. Lomachenko looked every bit as good as we thought he was before the Salido fight. He looks like he’s learned everything he needed to in one fight with Salido.

Looking at the featherweight landscape, I ask myself who he would not be favored over? There’s Nicholas Walters, Nonito Donaire, Evgeny Gradovich, Jhonny Gonzalez, Abner Mares, and Lee Selby. Who doesn’t Lomachenko beat? Walters is inexperienced and doesn’t know how to properly use his reach. Donaire has looked lethargic and one-dimensional. Gradovich is a volume puncher without much power. Gonzalez wasn’t too impressive against Clive Atwell. Mares can be outboxed. Selby struggles with pressure.

Maybe Donaire isn’t an underdog, simply on his power and reputation alone, but from what we’ve seen of Lomachenko, I can’t picture Donaire landing his miracle left hook. A fight with Gradovich would be a war. Gradovich likes to fight on the inside, and he’s very effective at it. However, if Lomachenko can keep Gradovich on the outside, Gradovich would get carved up.

The rest are all likely underdogs.

Russell needs to go back to the drawing board. His high speed style is simply not going to cut it at the world level. He was moved along slowly, without any real gradual progression of competition. Instead, it was 24 guys who were more or less the same. Russell’s got a few things that are going to need to be addressed. The first is he might be too small for featherweight. He’s 5’4 and he looked like his arms were far shorter than Lomachenko’s. Most guys at 126 are around Lomachenko’s size. Russell, if he can, should move down to super bantamweight where he’ll at least have fewer size disadvantages.

The next thing is that Russell needs to give up the whole ‘fastest hands in boxing’ thing. What we saw was that his speed was the result of arm punching. There’s nothing on those punches. Russell shoeshine better than Leonard did in the Hagler fight, but it amounted to absolutely zero at the end of the fight. (Actually, Lisa Giampi was impressed by it.) Russell’s success with the speed has been solely because he was able to overwhelm intimidated opponents. Against a guy like Lomachenko who can keep him onside with a strong jab, there’s no way for Russell to execute what he and his corner believes are the part of his offense.

The last thing is that maybe Russell needs a new trainer. His corner seemed frantic, they provided few technical adjustments for him other than to do what was already not working. I truly believe this loss will be the best thing to happen for Russell, if he’s as talented as he appears. If I can easily see these flaws, I’m sure he does too. The question is whether or not Russell will do it. I think he’s still a tremendous talent who ironically struggled due to lack of experience. A good trainer could turn this kid, with his iron chin, into something special. 

All credit to Lomachenko. The guy made history in the face of people who laughed at him getting a title shot so early in his career. He looks like he’s truly a world level fighter capable of beating any featherweight in the world.

Tags: Boxing Featherweight Gary Russell Vasyl Lomachenko

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