Lomachenko Beats Russell for WBO 126-Pound Title
By GREG BEACHAM AP Sports Writer
Vasyl Lomachenko beat Gary Russell Jr. in a masterful majority decision Saturday night, and the two-time Olympic gold medalist won the WBO featherweight title in just his third pro fight.
Lomachenko (2-1, 1 KO) battered the previously unbeaten Russell around the outdoor ring, showing off his skill and power while blocking the wide majority of Russell's punches. The Ukrainian star hurt Russell repeatedly in the late rounds, reaching the final bell while pounding on Russell in his corner.
Judges Max DeLuca and Pat Russell scored the fight 116-112 for Lomachenko, but Lisa Giampa saw a 114-114 draw. The Associated Press scored it 118-110 for Lomachenko.
Lomachenko lost his first title shot in March to veteran Orlando Salido, but claimed the belt on his second try in his extraordinarily ambitious career plan.
"So far, I don't know what it means to be the champion," Lomachenko said through his translator. "I'm just glad I have the belt."
Russell (24-1) followed an extremely cautious plan over the last five years since turning pro, and his inexperience with top-level competition showed against Lomachenko. The former U.S. Olympic team selection landed a mere 10 percent of his 806 punches, failing to back up his activity with accuracy while unable to match Lomachenko's size and power.
"I thought it was a fair decision," Russell said. "I didn't stick to my game plan like I should have. I should have initiated the action much more and closed the distance on him.
Lomachenko landed 31 percent of his punches, including 43 percent of his power shots. He connected with 57 power shots to the body, according to CompuBox.
Both fighters showed off their remarkable athleticism from the opening bell, with Lomachenko pressuring Russell and deflecting most of the American challenger's combinations. Lomachenko worked Russell's body and avoided trouble while stacking up early rounds.
"I was working him to the body, and then I was working his head," Lomachenko said. "I followed my plan. I didn't prepare for this fight just to try something different."
Lomachenko hurt Russell visibly in the fifth round with punches to the body and head, but Russell kept up his activity level. But Lomachenko punished Russell again in the seventh, staggering him back with combinations and power.
Russell's eye began to swell in the late rounds, and Lomachenko landed a heavy right hand late in the 10th. Lomachenko finished with style, badly hurting Russell in the final minute of the 12th round and likely missing a stoppage by just a few seconds.
Lomachenko leaped into the arms of his father and trainer, Anatoly, after the final bell.
Lomachenko is arguably the best amateur boxer of his generation, winning Olympic gold medals for Ukraine in 2008 and 2012 and claiming the Val Barker Trophy as the Beijing Games' best fighter. After going 396-1 as an amateur and sparking international competition for his pro talents, he demanded a near-immediate title shot when he signed with Top Rank last year.
In his second pro outing, Lomachenko lost a split decision to Salido, who missed weight for the title bout and repeatedly clobbered Lomachenko with low blows while outworking the Olympian for most of the fight. Lomachenko's pro inexperience showed, but he finished the bout impressively and jumped right back into another fight for the vacant title.
While Lomachenko waited in the amateurs before rushing into his pro career, Russell followed largely the opposite path.
The quick-handed slugger from a Washington, D.C.-area boxing family made the 2008 Olympic team, but collapsed in Beijing while trying to make weight and never fought.
After turning pro in 2009, Russell was brought along incredibly slowly, with adviser Al Haymon and his family preferring to build up Russell's record against unimpressive opponents while waiting for the right title shot.
Gary Russell Jr. rips WBO’s ‘ridiculous’ decision on Vasyl Lomachenko
Featherweight Gary Russell Jr. ripped the WBO's decision to grant Vasyl Lomachenko a second-consecutive title shot, even though he welcomes the chance to beat the two-time Olympic gold medalist in accordance with an organization mandate.
WBO President Paco Valcarcel announced on Thursday that Golden Boy and Top Rank have 30 days to negotiate a fight between their respective fighters Russell and Lomachenko for the vacant title.
A 2008 U.S. Olympian Russell qualified for the team but never competed due to missing the weigh-in who is coming off a knockout of Miguel Tamayo in January, Russell (24-0, 14 KOs) was declared by Valcarcel in October to be the organization’s mandatory challenger to face then-beltholder Orlando Salido.
The ruling did not preclude Salido from making a voluntary defense against Lomachenko, 26, which he did on March 1. Lomachenko fell by split-decision to Salido, who lost his WBO belt at the scales after failing to make the 126-pound weigh-in limit.
As a result of Salido's failure, the title became vacant, though Lomachenko was eligible to win it if he had been victorious.
Lomachenko had said that he wanted to make history by becoming a titleholder in what was being billed as his second professional fight. According to Fight Fax Inc., Lomachenko is actually 7-1 because he was paid to take part in six World Series of Boxing fights.
Russll expressed his views on the WBO's decision along with his thoughts on how a fight against Lomachenko will transpire, below.
Gary Russell Jr. on the WBO's decision:
"The WBO title is definitely something that we want, but there's no question that politics played a big part in this situation. First of all, I think that it's completely disrespectful to the sanctioning body.
"It's also disrespectful to all of the other fighters for this guy to have an opportunity to compete for a title after only one fight. Then, he loses, and he gets an automatic shot at the title again in only his third fight?
"I don't think that it's fair at all to the other fighters. I think that the whole purpose of the sanctioning bodies is to have a structure as far as the No. 1 and the No. 2 and the No. 3 in order to prevent stuff like this.
"It's just very clear that you have someone who is pushing some things behind the scenes as far as this goes for this situation. What about these guys who have worked their way up, and who have strategically fought guys and worked their way up by taking certain fights to work their way up the rankings.
"When it comes to those guys who have worked their way up, and who have earned their shot to be in position for a world title, I don't think that it's fair. They've worked their way into the top 10 or the top five the hard way.
"All of that stuff matters, because if you fight the No. 5 guy, and you beat him, that's going to push you up in the rankings to maybe a No. 3, etc. A lot of guys crossed their T's and dotted their I's to get where they wanted to be.
"So it's a little ridiculous for somebody with two fights to just jump in front of all of these guys who have been competing and trying their best to make it happen and to become a world champion.
Russell his impressions of Lomachenko's loss to Salido:
"I really didn't see much of the fight with Salido as far as what he does. I did see the fight from the seventh through the last round. It wasn't really a priority to me.
"It only becomes a priority once that name is across the ring from me for my fight. I saw briefly that he still fights like an amateur, given the background that we have, because we have a very similar background.
"Even with that background that he has, there are certain things that you have to learn. You need these extra fights, and you need these tune-up fights. You need these smaller fights to help you to get a better understanding of the professional game.
"I don't think that he has that. We have that on our side. Even with his fight with Salido, I don't think that he has the necessary skills to beat me.
On how his fight will go with Lomachenko:
"I'm going to vanquish him as a fighter. Anyone will tell you that two losses, back-to-back, in your career as a professional is tremendous when it comes to your credibility and your clout and your reputation as a fighter.
"So I think that it's poor judgement by his management, and his team, to allow him to take loss the way that he did against Salido, and I think that it is even dumber for him to jump directly into the ring with a fighter like me.
"But if this is the guy that they put in front of us, in spite of the fact that I believe that it's unfair, then by all means, we'll go and critique him, we'll find all of chinks in his armour.
"And then, we'll definitely burn his ass up and I'll have the WBO title. So he will definitely suffer his second loss, back-to-back, and that's pretty much going to be the end of his career."