by David P. Greisman
There are reasons why situations such as Saturday’s are so rare — and such uncommon circumstances are why so much marketing hype was put behind the fight between featherweight titleholder Orlando Salido and challenger Vasyl Lomachenko.
The marketing claimed that Lomachenko was vying for a world title in just his second pro fight and that he would be breaking a record if he won.
Lomachenko, a 26-year-old from Ukraine, is considered one of the top amateur talents of recent years. He won gold medals in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, and captured amateur world championships in 2009 and 2011. His legend was also built in the nearly 400 fights he had in the unpaid ranks, with only one of those bouts ending in defeat.
After the 2012 Olympics, Lomachenko joined up with the World Series of Boxing, which is affiliated with the organization formerly known as the International Amateur Boxing Association (or AIBA), now called the International Boxing Association. Thanks to that affiliation, WSB competitors would be able to get paid without losing their Olympic eligibility.
Though many of the athletes who competed in the WSB say they were told the bouts wouldn’t count on their pro records, the fighters didn’t wear headgear, and they earned money for fighting. Fight Fax, which is considered the official record keeper for pro boxing, includes WSB results as part of fighters’ records. Lomachenko went 6-0 with no knockouts in the WSB, then joined up with promoter Top Rank.
Lomachenko was confident that his amateur success would translate to the professional ranks. And he felt there was no better way to garner attention than to capture a pro world title as soon as possible.
His first bout with Top Rank — against Jose Ramirez on the October undercard to Timothy Bradley vs. Juan Manuel Marquez — was announced as being Lomachenko’s first pro fight, even though it was truly his seventh. Lomachenko had wanted to fight for a belt that night. Instead, his title shot would come in his next outing.
This still fit into the marketing plan.
Someone else had vied for a world title in his pro debut; Pete Rademacher won Olympic gold in 1956 and then met Floyd Patterson for the professional heavyweight championship, losing by knockout. But as multiple writers have noted, the earliest anyone had ever actually won a title was in his third pro fight — junior welterweight Saensak Muangsurin had done so in 1975.
Sometimes good marketing means making as big a splash as early as possible. Sometimes good business, however, requires a soft opening that better readies you for the future.
This is why even the best prospects take what is essentially a step backward in competition when they begin their pro careers — and then take their time as their managers move them gradually toward better opposition and different challenges.
They need to identify any flaws before their opponents are good enough to fully capitalize on them, and then work on those improvements in the gym. They need to learn different tricks, those used by others and to be used for themselves. Some need to learn how to handle various situations, including overcoming difficult moments, and then learn how prevent those circumstances from arising again.
It can be maddening for fans to watch as these development processes sometimes drag on for far too long, to see prospects get overpaid and overhyped during a string of mismatches. But it is a tried-and-tested method.
And that tried-and-tested method is why Lomachenko could stand out by doing something different.
Many of us bought into the hype. We saw Lomachenko as being similar to Guillermo Rigondeaux, another acclaimed amateur with two Olympic gold medals who arrived in the pro ranks with the demeanor and skillset of a veteran pro. Rigondeaux won his first pro world title in his ninth fight and then became the undisputed world champion at 122 pounds in his 12th.
We believed that Top Rank executives wouldn’t be putting Lomachenko in with Salido already if they weren’t certain of the result.
We recalled that Salido, despite his recent successes, had shown signs that he was slipping. There were the two knockdowns he suffered early against Weng Haya in late 2011 before coming back to get the win. There were the four knockdowns he suffered early against Mikey Garcia last year before he steadied himself and began to battle back, ultimately losing a technical decision when a clash of heads ended the fight.
Salido returned from that defeat with a win over Orlando Cruz last October, once again winning a world title. We didn’t see Cruz as being anywhere near the same level as Lomachenko, though.
And then Salido came in overweight for the Lomachenko fight, tipping the scales at 128.25 pounds, well above the 126-pound limit. He said that he’d known earlier in the week that he wouldn’t be able to make weight, that he couldn’t drain himself any further. He likely kept himself drained just to remain near the featherweight limit, just to ensure that his opponent, the promoter and the athletic commission would still allow the bout to go forward.
We thought that boded even worse for Salido’s fate.
We were wrong. Lomachenko got a crash course in pro boxing.
Lomachenko’s team was confident in the victory. They accepted $15,000 from Salido for his being overweight, but didn’t negotiate a limit on the amount of weight that Salido would be allowed to regain.
So Salido came into the ring on Saturday night at an unofficial weight of 147 pounds, and despite gaining nearly 19 pounds in less than 32 hours, he wasn’t left overly sluggish despite all of the rehydrating and eating he’d done.
Salido is a veteran who has been in pro boxing since 1996; he was a 15-year-old lacing up the gloves back when Lomachenko was just 8 years old. Salido had been the undoing of a touted opponent before, upsetting Juan Manuel Lopez in 2011 and then beating Lopez again a year later.
He not only came in with a career’s worth of experience, but with the benefits of a distinct size advantage. It seemed at times that Salido, fighting essentially as a welterweight, was walking through the punches thrown by Lomachenko, who had gained about 11 pounds himself yet was still 11 pounds lighter than Salido. And Salido was putting his weight into his punches, particularly to Lomachenko’s body.
Lomachenko had difficulty dealing with Salido’s size, shots and pressure. It also didn’t help that Salido was often resorting to the same kind of veteran dirty tricks made infamous by Bernard Hopkins, throwing low blows that also included punches to the hip and leg when the referee was out of position — and he even got away with it when Laurence Cole was wholly able to see what was going on.
Lomachenko didn’t retaliate with low blows of his own. He didn’t target Salido’s ample body until much later in the fight — even though it was a body shot that had brought Lomachenko the win on the Bradley-Marquez undercard. He didn’t attempt to deter Salido with uppercuts; you could count on one hand the number of uppercuts that Lomachenko threw. He didn’t outwork Salido. Largely, he held — often.
Despite all this, Lomachenko was able to put up a good enough effort that some ringside observers and one of the three official judges had him winning. He found his best success later in the fight, hurting Salido in the 12th round when he caught his approaching opponent with a solid left hand to the head, then followed up with a good shot to the body. Salido was able to hold on, however, both literally and figuratively.
This was not what Lomachenko’s team wanted, though it could have been worse. After all, while other prospects have their learning experiences over the course of years, Lomachenko was confronted with with several challenges in a single night.
The loss could still be to his benefit — so long as he recognizes that even the best amateurs have to work to become even better as pros.
The 10 Count
1. People questioned Manny Pacquiao as he made his way from featherweight up to welterweight. Orlando Salido did it in just 32 hours…
…and I would’ve loved to see a camera crew follow Salido to show us just what a fighter does and goes through when he adds nearly 19 pounds in a little more than a day.
2. Last week brought the notable news that the Nevada State Athletic Commission will no longer be issuing therapeutic use exemptions allowing fighters to use testosterone replacement therapy.
Several UFC fighters had previously been issued exemptions. No boxers had received exemptions from the commission.
Of course, rules are only as good as the testing done to enforce them. The thing now will be for the NSAC and UFC to increase the frequency and stringency of their testing to make sure that fighters aren’t using testosterone — and to utilize Carbon Isotope Ratio testing to check for synthetic testosterone, rather than relying on flagging a fighter if his testosterone-epitestosterone ratio comes in above a certain level. Athletes can cheat with synthetic testosterone without raising their levels to a point that the samples would be flagged, and so CIR testing is a necessary tool.
And while we pay so much attention to Nevada due to its status as the fight capital of the United States, we must also keep pressing other states and countries where testing is weak or nonexistent.
3. I feel like we still don’t know how good Terence Crawford might be, but that doesn’t mean I’m not already impressed with him. But in my case, it isn’t as much about his performances as it is about his mentality.
A year ago, Crawford stepped in one short notice — and stepped up in weight — to face Breidis Prescott. Crawford won that bout by unanimous decision, and impressed HBO executives enough that he was featured on the network twice more that year.
And this past weekend, Crawford went to hostile territory to challenge lightweight titleholder Ricky Burns in Scotland. Crawford won the title in a card aired on a network called A Wealth of Entertainment (formerly WealthTV).
Now he just needs to win fans (and skeptics) over.
4. Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.’s rematch win over Bryan Vera was one lacking in controversy, which is what Chavez needed following his questionable victory over Vera amid questionable circumstances this past September.
Amazingly, his clear victory was not clear at all in the eyes of boxing judge David Sutherland, who had Chavez winning 114-113. If not for a point taken from Bryan Vera during the fight, Sutherland would’ve had the Chavez-Vera rematch as a draw.
5. After the fight, Bryan Vera was quoted as saying that his team had only found out days before the bout that they were scheduled to go 12 rounds, and not the 10-round distance that the first Chavez-Vera fight had been.
I don’t understand how that can be the case.
As early as Jan. 16, a good month and a half ago, an email went out to the media in which it was noted that Chavez and Vera would “square off in a 12-round super middleweight battle in a rematch to settle their score once and for all.”
And I imagine Vera’s camp knew this before we reporters did.
6. Boxers Behaving Badly, part one: Antonio Tarver was taken into police custody in Florida on Saturday night after a Highway Patrol trooper discovered that Nevada had an open warrant out for the former light heavyweight champion’s arrest, according to reports from The Tampa Tribune and WFLA.
The Tribune said Tarver “was arrested on a warrant for jumping bail and failure to appear” in court in Clark County, Nev. WFLA said Tarver’s case stems from charges of “insufficient check and theft,” dating back to June 2013.
Tarver, who is now 45 years old, is like his former rivals Roy Jones Jr. and Glen Johnson in that he’s continuing to fight despite being far past his prime. His last bout was at heavyweight in November 2013, when he scored a technical knockout over some guy named Mike Sheppard. That brought Tarver’s record to 30-6 with 21 knockouts and 1 no contest. This May will mark a decade since he knocked out Roy Jones.
7. Boxers Behaving Badly, part two: Former junior featherweight and featherweight Antonio Escalante was arrested last week after allegedly driving while intoxicated with an open alcohol container, according to Texas television station KFOX El Paso.
The El Paso Times said Escalante “was found asleep behind the wheel of [a] car at a gas station” with “the engine running and in gear.” Officers had to get a warrant to take a blood sample from Escalante, who “refused to take a field sobriety test and to provide a breath sample,” the newspaper reported.
Escalante, who is 28 years old, turned pro in 2003 and is 29-6 with 20 knockouts. His last fight was this past January, when he scored a first-round technical knockout of designated opponent Sammy Ventura.
8. Boxers Behaving Badly update: Former welterweight titleholder James Page has pleaded guilty to robbing eight California banks over the course of about three months last year, a spree that raked in more than $20,000 but will bring him back to prison for an expected 20-year sentence, according to InsideBayArea.com.
Page, 42, went by the nickname of “Mighty Quinn” when he was in the ring. But he allegedly became what police called the “Button Down Bandit” during a crime spree that would mark another run afoul of the law, according to the San Jose Mercury News.
“By the time he won his title [in 1998], he had already served two stints in prison, including 10 months in San Quentin in late 1996 and 1997 after he was convicted of theft from a Concord athletic club,” the newspaper article said. “He was stripped of his title after he failed to appear at a mandatory fight in November 2000. In December 2001, he was arrested in the robbery of a bank in Atlanta and later sentenced to 11 years in federal prison.”
Page had a comeback fight in November 2012, losing a second-round knockout to an 8-9 opponent named Rahman Yusubov, according to BoxRec.com. That loss dropped his record to 25-5 with 19 knockouts.
9. I’ve been wondering how Danny Garcia’s fight with Mauricio Herrera on March 15 will do at the box office in Puerto Rico. I haven’t heard much in the way of buzz for Garcia’s first fight back since his win over Lucas Matthysse last year.
Though Garcia is of Puerto Rican heritage, he was raised in Philadelphia. He’ll be sharing the broadcast with Deontay Wilder vs. Malik Scott (two American heavyweights) and the rematch between faded Puerto Rican star Juan Manuel Lopez and Mexican slugger Daniel Ponce De Leon.
So since I’m a glutton for punishment, I counted the individual sold and unsold seats, thanks to the handy-dandy interactive graphics on the Ticket Center PR website.
The unofficial numbers as of Sunday evening: 3,200 tickets had been sold for the show at the Coliseo Ruben Rodriguez in Bayamon. And there were 7,165 open seats.
A massive number of those open seats were in the cheap seats — 5,920 tickets still available out of 7,000 seats in those sections. Those tickets are going for less than $30.
Of course, there’s still a little less than two weeks to go for sales, so those numbers can and will change, and there can still be plenty of walk-up traffic on fight night as well.
10. Yes, I admittedly spent a good part of my Sunday evening counting seats, yet I did not take the time to count the number of Orlando Salido low blows from his win against Vasyl Lomachenko.
Cut me some slack, though. There’s only so many nut shots a man can watch — unless that man happens to be a fan of “America’s Funniest Home Videos” or “Jackass.”
In which case, you’re probably not reading this column…
“Fighting Words” appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com. Pick up a copy of David’s new book, “Fighting Words: The Heart and Heartbreak of Boxing,” at http://bit.ly/fightingwordsamazon or internationally at http://bit.ly/fightingwordsworldwide . Send questions/comments via email at [email protected]