By Frank Warren
There is a growing swell of opinion that Vasyl Lomachenko is the boxer best tailored to succeed Floyd Mayweather as the sport’s premier pound for pound fighter.
The 25 year old Ukrainian southpaw, who finally joined the pro game last October, might just have been the greatest amateur fighter ever.
The son of a boxing coach, he first laced the mitts at the age of just four. Despite operating at elite level for the overwhelming majority of his 397 bout amateur career, he was defeated just once - by Russian southpaw Albert Selimov who edged past him in the final of the 2007 World Championships in Chicago - when Lomachenko was still a teenager.
Lomachenko avenged that loss twice and went on to capture two world titles plus a brace of Olympic gold medals at the 2008 Beijing and 2012 London Games. At the former, he snared the coveted Val Barker Trophy for the outstanding boxer of the tournament.
And on the 1st March, the brilliant Ukrainian will try to make history by winning a bonafide world title in just his second pro fight when he challenges WBO featherweight king Orlando Salido at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas.
Even the most decorated amateurs usually tiptoe into the pros for half a dozen fights but Lomachenko earned the right to contest the world title by smashing fringe contender Jose Louis Ramirez inside four rounds in his debut in Las Vegas.
The Mexican, who’d won 25 of 28 going in and had never been stopped, was almost dissected by scything body shots in a scheduled ten rounder. Lomachenko bagged the WBO International title and a number five rating with the sanctioning body to legitimize his audacious world title challenge.
The record is presently held by Thai southpaw Saensak Muangsurin who, after an extensive career in Muay Thai, captured the WBC light-welter title in his third pro fight in 1975.
In 1993, diminutive Scot Paul Weir captured the WBO minimumweight title in just his sixth paid start and old timers will recall ‘Neon’ Leon Spinks – the 1976 Olympic light-heavyweight gold medalist – upsetting Muhammad Ali to capture the world heavyweight title in just his eighth scrap.
Then there was Pete Rademacher the 1956 Melbourne Olympic champion who made an abortive challenge to reigning world heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson on his pro debut back in August 1957. Alas, he was knocked out in round six.
And, make no mistake in Salido, Lomachenko is facing the real deal; a grizzled Mexican who is presently in his third reign as world champion.
While the Ukrainian’s pro ledger lists just one fight and four rounds, the 33 year old champion was punching for pay at 15, fought his first ten rounder at 16 and is a veteran of 10 bonafide world title contests. He has navigated the full 12 round championship trip five times and shared the ring with a long list of meritable world champions.
Though his 54 fight slat lists five stoppage defeats, the last one occurred over 14 years and 40 fights ago. This is one seriously tough and tenacious hombre who dismisses Lomachenko as ‘a boy’.
So why are so many experts convinced that Lomachenko will cut it at the highest echelons of the austere professional code, where several decorated amateurs have fallen short when confronted with contests that resemble a marathon not a sprint?
His acclimatization should certainly have been assisted by his participation in the World Series of Boxing last year, in which elite amateurs compete over five-three minute rounds, with smaller gloves and no head gear.
But, more poignantly, Lomachenko just seems blessed with every conceivable attribute needed to flourish; searing speed, crippling power, tactical acumen, an iron jaw and fabulous movement honed from childhood dance lessons.
Despite the disparity in experience, his talent is such that he will enter as favorite and I expect him to deliver. He appears a superstar in waiting.
With the January transfer season in full swing, I too have been busy strengthening my squad.
Last week I penned deals with half a dozen prospects who have serious championship potential.
Scouse southpaw Thomas Stalker captained Team GB’s 2012 Olympic boxing squad and trousered medals at the Commonwealth Games and both European and World senior championships.
Nathan Brough, another Liverpool light-welter who’s already undefeated in ten as a pro, once bagged a bronze medal at the World Junior meet in Cuba.
Corby cruiser Simon Barclay is a two-time, two weight English ABA champion and senior international.
Liverpool flyweight Kevin ‘The Ice Man’ Satchell already reigns on the British and Commonwealth thrones.
Bantamweight Ryan Farrag, another from Merseyside, already holds an amateur win over London 2012 Olympic champion Luke Campbell, while stablemate Steven Lewis, just 21, is a multiple national junior champion. All will fight exclusively on Box Nation. Follow them by subscribing on boxnation.com
A shout out to former Premier League footballer Curtis Woodhouse who was confirmed as a challenger for the British light-welterweight title this week.
The 33 year old from Driffield in Yorkshire will meet Bristol’s Darren Hamilton at the Ice Arena in Hull on February 22nd.
A one-time captain of the England Under 21s, Woodhouse endured much ridicule when, aged 26 and in his athletic prime, he swapped the comforts of pro football to shed two stone and embark on a career as a prizefighter.
However, through sheer persistence he has overcome a few hiccups (six defeats) to earn a shot at the coveted Lord Lonsdale Belt.
Woodhouse, who famously tracked down and confronted an abusive twitter troll last year, will enter a rank outsider with the bookies but it’s still a significant achievement given his late entry.
Like most genuine followers of The Noble Art, I was appalled by the footage of the press conference to promote WBO lightweight champion Ricky Burns’ mandatory defence against Nebraska’s Terence Crawford in Glasgow on March 1st.
A bit of pre-fight ‘needle’ is part and parcel of our industry but when one fighter threatens his opponent is ‘going to die’ and going ‘home in a coma’ – as Edinburgh cruiserweight Stephen Simmons ranted on Monday – the line has clearly been breached.
The Scot was understandably riled because followers of his opponent Wadi Camacho had super-imposed the head of Simmons’ fiancé onto sexually explicit photos, then posted them on social media outlets.
Boxing at its best is a noble sport, but we must never forget also dangerous and Simmons’ tasteless comments are stupid and he should apologize to the sport.
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