By Jake Donovan
Gary Russell fights for his first major title after just 5 ½ years in the pro ranks. Vasyl Lomachenko goes for his second title shot in just eight months in the pro ranks.
Russell was a gifted amateur who served on the 2008 U.S. Olympic Boxing squad. His dreams ended at the scales, passing out due to dehydration during the weigh-in the morning of his first scheduled bout.
Lomachenko was a gifted amateur who twice captured Olympic gold for his native Ukraine, as well as earning the Val Barker Award as the standout fighter of the ’08 Olympics.
Russell has spent most of his pro career fighting on shows promoted by Golden Boy Promotions, but is one of many fighters strictly tied to Al Haymon and whose future remains uncertain beyond Saturday.
Lomachenko signed with Top Rank in 2013, with a clear vision of his future well before stepping foot into the ring as a pro fighter for the first time last October.
How do opposites attract these days? A generous purse bid won by Golden Boy Promotions lands this vacant title fight in the middle of their Showtime-televised tripleheader. The card airs live from the StubHub Center in Carson, California.
Has Russell taken the right steps to make it to the title stage, proving there’s no substitute for experience? Or is Lomachenko just that good, to where he can narrowly miss out on a title bid against a season veteran like Orlando Salido – who was anything but professional before or during their fight this past March – and get it right this time around, all within his first year as a pro?
Read on to see what the staff at Boxingscene.com believes will be the case on Saturday night in a SoCal venue known for its penchant of continuously producing Fight of the Year candidates.
BOXINGSCENE.COM STAFF PREDICTIONS: GARY RUSSELL vs. VASYL LOMACHENKO
“A lot of fans have been waiting for Russell Jr to get a world title opportunity, something that should have happened a while ago. The 1-1 Lomachenko isn't exactly an open goal for the American but I do think that the Ukrainian is never going to scale the giddy heights in the professional ranks as the world expected. This is Russell Jr's time to shine.”
- Shaun Brown (Russell by unanimous decision)
“To me this fight is close to a 50-50 fight but I give the slight edge to Lomachenko based on his vastly superior amateur career and I also feel that even though he has over 20 less pro fights, I think his encounters with Salido and Ramirez are superior to anyone that Russell has faced.”
- Ryan Burton (Lomachenko by split decision)
“Look for this to be Mr. Russell's long overdue coming out party. Lomachenko is light years ahead of any other rookie fighter but what worked for him versus Salido won't help him here.”
- Jake Donovan (Russell by unanimous decision)
“A lot of folks seem down on Lomachenko after the Salido loss, but it came after a win over a decent contender and it came against a guy who was not only a decorated world champion - but also significantly larger than he should have been. Either way, those two fights represent more competition than Russell has faced in his entire climb up the ladder. To me, that's what'll matter on Saturday, not the .500 record. I think Vasyl outworks him and gradually runs him low on gas in the late going.”
- Lyle Fitzsimmons (Lomachenko by unanimous decision)
“I know Lomachenko is this über-talented amateur expected to jump right into the pros and excel but I question the path taken to date. Two fights, one for a title and against a style he’d never seen before and lost due to it. Now he faces a total 180 in style and I have my doubts he adjusts to this either. Russell has some of the fastest hands in boxing, can crack a little and has fought at a pro level albeit with less than savory foes. Just think the pro experience takes him to the finish line.”
- Ernest Gabion (Russell by unanimous decision)
“It's obviously odd that the boxer with two pro fights has been tested more at this level than the 24-fight veteran. Gary Russell Jr. has been matched so soft though that you can't help but feel Vasyl Lomachenko is more prepared for him than vice versa. That said, Russell is an very talented, smart fighter who's eager to prove that his unblemished record isn't the mere by-product of careful matchmaking. I could see this fight going either way but Lomachenko is just about as physically gifted as Russell and should be able to apply enough of what he learned from the unsuccessful approach he took to Orlando Salido to edge Russell in an extremely competitive fight.”
- Keith Idec (Lomachenko by split decision)
“Two of the best amateurs of the past decade face off here, which means I expect an exhibition of class Saturday. While Vasyl Lomachenko has the type of body attack to stop the speedy Gary Russell in his tracks, I think the American will have the requisite footwork and unleash accurate combinations to keep his rival at bay. Most of all, Russell has the edge in experience, though if he breaks his hands -- which has occurred several times in his career -- all bets are off.”
- Ryan Maquiñana (Russell by decision)
“It's hard to figure who wins this. Lomachenko almost came back to get Salido and that had to be a good experience. Russell has been brought along the Haymon path trod by Andre Berto and Adrien Broner and it makes one wonder what they're hiding. Without an answer to that, this is all about two talents we just don't know that well yet. Russell building a lead and holding off a charge seems as good a bet as any.”
- Cliff Rold (Russell by decision)
“Lomanchenko should take advantage of his height and reach. However, I think the Russell body shots will be crucial, Gary is slightly faster than Vasyl and uses his right hand tightly. If Russell is able to penetrate the defense of Vasyl early in the fight, have high option to knockout Lomanchenko.”
- Reynaldo Sanchez (Russell by knockout within 10 rounds)
“Another tough fight for a proper prediction. Russell is a bit of an enigma here, more so than Lomachenko, whose career is as clear as anyone's else. Suggestion is that Lomachenko won't make the same mistake he made against Salido. He will start slowly but then will throttle just in time to get a narrow tactical win over Mr. Russell.”
- Alexey Sukachev (Lomachenko by majority decision)
“A really tough fight to pick, I've deliberated over this one and have gone back and fourth. It looks very much like a 50-50 fight on paper. The interesting this with this fight appears to be the intangibles. Both will be facing the quickest opponent they have as a pro, neither will have fought someone as technically sound, both are the most talented fighter the other has faced, when a pattern is established is the other able to do something to change the course of the fight? All told, I feel that Russell is quicker and will have the edge in speed which will help him to win a competitive decision. Though with so many unanswered questions this could easily go the other way.”
- Anson Wainwright (Russell by decision)
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as a member of Transnational Boxing Ratings Board and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox