By Jake Donovan
For years, boxing’s version of the Cold War – the ongoing rivalry between Top Rank and fighters with Golden Boy Promotions, adviser Al Haymon or both – have crippled progress and denied many boxers the opportunity to run the full gamut of taking on all comers.
A purse bid won by Golden Boy Promotions to promote the June 21 featherweight title fight between Gary Russell and Vasyl Lomachenko is viewed as a potential starting point towards a reversal of that ugly trend.
“Hopefully it’s the start of better things to come,” Carl Moretti, Vice President of Boxing Operations for Top Rank commented of the pairing.
The fight—which serves as part of a Showtime-televised tripleheader at the StubHub Center in Carson, Calif.—pits two fighters known for their incredible list of achievements in the amateur ranks. Both represented their countries in the 2008 Olympics, but Russell – viewed by many as the best candidate from the 2008 U.S. Olympic boxing squad to win a Gold medal – was forced to withdraw from competition on the morning of his first round matchup after passing out during the morning weigh-in.
Lomachenko went on to run the tables, capturing a Gold medal in the featherweight division. He went on to represent Ukraine in the 2012 London Olympics, claiming top honors in the lightweight division to cap an amazing amateur career with an astonishing 396-1 record.
Both land in a vacant featherweight title fight despite limited experience at the contender level in the pro ranks.
Russell (24-0, 14KO) has barely lost a round through more than five full years as a pro, but has never participated in an elimination bout or any fight scheduled for more than 10 rounds. Chronic hand injuries have slowed his career progress, having fought just twice each in 2012 and 2013, and is coming off of a tune-up knockout win over Miguel Tamayo this past January.
Lomachenko (1-1, 1KO) is already fighting in his second title fight, this in just his third scheduled fight as a pro. The 26-year old turned pro last October, scoring a 4th round stoppage of Jose Ramirez in Las Vegas, with the guarantee that his next fight would be for a world title.
True to its word, Top Rank matched the Ukrainian wunderkind with Orlando Salido this past March. Salido was forced to concede his featherweight belt on the scales after missing weight, with the title on the line only for Lomachenko, who dropped a close split decision in a foul-filled affair.
The title was declared vacant as a result, with Russell and Lomachenko ordered by the World Boxing Organization (WBO) to fill the void. With that comes the first pairing of a Top Rank vs. Golden Boy/Al Haymon fighter since Vanes Martirosyan and Erislandy Lara fought to a technical draw in their Nov. ’12 title eliminator.
Since that time, fighters have remained relatively quiet over the circumstances surrounding boxing’s Cold War, instead content with the fact that their respective handlers found ways to keep them active and their pockets aligned. With a significant fight now taking place involving those parties, the hope is that the excuses are kept to a minimum in terms of making more fights like this.
“It's a big honor to break that cycle, the Top Rank-Al Haymon-Golden Boy dreck,” Russell stated unapologetically during a media conference call on Tuesday. “You have these great fighters that fans don't get to see because of the ongoing situation.
“It's a big honor for me and Lomachenko to break through all of that.”
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