Tuesday, October 8, 2013
Lomachenko chasing history
By Dan Rafael
When Vasyl Lomachenko, the heralded two-time Olympic gold medal champion from Ukraine, was making the rounds to meet with promoters to discuss a pro contract this past summer, he let them know that he wanted to fight for a featherweight world title in his professional debut.
As it turns out, Lomachenko, 25, will have to wait until for it until his second bout -- assuming he wins his debut, a 10-rounder against Mexico's Jose Luis Ramirez (24-2-2, 15 KOs) on Saturday night (HBO PPV, 9 ET) on the Timothy Bradley Jr.-Juan Manuel Marquez undercard.
"I want to make boxing history, and to do that there's only one way -- go fast and show everybody what I can do," Lomachenko told ESPN.com through manager and translator Egis Klimas. "I don't want to be like other fighters, fighting four- and six-round fights. That's nonsense. I don't need to be built."
Only twice has a boxer fought for a world title in his pro debut. The famous time was when Pete Rademacher, a 1956 U.S. Olympic gold medalist, challenged Floyd Paterson for the heavyweight championship in 1957 and got dropped six times in a sixth-round knockout loss (although Rademacher floored the champion). But in 1975, Rafael Lovera of Paraguay made his pro debut against Luis Estaba for a vacant junior flyweight title and got knocked out in the fourth round and never fought again.
Top Rank promoter Bob Arum had been interested in signing Lomachenko since he won his first gold medal in 2008, and when he met with him, along with Klimas (whom he knows because he also promotes another one of his clients, featherweight titlist Evgeny Gradovich), they laid out their hopes for a title shot in Lomachenko's debut.
"They asked me what my plans would be for him, and I told him the game plan that we generally have -- a four-rounder, maybe a six-rounder for his debut and we'd move him up that way, the way we move our fighters," Arum said. "Lomachenko said, 'I want to do what's only been done once before: fight for a world title [in a pro debut].'"
Arum said Lomachenko didn't know Rademacher's name, just that he knew he also wanted to try for a title in his debut.
"I said you can't do that any more because there would be so much criticism without having a pro fight," Arum said. "I said, 'If you're willing to fight a top contender for a minor title, that would automatically qualify you to fight for a world title,' and that maybe we could do it in the second fight. He thought that was a good idea."
So that is the audacious plan for Lomachenko, who won featherweight Olympic gold in 2008 and then lightweight gold in 2012, although he plans to fight professionally at featherweight to start.
If Lomachenko beats Ramirez, he would likely fight Jan. 25 on HBO at New York's Theater at Madison Square Garden and challenge for a world title, likely against the winner of Saturday's vacant title bout between former titlist Orlando Salido and Orlando Cruz.
Arum said delivering a title fight quickly enabled him to sign Lomachenko without even paying him a signing bonus. Instead, he's paying Lomachenko's living expenses and a $100,000 purse for the debut, which will increase dramatically when he fights for a title.
Most fighters turn pro in a four- or six-rounder, but Lomachenko said the 10-round distance is no issue, should the fight go that long.
"I feel very comfortable," said Lomachenko, who counts Mike Tyson, Roy Jones Jr. and Kostya Tszyu as his boxing idols. "I do a lot of workouts. I have been around professionals. I have sparred eight, 10, 12 rounds. I run a marathon once a year. I swim. My stamina, I am not worried about that."
Klimas, who also manages light heavyweight titleholder Sergey Kovalev, said Lomachenko is a technical boxer but also carries a good punch.
"I think we're gonna see some knockouts, for sure," Klimas said. "He's a dream of a manager, a promoter and trainer. This kid needs to be stopped from training. You need to chase him out of the gym."
Lomachenko's sheer confidence impressed Arum.
"The closest it reminds me of as far as confidence is [Floyd] Mayweather," said Arum, who signed Mayweather after the 1996 Olympics and promoted the fighter through much of his career. "But Lomachenko has a body of work in the amateurs that far surpasses Mayweather's. Mayweather was extraordinarily confident for a kid going from the amateurs to the pros, but the résumé is not the same.
"I really have not seen something like this before, what Lomachenko wants to do. So I'm withholding judgment. But deep down I believe if anyone can pull this off, it's this kid. Maybe because it's that I want to believe, but I have been so in awe of the name for so many years, I believe he can accomplish anything."
Although the fast path was Lomachenko's idea, he was not interested in discussing it.
"I'm not thinking about the second bout," Lomachenko said. "I am concentrating on Saturday and on Jose Ramirez, who is in front of me. I need to win this bout first."
Lomachenko might not want to look ahead, but Arum sure does.
If Lomachenko wins Saturday and claims a title in January, Arum wants him to defend against another one of his fighters, junior featherweight champion Guillermo Rigondeaux, in the spring.
"Can you imagine that? These two guys, with four gold medals between them, two of the greatest amateurs ever, fighting each other?" Arum said. "That's never happened before, two guys with two gold medals fighting. I think if it's handled right, it could be a big fight."