Lomachenko closes in on world title

Two-time Olympic gold medalist will face Orlando Salido on Saturday

Originally Published: February 27, 2014
By Dan Rafael | ESPN.com

If featherweight Vasyl Lomachenko had gotten his way, he would have fought for a world title in his pro debut. But when manager Egis Klimas and Top Rank promoter Bob Arum explained that it was not possible, Lomachenko settled for the alternative plan.

Arum promised Lomachenko that if he won his pro debut he would deliver him a title shot in his second pro fight.

Lomachenko, the two-time Olympic gold medalist from Ukraine who is regarded by many as the best amateur in boxing history -- he was reportedly 396-1 -- looked outstanding in his pro debut. In a flawless performance, he crushed fringe contender Jose Ramirez in a fourth-round knockout victory in October in Las Vegas on the Timothy Bradley Jr.-Juan Manuel Marquez undercard.

Shortly thereafter, Arum kept his word and lined up the world title shot. It promises to be a fascinating fight when Lomachenko, the 2013 ESPN.com prospect of the year, challenges Orlando Salido for his 126-pound title Saturday night (HBO, 9:45 ET/PT) at the Alamodome in San Antonio.

"Thank you to Top Rank and a special thank you to Bob Arum for making this fight happen -- for making my dream come true," Lomachenko said through a translator. "Tune into HBO 'World Championship Boxing' on [Saturday]. You will remember the Alamodome that night."

Klimas knew that Lomachenko wanted to move quickly, but even he was caught off-guard at just how fast.

"I know he can do it, but I was a little surprised at first that he wanted to go so fast," Klimas said. "He said he wanted to fight for the title in the first fight. Bob Arum had to explain to him it's impossible. But because he has the two gold medals and is one of the best amateurs ever, we said we can try for it in the second fight and, thanks to Bob Arum, he made it happen."

Former middleweight titlist Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. (47-1-1, 32 KOs) of Mexico and Bryan Vera (23-7, 14 KOs) of Austin, Texas, will meet in the scheduled 12-round super middleweight main event, a rematch of Chavez's highly controversial decision in their Sept. 28 fight in Carson, Calif.

Because of Lomachenko's amateur accolades and universal acclaim for his skills, many believe he will beat Salido. If he does, Lomachenko will break the record set by Thailand's Saensak Muangsurin as the fighter to win a world title in the fewest number of bouts.

On July 15, 1975, Muangsurin, who died in 2009 at age 58, knocked out Perico Fernandez in the eighth round in Bangkok to win a junior welterweight world title in only his third professional fight.

The possible history that awaits Lomachenko (1-0, 1 KO), who began boxing when he was 4 or 5 and turned 26 on Feb. 17, is exactly what he wanted when he went pro.

"I know that my skill level allows me to fight current champions in my weight division," said Lomachenko, a southpaw. "And if I am capable of making history, why not make history? And that's why I am fighting for a title in my second professional bout."

Klimas is as aggressive a manager as there is in boxing. He has moved some of his other fighters quickly also, including light heavyweight titlist Sergey Kovalev and featherweight titlist Evgeny Gradovich. He has always been willing to challenge his fighters.

"If you look at the fighters I manage and how I move them, you know I'm not in the protection business," Klimas said. "I am not the kind of manager that says he can't fight today, but he can fight tomorrow. My guys fight tough fights. But when [Lomachenko] arrived in the United States to talk to promoters, I didn't have in mind he would want to go so quick. I knew he wanted to fight for a title in maybe six or seven fights, but he wanted to do it quicker than that and that's what he got.

"I am very confident in him, and I will tell you why. From the first day he arrived in the United States for training camp on Jan. 10, I spent every day with him. I watched everything. The preparation, the diet and everything went so smooth. I don't believe he is 100 percent ready. I believe he is 120 percent ready."

Lomachenko was taught how to box as a child by his father, Anatoly Lomachenko, who is still his trainer. Lomachenko went on to win the featherweight Olympic gold medal in 2008 and lightweight gold medal in 2012.

Although some view his ascension to a title fight so quickly as undeserved, Lomachenko believes the years of winning and hard work he has put in as an amateur should count for a lot.

"It has been a long, hard ride to get to this world title fight," Lomachenko said. "I may have only one professional fight on my résumé, but I have been boxing all my life, dreaming that one day I would be fighting the best fighters. And now I am fighting a world champion who is one of the best in featherweight division.

[+] EnlargeOrlando Salido
Chris Farina/Top RankOrlando Salido brings his experience to face the younger Vasyl Lomachenko.

"Salido is a very good veteran fighter, and he has been in the ring with toughest opponents. He puts a lot of pressure on you inside the ring, and he comes to fight. Defeating this kind of fighter would mean a lot to me. It would also add my name to boxing history and get me one step closer to joining the sport's all-time best."

Salido (40-12-2, 28 KOs), 33, of Mexico, does not have the kind of storied background like Lomachenko. He came up the hard way and earned everything he has gotten as a pro. Many of his losses occurred when he was still a teenager while others came against the best in the business, including Juan Manuel Marquez, Yuriorkis Gamboa and Mikey Garcia. But Salido also owns two signature knockout victories against Juan Manuel Lopez in world title fights.

Making the first defense of his third title reign, Salido won a vacant belt when he stopped Orlando Cruz in the seventh round on the same card on which Lomachenko turned pro in October. In his previous fight, Salido lost his title and a lopsided eighth-round technical decision to Mikey Garcia.

"Salido is a veteran, a very tough guy, and it's not easy in my opinion," Klimas said. "He's one of the best in the featherweight division. For Lomachenko to win this title, he will have to beat a real, real tough guy."

Although considered an underdog by many, Salido believes Lomachenko is not experienced enough as a professional to beat him.

"I know people expect Lomachenko to beat me and take my title away, and while I respect all he did as an amateur, professional boxing is not the same," Salido said through a translator. "My experience, strength and hunger will be the difference.

"Lomachenko has quick hands, is very fast, but he still has an amateur style that can be exploited and that is what I am going to do on [Saturday] in San Antonio. This fight is as big as any I had in my career and look forward to the challenge."

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