Vasyl Lomachenko to make pro debut
When two-time Ukrainian Olympic gold medalist Vasyl Lomachenko signed with Top Rank in July, one of the reasons was because the company agreed to go along with his request to be moved quickly and because it could promise him a world title fight within the first few bouts of his pro career.
Lomachenko wasn't kidding about moving quickly, agreeing Tuesday to make his pro debut against experienced Puerto Rican veteran Jonathan Oquendo in a 10-round featherweight fight that will take place Oct. 12 (HBO PPV) at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas on the undercard of the Timothy Bradley Jr.-Juan Manuel Marquez welterweight title fight.
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Most fighters turning pro do so in fights scheduled for four or perhaps six rounds and face an overmatched opponent. But Lomachenko, 25, one of the top amateur fighters in boxing history, does not believe he needs much seasoning in the pros and it shows with the selection of Oquendo.
"He's stepping up right off the bat," Top Rank vice president Carl Moretti told ESPN.com. "This is a hellacious debut. I don't mean to be dramatic, but this is unheard of for a pro debut. You probably have to go back to when [Floyd] Patterson fought [Pete] Rademacher."
Moretti is referring to the famed 1957 heavyweight world championship fight in which Rademacher, the 1956 U.S. Olympic gold medalist, made his professional debut challenging Patterson for the title and got dropped six times in a sixth-round knockout loss (although he also floored the champion).
"For a pro debut, this ranks way up there because of how tough an opponent Oquendo is. Just look at his credentials," Moretti said. "Stepping up a gear during any race is no an easy thing to do. In boxing, in a pro debut, it's unheard of."
Oquendo (23-3, 16 KOs), 30, who scored a fourth-round knockout of Miguel Tamayao on Saturday in Puerto Rico, is quite experienced, although he was knocked out by the top two opponents of his career, former world titleholders Juan Manuel Lopez and Wilfredo Vazquez Jr., in junior featherweight bouts. Lopez stopped him in three rounds in 2008 and Vazquez knocked him out in the seventh round last October.
"Lomachenko must have a lot of confidence making his debut against a fighter like me," Oquendo said. "He must think he's really good. Let's see what happens in the ring."
Lomachenko, training in Ukraine, was not available for comment, but Top Rank supports his mad dash to a world title shot.
"He has this zest to reach the top as soon as possible and knew we could provide him the route to getting there," Moretti said of one of the reasons Lomachenko signed with Top Rank. "He is on this card against a solid 10-round guy who has fought excellent opposition and has always been in a war. When he signed with us and told us what he wanted to do, our eyebrows were raised. But we were all for it. If somebody has that kind of zeal to prove himself right off the bat, why not."
If Lomachenko comes through the fight, he could be looking at a world title shot early next year. The plan would be to match him with the winner of the fight between former titleholder Orlando Salido (39-12-2, 27 KOs) of Mexico and Orlando Cruz (20-2-1, 10 KOs) of Puerto Rico, who meet for a vacant 126-pound world title in the co-feature of the Oct. 12 card.
"We have our eyes on having Lomachenko fight the Salido-Cruz winner in the first quarter of 2014, in his second or third pro fight," Moretti said.
Lomachenko won a featherweight Olympic gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Games and captured lightweight gold at the 2012 London Olympics. At the 2008 Olympics, he won the Val Barker Trophy as the outstanding boxer of the tournament. Lomachenko also won gold medals at the amateur world championships in 2009 and 2011 and the European championships in 2004.
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