UKRAINE featherweight Vasyl Lomachenko is no stranger to authoring milestones using his fists. As an amateur pugilist, he won two Olympic gold medals and compiled an astonishing record win-loss record of 396-1. Lomachenko’s only defeat, a disputed decision to Russian Albert Selimov, was promptly avenged when he left the latter nearly decapitated in their rematch.
Amid stratospheric expectations, Lomachenko turned professional in October 2013 looking to raise the bar. Believe it or not, Lomachenko’s first pro contest was set for 10 rounds (instead of the usual four rounds for newbies) and he took on a credible opponent, Jose ‘Negro’ Ramirez, who sported a winning record of 25-3. Ramirez was the same Mexican fighter who had earlier sent into retirement veteran Filipino ring campaigner Rey ‘Boom Boom’ Bautista. Lomachenko barely broke a sweat, dispatching Ramirez in just four rounds.
Clearly impressed by the result of his maiden appearance, Lomachenko hankered for a shot at the world title in only his second pro fight. According to Top Rank Promotions head Bob Arum, Lomachenko actually wanted to fight for the world title in his very first fight and was only persuaded to test the waters first.
In seeking a world title in only his second pro fight, Lomachenko was looking to break the all-time record set some forty years ago by Thailand’s Saensak Muangsurin. In July 1975, Muangsurin stopped Perico Fernandez in eight rounds to win the World Boxing Council junior welterweight (140 pounds) championship in only his third pro fight and just eight months after he turned pro in 1974. Muangsurin set a world record for taking the shortest time to win a world championship.
Before Lomachenko, quite a number of boxers had tried to break Muangsurin’s mark, but the one who came close to at least duplicating the feat was Thailand’s Veeraphol Sahaprom, who captured the World Boxing Association bantamweight (118 pounds) championship in September 1995 by beating Daorung Chuwatana in his fourth fight and in his ninth month as a pro.
When Lomachenko took on World Boxing Organization (WBO) featherweight (126 pounds) champion Orlando Salido on March 1, he had been a pro for just four months and was 1-0. The battle-tested Salido offered a record of 40-12 with 28 knockouts, but still came to the fight as an underdog. Then again, Salido was in no mood to just go along with Lomachenko’s historic quest. Salido was stripped of the WBO title at the weigh-in after he showed up at 128.2 pounds, 2.2 pounds above the 126-pound featherweight limit. When the bell rang for the start of the hostilities at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas, Salido’s weight had ballooned and he was 11 pounds heavier than Lomachenko. Salido, 33, definitely looked bent on using every vile tactic in the book to beat Lomachenko.
With the vacant WBO featherweight title virtually his for the taking, Lomachenko surprisingly looked passive in the early rounds against the heavier Salido. For his part, Salido didn’t waste any time unloading his bag of tricks. If he was not hitting Lomachenko below the belt, Salido was unabashedly locking the Ukrainian’s arms to prevent the latter from going full throttle on offense. Lomachenko did not get into a hitting groove until the 12th round, when he rocked Salido and furiously attacked in a last-ditch attempt at a knockout victory. Salido, however, weathered the storm by feverishly holding on. When the smoke of battle cleared, Salido earned the nod of the judges by way of a split decision.
Lomachenko took the defeat in stride despite being told by some reporters that he could have won had Salido showed up at the same weight and fought cleanly. Lomachenko nonetheless made clear his intention to fight again for the world title in his next fight. The WBO featherweight title is now vacant and Lomachenko is keen on getting another shot at the same belt.
Lomachenko, whose record now stands at 1-1 with one knockout, clearly has the skills to become a world champion, but it won’t hurt his career if he goes through the right amount of seasoning before contending for the title again. Even if Lomachenko fights for the world title in his third fight and actually wins, the record set by Muangsurin will remain intact as the Thai pulled off the milestone in his first attempt and after going 2-0.
Perhaps somebody should remind Lomachenko that his true fistic worth will be measured not by how fast he becomes a world champ, but by the length of time he sits on the throne once he claims it.