CARSON, Calif. – Vasyl Lomachenko was starkly criticized for moving so quickly in the paid ranks, the polar opposite of how Gary Russell Jr. handled his own professional career.
After Lomachenko lost in just his second pro fight, a title challenge of battle-tested veteran Orlando Salido, fans and critics alike felt vindicated: “You simply can’t move that fast in boxing,” many said.
However, after a second consecutive title challenge, Lomachenko (2-1, 1 knockout) has quieted the naysayers and become a world champion in the process. He handily defeated Russell on Saturday at the StubHub Center, claiming the vacant WBO featherweight title with a 12-round majority decision.
Lisa Giampa surprisingly scored the bout 114-114 even. She was overruled by tallies of 116-112 and 116-112 from Max DeLuca and Pat Russell. This writer saw it 118-110 for Lomachenko, who matches the benchmark set by Thailand's Saensak Muangsurin in 1975 by winning a pro title in just his third professional fight.
“I am very happy and excited to be a world champion," Lomachenko said through a translator. "To join the Klitschkos as a champion from Ukraine, I would like to thank them. The plan built by our team was great, I was trying to land the punches and I did. I landed punches very well. I started from the body and went to the head."
Russell, for his part, offered no excuses.
“I thought it was a fair decision,” Russell admitted. “I didn’t stick to my game plan like I should have. I should have initiated the action much, much more and closed the distance on him. He was strong but I felt strong. I most definitely would like to fight him again, any time, any place.“
What’s the plan for Lomachenko going forward now that he has a title firmly around his waist?
“I think it’s part of an overall plan between (Evgeny) Gradovich, (Nicholas) Walters, (Nonito) Donaire, Lomachenko,” Top Rank VP of Boxing Operations Carl Moretti told RingTV.com. “ … I think you’re going to see a lot of good fights starting in the fall or the winter, sort of like a mini tournament.”
Russell produced his usual high punch output, throwing 806 shots, but he landed at a meager 10 percent clip with just 83 total. Lomachenko, on the other hand, connected on 183 of 597 punches (31 percent). Russell did not land on double figures in any round, and Lomachenko connected on a staggering 57 power shots to the midsection.
Russell (24-1, 14 KOs) was able to rip away with his trademark blistering combinations, but there was one problem: the punches never had any effect.
Russell had authored some spectacular knockouts in the past, but those were against fighters far removed from the ilk and pedigree of Lomachenko.
Against Lomachenko, Russell could only manage a fleeting moment here and there – he wasn’t able to sustain any offense.
Russell did show great fortitude in the bout. He kept plugging away and was able to stay on his feet despite the onslaught from the two-time Olympic gold medalist. Lomachenko came close to scoring the stoppage late in the bout, pushing a beaten Russell around the ring.
But what really won Lomachenko the fight was his devastating body work. Round after round, he pounded away at Russell's midsection, and was able to string the shots into punches to the head. He also utilized deft footwork to evade Russell’s blistering punches.
It was clear from the opening bell that they weren’t on even terms. Lomachenko connected on a crisp, short right on the inside, and then landed a beautiful three-piece combo in the corner (left-right to the body followed by a hook upstairs).
In the fifth, he appeared to hurt Russell with an overhand left-left uppercut combo. He backed Russell into the ropes and unloaded with thunderous body shots, suffocating Russell so as to not allow him to get off with any punches of his own. Russell had no answers, and took a beating in the round.
Russell, of Capital Heights, Maryland, rebounded with a strong Round 6. He marched forward for most of the frame, and was able to score with some stinging combinations while Lomachenko sought to move, perhaps taking a break.
Lomachenko, of Bilhorod, Ukraine, was on his way to losing the seventh, too, but with about 30 seconds remaining he proceeded to lay a beating on Russell. He started the offense with a pulverizing right to the stomach, then brought the action to the middle of the ring, landing with more body shots and a few up top sprinkled in. Russell seemed dazed by the attack.
The Ukrainian repeatedly was able to sting Russell to the body and then land upstairs. The uncanny ability to turn body shots into beautiful combinations seemed to catch Russell off guard, and it’s no surprise – Russell fought nothing but cannon fodder in his first 24 professional bouts.
In Round 10, Lomachenko uncorked a wicked right uppercut as Russell was pulling straight back, a punch that staggered the previously undefeated fighter. It was a move Russell was able to get away with in the past, but he barely made it to the finish line after a one-sided 12th, and his body language showed he knew he was the loser.
This was the first bout pitting a Golden Boy fighter against a Top Rank boxer since Erislandy Lara and Vanes Martirosyan squared off in November 2012. That, too, was a bout that went to purse bid and there was no co-promotion.
Top Rank won this matchup, and it looks as if both sides will be doing more business.
It will be interesting to see where Russell goes from here – he still has all the tools.
After a celebrated amateur career that had him go a reported 396-1, Lomachenko is a world champion after just his third pro fight. It might be a long time before he tastes defeat again.
Alexander tops Soto Karass
Devon Alexander got back in the win column, defeating durable journeyman Jesus Soto Karass in a hard-fought 10-round bout.
All three judges saw it for Alexander, 99-91, 99-91 and 97-93.
The matchup was Alexander’s first since losing his welterweight title to Shawn Porter in December.
Alexander (26-2, 14 KOs) elected to slug with the hard-charging Soto Karass (28-10-3, 18 KOs) on many occasions, and it made for a more entertaining bout than Alexander is usually in.
Soto Karass was able to land some great body blows in the fight, but Alexander scored with movement and crisp shots.
Alexander badly needed the win, and he’s now right in the thick of it in the loaded 147-pound division.
“He was a tough, tough competitor. This was a good fight,” Alexander said. “I hurt my left hand I think in the seventh round. There was no question in my mind who won this fight. He was missing with most of his shots, but he caught me a couple of times. I’m my own worst critic, but I’m happy with my performance.”
Alexander landed 277 of 709 (39 percent); Soto Karass connected on 193 of 923, a paltry 21 percent.