There’s a big boxing weekend coming up. While Showtime will highlight a potential Fight of the Year candidate when Ruslan Provodnikov battles John Molina, HBO will counter with a potential pound-for-pound star challenging for a world title in his second division, when Vasyl Lomachenko battles Roman Martinez for the WBO super featherweight belt.
Lomachenko has a very good case for being the greatest amateur boxer of all time. At any rate, he is most certainly the greatest since the decline of the Soviet Bloc. Only Cuban Guillermo Rigondeaux is a worthy rival in the post Cold War era. Both men were two-time Olympic gold medalists. Lomachenko also compiled an amateur record of 396-1.
He turned professional at 25 and stepped almost immediately into the deep waters. His first pro fight was against Jose Ramirez, an experienced, if pedestrian, talent. Lomachenko stopped him in four rounds.
For his second fight, Lomachenko challenged for the WBO featherweight title against Orlando Salido, one of the grittiest, most experienced professional prizefighters on the planet. He got a crash course on the differences between the amateur and professorional ranks. Salido didn’t even attempt to make weight, relinquishing the belt on the scales in order to buy a substantial size advantage in the ring.
Come fight night, Salido was a welterweight. During the bout, he employed what are euphemistically referred to as “veteran tactics”–shoulder bumping in the clinch and paying no mind to how low his body shots strayed. Thrown into a battle nothing like he had ever seen, Lomachenko managed to make adjustments and rally late, forcing a competitive bout. Salido won by split decision, and deserved the victory in my opinion, but Lomachenko look extremely impressive for a competitor in just his second professional fight.
In his very next fight, Lomachenko beat Gary Russell Jr., to capture the vacant WBO belt. It remains Russell’s only loss and he knocked out veteran Jhonny Gonzalez to capture the WBC belt at 126 pounds two fights after losing to Lomachenko.
There’s no doubt Lomachenko remains relatively untested. But there’s no doubt about his boxing talent, either. In terms of pure gifts and ring IQ, he’s among the most blessed boxers in the world.
He’s got a pretty big test this weekend in Martinez. Martinez has been among the top fighters at 130 pounds for more than half a decade. He engaged in two classic battles with Salido last year. In April 2015, he dropped Salido twice, to capture the WBO super featherweight belt. I thought Salido deserved the nod when they rematched in September, but Martinez managed to save his title with a draw.
This fight should be a very good measuring stick to determine how much Lomachenko has improved since his bout with Salido two years ago.