Thousands of boxers turn professional every year. Most of them do so with very little fanfare. They toil in clubs, far from television cameras and media attention. A fighter with some national accolades and international experience has the chance to sign with an established promoter, which will land his debut and early bouts on the undercard of bigger shows. A true blue-chipper–somebody who fought in the Olympic–might get showcased early in his career.
Then you have the fighters who seem pre-ordained for greatness. Floyd Patterson, Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard, Oscar De La Hoya–all of them collected Olympic gold and turned professional with the entire boxing world watching, anticipating future greatness.
Vasyl Lomachenko belongs to this group of fighters. The Ukrainian is arguably the greatest amateur fighter of all time. He won two gold medals and accumulated nearly 400 wins against just a single loss. When he turned professional at age 25, he was already asking for a shot at a world title. After knocking out 25-3 Jose Ramirez in four rounds, he got his chance, against WBO featherweight champ Orlando Salido.
Lomachenko could not have drawn a tougher second fight. Salido is a valedictorian from the School of Hard Knocks. He turned pro at 15 and was never coddled while developing into a championship caliber fighter. He used every veteran tactic in the book against Lomachenko–low blows, elbows and shoulder bumps–and gave Lomo a crash course in the grim realities of earning your living as a professional prizefighter.
Lomachenko received just the second lost of his career. But the amazing thing is that he clearly became a smarter professional fighter over the course of the fight. Rather than wilting under Salido’s rough-housing, he adjusted and took control of the late rounds of the fight.
In his third fight, Lomachenko became a world champion by defeating previously unbeaten Gary Russell Jr. Last June he became a two-division world champion in just his seventh fight, when he completely dismantled veteran champion Roman Martinez, to win the WBO belt at super featherweight.
On November 26, Lomachenko will defend that belt against Nicholas Walters. This is a fight hardcore fans have wanted to see since both of them were competing at featherweight. Walters is an athletic, physical fighter with very good power.
My feeling is that Lomochenko should be able to out-class Walters. But Walters is one of the toughest opponents available at 130 pounds. This is exactly the kind of fight that a top star like Lomochenko needs to make.