Subtle lines of anguish form surround the face of Vasyl Lomachenko when the topic of the Ukraine surfaces.
While hundreds of people have died on both sides of massive demonstrations on the streets of Kiev, the two-time Olympic gold medalist continues his quest for excellence in the professional form of boxing. On March 1, Lomachenko (1-0) faces WBO featherweight titlist Orlando Salido (40-12-2, 28 Kos). Still, his country is in pain.
“I don’t think it’s the right thing when on both sides people are dying. But I cannot say who is wrong and who is right,” said Lomachenko while in a boxing gym located in swank Marina Del Rey, Calif. “At this point, I don’t like to comment who is wrong and who is right.”
One thing he does know is the sport of fisticuffs. For the 26-year-old from Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi, trading punches comes as natural as riding a bicycle.
“The first time I put the gloves on and was boxing in the ring I was four years old. It was some kind of tournament in my hometown,” he said.
Most people in the world are still very unaware of countries beyond the now torn down Iron Curtain. Places like Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan and other nearby nations are bastions for the sport of soccer and boxing. Not hockey or mixed martial arts as some people think. In those East European countries, boxing has a huge following.
Lomachenko said as a child he idolized Mike Tyson and Roy Jones Jr., not Wayne Gretzky. He was also advised that winning the Olympics was the most prestigious award in amateur boxing. So he won two gold medals.
Winning another gold medal would not add much more luster for the Ukrainian, but winning a world title as a professional would be considered a great feat. But despite having a phone book thick resume of amateur boxing accomplishments, no promoter believed he could make the jump from amateur to pro championship bout without a hiccup.
Lomachenko took one fight last October against Mexico’s tough Jose Ramirez and won by fourth round technical knockout. That convinced Top Rank that he could possibly defeat a pro world champion.
“This kid is incredible,” said Bob Arum. “He had a great amateur career with over 300 fights.”
The current featherweight champion Salido is a Mexican rugged warrior who is often underestimated and usually makes those opponents pay dearly. Two wins over Puerto Rico’s Juan Manuel Lopez and a recent knockout win over Orlando Cruz prove Salido cannot be overlooked.
“Orlando Salido knows a lot about fighting,” said Ben Lira, who trains numerous boxers including Joseph Diaz. “He’s a veteran who knows all of the tricks of the trade.”
Salido lost to current WBO junior lightweight titlist Mikey Garcia, but even in defeat he took his pound of flesh with a questionable veteran move of launching a right cross and coming in with his head toward Garcia’s head at the same time. Salido broke Garcia’s nose with the maneuver. Will Lomachenko be ready for those kinds of tactics?
“Both of my sparring partners are Mexicans in the same weight class and with the same style. It’s been my preparation for this fight,” says Lomachenko.
Lomachenko regrets only one thing about the fight scheduled for Saturday March 1, in San Antonio, Texas.
“I’m surprised to be fighting for a world title in my second fight because I was aiming to fight for the world title in my first bout,” said Lomachenko with a chuckle. “Why did they have to wait until my second fight?”
We’ll see if it was worth the wait.