Absence Versus Thin Air: Vasyl Lomachenko-Gary Russell, Jr. Preview


Gary Russell, Jr., faces Vasyl Lomachenko in the opener of a Showtime triple-header from the StubHub Center in Carson, California, on Saturday night—and fittingly so. Not because Russell’s uninspired career is as gawk-worthy as a garage sale, or because Lomachenko has as many wins as fingers needed to flip someone off—although both are acceptable reasons for low billing. No, this matchup of unknown variables is an appropriate opener because it is a fight between two men who have jumped the line to Clipart title shots. Where better to slot it then, than first?

Russell, 24-0 (14), has done nothing but slap up the hapless since turning pro in 2009, engaging in fights that appear devoid of any purpose beyond having him smack around opponents who share the same initials—TBA—before they share the same fate. Of course, he is going through the motions with the support of Golden Boy Promotions, Showtime, and Al Haymon, which is all the justification Russell really needs.

Lomachenko, fighting out of Marina Del Ray, California, but originally from Ukraine, has taken a decidedly different path. In March, in only his second professional fight, the two-time Olympic gold medalist faced gnarled titleholder Orlando Salido. Despite struggling with Salido’s unorthodox and unsavoury tricks, Lomachenko dragged the cagey Mexican just steps short of the woodshed in the twelfth round. It was an impressive performance from Lomachenko, but one that showed both his lack of seasoning—as well as that of his management team. Salido came in heavy, and then taught Lomachenko that there is more to the paid ranks than longer fights and lighter gloves. The end result of that education was Lomachenko’s first professional loss. An Alphabet Group ranking, however, is enough to get Lomachenko, 1-1 (1), another bogus shot at a bogus belt.

There are perhaps more deserving contenders than Russell and Lomachenko, fighters who would darken their futures for a bright Saturday night. If you find such injustice appalling, look away if you must, but do so knowing you are missing one of the rarer matchups in boxing: an even one. Both Russell and Lomachenko have questions to answer, and both men are equipped to ask those questions of the other. Oddsmakers have Lomachenko a slight favourite, based on his performance against Salido—easily the best fighter either man has faced—and Russell’s slow development. With one meaningful fight between them, the odds also reflect how little we know about both fighters.

This much we know: speed is Russell’s game. Russell throws his blazing combinations at a rate of increase akin to that of the Fibonacci sequence. This is not flashy filibustering either—Russell can wipe a man out with his right hook. Yes, he has lived on a pabulum diet, and any assessment must keep his woeful competition in mind; but the southpaw from Capitol Heights, Maryland, is a special talent. Nor is his failure to yet maximize that talent an argument against his ceiling, so much as a criticism of the time he is taking to reach it. Talent is not enough at the highest level, however, and Russell’s bewildering matchmaking has prompted questions about his chin, his durability (Russell has been plagued by hand injuries), even his zest for boxing. Moreover, Russell has never been in a scheduled twelve-round fight, let alone a twelve-round fight, and has never been the underdog. It is difficult to say how he will perform against a tough adversary. But does he expect to face one? Russell and his handlers might very well view Lomachenko—amateur experience aside—as the easiest path to a title. With their truffle pig’s nose for soft touches, Team Russell could very well be right.

It is doubtful Lomachenko thinks in the same calculating terms. He has had tunnel vision since turning pro, fixating on shiny things like a featherweight Gollum. This obsession with trinkets makes sense considering all the gold Lomachenko pulled as an amateur (where he compiled a staggering 396-1 record). His stumble out of the gate notwithstanding, Lomachenko proved against Salido that he can take a punch, go twelve hard rounds, and finish strong. But there are reasons to doubt Lomachenko as well. His matchmaking is compelling, even admirable, but it is fair to question whether his development is suffering from it.

Stylistically, Salido and Russell are polar opposites, and Lomachenko may still lack the experience to disarm a blinding puncher like Russell. Scaling back his opposition would allow Lomachenko to add the inside game he lacked against Salido, facing faster fighters would help him acclimatize to speed, even getting his bell rung would be a valuable experience to log before facing Russell. Nevertheless, in a fight that could be decided by experience, punch resistance, and conditioning, Lomachenko is the more proven commodity. If he can handle a fellow southpaw early and avoid getting caught by something he has not seen and does not see, Lomachenko can capture the title that has eluded him his entire nine-month career.

Mind you, Russell might just be waiting for the right time to show and prove. He might be waiting for Saturday night.


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Tags: Gary Russell Jr. Vasily Lomachenko

  • thenonpareil

    Hi JT,

    nice work on a fight that makes–gasp!–no sense whatsoever. This is one of those Showtime cards I usually refer to as Pawn Shop Specials–just a lot of junk thrown together with hopes that something (accidentally) interesting pops up. That way, Stephen Espinosa can pretend that the matchmaking on SHO is so much better than average. Then again, according to him, there has never been a bad fight on Showtime.

    As for this fight, it would not have been made if not for the fact that Russell has the right backers. An insane purse bid allowed it to go to GBP/Haymon, who are probably viewing Lomachenko as an amateur. Honestly, they are both amateurs, and I guess when two fighters whom no one knows much about get together, it makes for intrigue. I guess. Russell has been kept away from even decent journeymen for a reason, I suspect. Lomachenko is the first step on Russell’s way to being either the next Andre Berto (lots of cash for a title reign against limited opposition) or the next Rico Ramos (faux world champion who busted out almost immediately.) Neither route is of much interest. The best-case scenario is that Lomachenko wins. After all, he does have an edge in quality of opposition!

    • Jimmy Tobin

      Hi CA,

      Yeah man, Espinoza loves to laud SHO matchmaking as if it’s anything more than an accident that b-sides are proving problematic. That they’ve a had a year or so run of surprisingly competitive bouts isn’t a sign that there’s any standard for competitiveness in place so much as inept matchmakers who accidentally give us something worth writing about sometimes.

      I’m with you: I think there’s a reason Russell is being moved at a snail’s pace, and if Lomachenko doesn’t get caught early, that reason comes to light. And I’ll take the guy with big ambitions over the dude exploiting a sweet deal any day of the week.

  • HitDog

    I love this fight for just how little sense it makes, and just how little data we have on these two fighters (ridiculous amateur careers aside). If I could overlook the title that’s brought it together, I might downright love this dainty little absurdity. Lomachenko is being pushed something ridiculous, but at the very least, no matter what happens to him here, I would bet on him having a better career than Pete Rademacher. As for Russell, this is the closest we’ve come to having his thesis tested, and if that swift right hook works on competition better than walking meat, good for him! My tagline–Lomachenko-Russell: IT’S…SOMETHING!

    • Jimmy Tobin

      I love this fight too, HD. It’s not significant, or even sensical, more of a sideshow attraction than anything. But if it means we can sound out what there is to Mr. Gary Russell, and maybe put to rest all that Prospect of the Year! nonsense, then good. Lomachenko wants to do big things, Russell has shown no similar ambition, and I’m not interested in watching a guy got through the motions.

      IT’S SOMETHING is much better than any tagline we’ve been given in years.