Vasyl Lomachenko had the audacity to believe he could win a world title in his second professional fight after a glittering amateur career.
Instead, Ukraine’s two-time Olympic gold medalist discovered just how much he still didn’t know about boxing.
Lomachenko (1-1, 1 KO) has shaken off the disappointment of his March loss to Orlando Salido, and he is focused on his second shot at a title belt Saturday night against Gary Russell Jr. (24-0, 14 KOs).
Yet the postponement of his plan to take over the boxing world has left Lomachenko humbler and wiser heading into what’s likely to be an even tougher fight.
"I got a very, very good lesson," Lomachenko said through his translator and manager, Egis Klimas, before a workout in Los Angeles this week. "I can’t say everything I learned from that, but I got a very good impression of what is a professional boxer."
Indeed, Lomachenko got a master class in dubious prizefighting tactics from Salido, a three-time champion with all the veteran savvy Lomachenko lacks. Salido missed weight on the scales and then gained 20 pounds in the hours before the fight, bullying Lomachenko and repeatedly clobbering him with low blows on the way to a split-decision victory.
The loss was stunning to Lomachenko, who went 396-1 as an amateur and dominated his weight class in Beijing and London with flair and force. Lomachenko thought his experience would translate immediately to the pro game, and promoter Top Rank agreed to his demand for a near-immediate title shot when he signed and moved to California last year.
Lomachenko couldn’t capitalize on that chance — but he’s getting another.
With the WBO title still vacant because Salido missed weight, Lomachenko’s team set up another championship fight with a big payday against Russell in the venerable outdoor ring in Carson, California.
The card also features Robert Guerrero’s ring return against Yoshihiro Kamegai and comeback bouts for Devon Alexander and Chad Dawson.
Lomachenko and Russell both qualified for the Olympics in 2008, but while Lomachenko became the star of the Beijing ring, Russell didn’t fight. He collapsed with dehydration while trying to make weight on the morning before the games, and he never saw Lomachenko’s dominance.
"The first time I’d heard of him was about two months ago," Russell said. "In Beijing, I watched every other event other than boxing."
Russell has finally watched Lomachenko in preparation for their bout, and the fast-talking star of a Maryland boxing family is unimpressed.
"He’s still very amateurish," Russell said. "He can’t handle pressure. He doesn’t have a tremendous amount of punching ability. I think his way of making the transition to a professional is to throw less punches and try to be more accurate, but he doesn’t know how to deal with a true professional."
Both fighters have waited years since Beijing for their title shots, but Lomachenko passed that time fighting regularly in the amateur ranks. Russell turned pro in 2009 and began the time-honored tedium of piling up victories against weak competition.
Although he heard criticism of his cautious path, Russell stuck to the plan set up by adviser Al Haymon, the boxing mastermind behind Floyd Mayweather Jr. and countless other low-risk, high-reward fighters of the past decade.
"It’s tough, but when you look at your team and the people in your corner, they’ve got your best interests at heart," Russell said. "Sometimes, me being a warrior and gladiator, of course I want to jump out there and do things a little sooner, but that goes back to maturity and understanding what we’re doing.
"My focus is on getting the win and looking good doing it. I’m going to expose this guy for what he is, and hopefully he’ll understand the importance of taking your time as a professional and getting rounds in."
Russell possesses incredible hand speed and athleticism that haven’t been tested in bigger fights. Lomachenko’s footwork and skill are the toughest challenge of Russell’s career.
Russell’s long path crosses Lomachenko’s shortcut at StubHub Center.
"He’s a very strong, very fast opponent," Lomachenko said. "He’s the fastest guy I’ve ever fought. He’s not just a regular fighter. People who know and understand boxing are going to see a great fight."