They had made it clear to any prospective promoters that they yearned for a world title opportunity sooner rather than later. Top Rank Promotions eventually landed Lomachenko’s services with the promise of competing for a championship in short order. And conveniently, there was “Siri” Salido, who captured the WBO strap on that same undercard by stopping Orlando Cruz.
In many respects, Salido was the perfect foil. He was a fighter who had forged a late-career resurgence but was also a boxer who, at age 33, showed signs of going backward physically. His relative lack of speed and quickness were thought to be built-to-order for the quicksilver southpaw from Ukraine, who had an impressive record of 396-1 in the unpaid ranks and captured almost every imaginable amateur honor including two Olympic gold medals. It’s why this hardnosed veteran from Mexico was listed as a five-to-one underdog. It almost seems insulting in hindsight but Salido was the very antithesis of Lomachenko. Yes, he was a respected operator but for much of his run, he was nothing more than a journeyman and his role here was to be the recognizable name who would surrender his belt versus this pugilistic prodigy.
Coming into Saturday night, Salido had already abdicated his title by coming in heavy, two pounds north of the featherweight limit (126 pounds) and seemingly made no real attempt to shave off any more weight (more on this issue later). Lomachenko’s camp was so confident in its man, not only did they not hesitate to go through with the fight, they declined to even negotiate a cap on what Salido could weigh this next morning. “They would’ve fought us if we weighed 140 pounds,” is what I was told by a member of Salido’s camp after the Friday weigh-in.
Perhaps they believe it really would be that easy, never mind that in recent years, Salido had proven to be durable and as tough as they come. Yeah, elite talents beat him but they never came close to stopping him. The question was: Is Lomachenko elite?
The answer was a resounding “No” (at least not now, anyway).
From the very beginning, Salido put on smart, intelligent pressure and landed consistently downstairs on Lomachenko, who looked uncomfortable on the inside to the point of being claustrophobic. It’s clear that he had never faced a body attack like the one Salido was bringing. And it wasn’t so much a body attack but a full body attack as more than a few of his shots strayed south of the equator while referee Laurence Cole stood by as an innocent bystander for much of the night (much to consternation of HBO’s Jim Lampley, who bluntly called his work “dreadful’”). But to be fair, for every Salido low-blow, there were clinches from Lomachenko in return.
For all the talk of Salido’s grit, there is also a fair amount of craft that is overlooked. He effectively used upper body feints all night and never allowed himself to be timed by changing the pace and tempo of his attack throughout the fight. In addition to this, he is fundamentally sound in tightly tucking his chin into his chest behind his front shoulder and possesses one of the most deceptive and sneaky overhand rights in the game. Salido used his whole bag of tricks to build an early lead on Lomachenko, who, by this point, understood there is a huge difference between amateur boxing and professional prizefighting. It’s one thing to easily dispatch teenagers and career amateurs; however, it’s something else to dismiss men who have done this for a living for years.
Much to his surprise, Lomachenko was strafed to the body and struck by Salido’s overhand rights. It wasn’t so much that he was overmatched but you got the sense he just wasn’t quite ready for this leap just yet. There’s a reason boxers are developed at a certain pace and given in-ring apprenticeships where records are built and more importantly, skills are nurtured and honed. Even the most precocious and talented of amateurs with prodigious professional careers were marinated. Oscar De la Hoya fought for his first world title in his 12th fight against Jimmi Bredahl. Floyd Mayweather, perhaps the most decorated boxer of the past generation had 18 fights under his belt before he took on the respected Genaro Hernandez for his initial championship.
But unlike this dynamic duo, Lomachenko stuck around for two Olympics and therefore was much older at 26, than those two at the time of their pro debuts. Perhaps a more apt comparison would be Guillermo Rigondeaux, who has two gold medals in his trophy case and began his professional run at age 29. The slick Cuban put in six bouts before going for his first belt. Give him credit; you can argue that Lomachenko is already more seasoned as a pro than Gary Russell Jr., whose career has moved at a glacial pace. In baseball, even the likes of Mike Trout are given a few hundred at-bats in the minor leagues before being called up to the Big Show.
To his credit, Lomachenko actually gathered himself in the late stages of the fight and as Salido began to fade a bit, he began to initiate the action (which is when he was most effective) and closed the gap on the scorecards. In the 12th, he hurt Salido with a straight left and had him staggering and holding on for his professional life. Eventually, Salido held on to hear the final bell and won a well-deserved split decision by the scores of 116-112, 115-113 and 113-115.
Lomachenko showed he was no Pete Rademacher, who (in)famously got knocked out by Floyd Patterson in his first pro bout for the heavyweight championship after winning the 1956 Olympic gold medal. But he failed to live up to the expectations and hype that accompanied him coming into this promotion. Top Rank founder Bob Arum was in full carnival barker mode for this promotion, proclaiming his client among the top five fighters in the sport (yeah, off one fight) and HBO seemed to be all-in on Lomachenko. Its broadcast on Saturday night seemed to much more about fulfilling a corporate agenda than actually calling the action taking place inside the ring. Only Harold Lederman, whom I dubbed the “Conscience of HBO” many moons ago, was the only one who didn’t seem to have a real vested interest in who the victor was (for the record, he scored Salido-Lomachenko a draw).
Manager Egis Klimas told this reporter during a media day held for Lomachenko a few weeks before his pro debut, “If you can’t fight today, you can’t fight tomorrow.” That might be true but it could be argued that with just a few more bouts under his belt, he could’ve been better, more prepared to handle what Salido brought to the table.
Maybe Lomachenko will prove to be special when it’s all said and done. It’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility. There’s a long list of all-time greats who lost early and often (look up the record of Henry Armstrong) but on this night against Salido, he just wasn’t good - or seasoned - enough.
I’ll say it again; until the commissions make the penalties much more punitive for missing weight and promoters hold these fighters much more accountable, you will continue to have guys like Salido, in essence, game the system on their behalf. Salido understood that by draining himself, he had no shot at defeating Lomachenko. So he did the prudent thing by cutting his losses and giving himself the best chance to win.
But there are weight classes in boxing (really, all combat sports) for a reason - to ensure a fair fight. Well, at least in theory but the day-before weigh-ins introduced to boxing as a safety precaution (to allow fighters to rehydrate safely) are now being used as a mechanism by many fighters to fight at unnatural weights and bulk up in the process. On Saturday night, Lomachenko, who dutifully made the 126-pound weight limit, was forced to fight a welterweight.
But as they say, the show must go on and it almost feels as though fighters like Lomachenko (who did nothing wrong) are then given the burden of enabling those who don’t comply with the rules by agreeing to face those who have an unfair - and illegal - physical advantage.
I’m beginning to think that if the commissions and the promoters don’t do enough to stop this trend, it might be time for the networks (who are really the ones who fund these cards) who must start holding the guilty parties accountable. It’s obvious that giving up a few dollars to the other side isn’t enough of a deterrent to keep it from happening. The reality is, if you win that fight, you can more than make up for it with that next outing. Call it a business expense.
If you’re HBO or Showtime, I think it’s time you start making it clear to fighters that if you don’t make weight, your next appearance on the network will not be guaranteed or it will come at some sort of reduced price. The problem with that is if it turns out to be guys they are invested in such as Adrien Broner, who made a complete mockery of things when he faced Vicente Escobedo a couple of summers ago (http://www.maxboxing.com/news/max-boxing-news/boxing-after-farce), it becomes a delicate situation because they are every bit as vested as the promoter. They too can become complicit in these shenanigans.
Or maybe it will just take a fighter or two to stand up for their own principles - and, really, their own health and safety - to simply refuse to face someone who can’t (or sometimes refuses) to make weight.
Uh, good luck with that...
Tom Loeffler and Abel Sanchez, two key figures in the career of WBA middleweight titlist Gennady Golovkin made the trip to San Antonio to see Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., who was reportedly interested in facing “GGG” in the summer months after Golovkin faced Andy Lee on April 26th. But late Saturday afternoon, Loeffler got word from Golovkin’s management that because of the unexpected death of his father and his responsibilities to his family (now that he is the patriarch) April 26th and any other plans are on hold.
Here’s the full story from Chris Mannix of SI.com: http://mma-boxing.si.com/2014/03/01/gennady-golovkin-father-death-andy-lee/
HBO will still pursue a fight card for that date.
There were sizable crowds in Germany and Scotland for title fights this past weekend. Again, anyone who says boxing is dead is just parroting a lazy narrative...I thought Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. looked pretty good but is he really an elite fighter at 168?...Thumbs up to HBO for picking up the May 31st rematch between Carl Froch and George Groves...The Knicks are trying to tan; right?...We finally got some much needed rain in Southern California this weekend. So the drought is over; right?…Ican be reached at email@example.com and I tweet at www.twitter.com/stevemaxboxing. We also have a Facebook fan page at www.facebook.com/MaxBoxing, where you can discuss our content with Maxboxing readers as well as chime in via our fully interactive article comments sections.