Untested vs. Too Soon: The Fascination of Russell vs. Lomachenko

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There has never been a more anticipated match between a 24-0 fighter and a 1-1 fighter, but this weekend’s showdown between Gary Russell Jr. and Vasyl Lomachenko is an awkward concoction of amateur hype and world-class potential in the professional ranks.

I guess it would be fair to assume Russell Jr. is the well-deserved favorite, but I’m not so sure that is the case.

In retrospect, Russell Jr. has been more professional in his pro career, but it is sort of by default. Rattling off 24 pro wins is nothing to scoff at, regardless of the competition. However, there is a drawback to that notion.

Russell Jr. has been criticized for not fighting the best opposition available to him over the past year. Fans and media can understand the strategic philosophy behind not rushing a prospect’s career, but the criticism of Russell is warranted when you consider his resume’s lack of credibility.

The problem isn’t that he never fought a great fighter, the problem is he fought incredibly dismal opposition with little difference between his 4th, 14th, and 24th win.

That is why this matchup is so interesting, because Lomachenko, on the other hand, has fought great fighters in just two professional fights.

He defeated Jose Ramirez by 4th round KO in his professional debut, and while Ramirez may have been slightly past his best days, he remains a highly credible win when you consider Lomachenko’s 0-0 record heading into the fight.

And even though Lomachenko lost his 2nd fight, a world title shot against the crafty veteran Orlando Salido, he fought well enough to earn the nod on one of the judges’ scorecards. Keeping in mind that Salido didn’t make weight and it was clear that size played a role in the fight, you can make an argument that the weight advantage could’ve made the ultimate difference.

So who is the real favorite? Is it the undefeated fighter with wins over 24 nobodies or the 1-1 fighter who fought two very real and game opponents?

If you ask Russell, he’ll make the argument that getting in the rounds is what matters and that fact will separate him from Lomachenko come fight night.

“Oh, man, there’s going to be criticism anyway I feel as though it all goes back into the comfort level of the fighter as far as the level of experience that you get in with. I feel as though the experience that we got in with the fighters that we competed against was picture perfect, and it will show up on June 21,” Russell said.

People often put too much emphasis on an undefeated record and there is something truly fascinating to the general boxing public when it comes to a zero on a fighter’s record. But an undefeated record can be a dangerous catalyst to a young fighter, it can be dangerous to any fighter really.

The need to stay perfect is a cross we all bear, but when a fighter becomes obsessed with his undefeated streak it can often times work against him.

This is another underlining aspect to the fight and I believe that Lomachenko’s loss is a sense of relief to a certain degree. After all, it is Russell’s undefeated streak that makes up the majority of his allure and without it he is just a quick-handed fighter with a terrible list of casualties on his record.

It would be disheartening if Lomachenko leaves Saturday night’s contest with a 1-2 record, but he will get some leeway from fans for at least fighting top opposition, it can be argued that he is being moved too quickly, but what would Russell’s excuse be if he takes the loss?

“I don’t feel any pressure. I don’t feel anything, because I already have the one loss. I think Gary Russell is the one who needs to be thinking about that loss,” Lomachenko said.

The other tidbit that makes this unusual circumstance appealing is the fact that these two fighters are represented by dueling forces. Russell Jr. is a Haymon/Golden Boy fighter, while Lomachenko has been represented stateside by Top Rank.

Technically this fight was won in the purse bid process and isn’t really the first fight negotiated by the newly reconciled relationship between De La Hoya and Arum. But it is the first fight between the two promoters since publically announcing a desire to work together and that is an important factor.

I believe it puts a little bit of pressure on Russell, but I don’t think it is enough to actually bear weight on him and certainly not enough to affect his performance.

However, Russell does recognize the situation and is apparently thrilled to be a pioneer of sorts.

“It’s a big honor to break the cycle of the Al Haymon and Bob Arum Top Rank and Golden Boy dissent, because I think you have these great fighters you know on both sides of the fence that the fans would love to see, but now it’s a possibility to fulfill them or give them a possibility to see it, because of the ongoing situation with them.

“I think it’s a big breakthrough for me and Lomachenko to be able to be one of the first to actually do it, and hopefully this will open the door for a lot of the other fights that the fans would want to see take place,” Russell said.

Russell and Lomachenko will meet on the undercard of ShowTime Championship Boxing, live from the StubHub Center in Carson, California. Even though the main event is Robert Guerrero vs. Yoshihiro Kamegai, it is Russell and Lomachenko’s fight for the vacant WBO featherweight title fight that has the most intriguing storyline of any fight on the card.