• Steve Bunce

Welcome to our world, Vasyl

Steve Bunce March 4, 2014
Buncey's Boxing Podcast

Vasyl Lomachenko slipped to 403-2 on Saturday night in Texas when his bold bid to win a world title in just his second proper professional fight ended in defeat. It was a split decision that has divided the boxing world.

Lomachenko lost for the second time in his life because he refused to act like a professional and never once complained when he was hit low each round; he stayed silent as he was assaulted with elbows, shoulders and head for 12 gruelling rounds by veteran Orlando Salido.

"I'm not a dirty fighter and I'm not a fighter that complains," Lomachenko said when it was over.

Buncey's Vaults

Mills Lane warns Henry Akinwande © Getty Images
  • This is how I started the piece: "He is boxing's most famous third man and has the ego to prove it." Welcome to the world of Mills Lane, former marine, judge and a man without humour.
  • In July 1997 I was in Lake Tahoe for the Lennox Lewis - Henry Akinwande fight. Lane threw Akinwande out for not fighting; earlier in the same year he had thrown out Mike Tyson for biting Evander Holyfield and Oliver McCall for having a breakdown against Lewis.
  • I was told to go and find Lane the day after the Akinwande debacle. I did and he was in an uncompromising mood: "Lane is his own self-made man," I wrote. Lane told me: "'I'm just a country boy who works hard. The truth is I have limited tools and I'm below average IQ,'" He joined the marines, fought 64 times, winning 60 and lost in the 1960 Olympic trials.
  • The Lewis and Akinwande fight was his 22nd Heavyweight world championship. He was not happy with London-born Akinwande. "He had no intention of fighting, he never wanted to fight, he never tried to fight." Lane ejected him in the fifth. He left the ring that night, unsmiling and nodding as fans repeatedly told him, "You the boss, Mills, you the boss."
  • As reported in the Daily Telegraph, July 15, 1997

He is also, it has to be pointed out, not the WBO featherweight champion because of his sense of fair play. His naivety was his downfall, not his lack of talent.

The defeat means that Lomachenko also failed to beat the record set by legendary Thai boxer Saensak Muangsurin, who won the WBC light-welterweight version in 1975 in just his third fight. Muangsurin was a savage fighter - a banger - and he had been at the very top in martial arts before switching to boxing. In theory, Lomachenko could equal the record if he gets another title fight straight away.

If Lomachenko had complained early in the fight then the referee would have been forced to check Salido's basic tactics and that would have drastically altered the fight. It was a novice outing for the brilliant Ukranian who has won two Olympic golds and two world amateur titles during the compilation of his breathtaking record.

Salido is a cute pro, a man comfortable trading illegal low punches and smiling in the aftermath. Salido was the champion and betting underdog but lost his WBO featherweight title because he failed to make the championship weight and he then decided to eat, rather than skip off the two extra pounds; he was forced to pay Lomachenko a forfeit of $15,000 but it was a shrewd financial sacrifice because he entered the ring so much heavier than the Ukrainian. Salido had continued to gain weight and was simply too big by the time the first bell tolled.

It was a bold move by Lomachenko's people to fight Salido, which makes the outbreak of decency on the night even more astonishing. Why did nobody in the Lomachenko business kick up a fuss at ringside during Salido's virtually unchecked masterclass in boxing's black arts? Bizarre, to say the least.

However, I think it was a good result for boxing and served as a serious reminder that glory in a vest does not mean that a boxer will instantly become a star in the professional game. It also showed that having powerful backers does not help when the first bell sounds. I also wonder if the $200,000 that Lomachenko received is enough for a double Olympic champion fighting for a world title? I doubt it.

Lomachenko, I admit, is very special but I found it alarming how easily Salido was able to control large parts of the fight and often just how reluctant Lomachenko was to get hit, which is something that former world champion Barry McGuigan also noted. Salido had been beyond five rounds - which was Lomachenko's wall before Saturday's fight - 30 times but he has also been heavily beaten a few times. Salido has no fear of getting hit and proved that last year when he lost every round and was done in eight by Mikey Garcia.

It is too early to say whether the loss will hurt Brand Lomachenko but I can't help thinking that had he been a blue-eyed American he would be serving a traditional pro apprenticeship now, biffing over losers on big undercards. The dilemma now faced by his backers is whether to push for another title immediately or to go in search of fights that will help him in the future. He proved on Saturday night that he belonged at the top level and that in itself shows just how good Lomachenko is.

Salido showed how to beat him, but in the future I would be shocked if it is that easy again. Personally, I would go for Salido again and turn my back on the sweet science and get a crash course on fighting dirty.

I'm glad that Lomachenko is a pro and I'm also glad that he lost on Saturday.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
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Steve Bunce has been ringside in Las Vegas over 50 times, he has been at five Olympics and has been writing about boxing for over 25 years for a variety of national newspapers in Britain, including four which folded! It is possible that his face and voice have appeared on over 60 channels worldwide in a variety of languages - his first novel The Fixer was published in 2010 to no acclaim; amazingly it has been shortlisted for Sports Book of the Year.