CARSON, Calif. (AP) — Vasyl Lomachenko beat Gary Russell Jr. in a masterful majority decision Saturday night, and the two-time Olympic gold medalist won the WBO featherweight title in just his third pro fight.
Lomachenko (2-1, 1 KO) battered the previously unbeaten Russell around the outdoor ring, showing off his skill and power while blocking the wide majority of Russell’s punches. The Ukrainian star hurt Russell repeatedly in the late rounds, reaching the final bell while pounding on Russell in his corner.
Judges Max DeLuca and Pat Russell scored the fight 116-112 for Lomachenko, but Lisa Giampa saw a 114-114 draw. The Associated Press scored it 118-110 for Lomachenko.
Lomachenko lost his first title shot in March to veteran Orlando Salido, but claimed the belt on his second try in his extraordinarily ambitious career plan.
“So far, I don’t know what it means to be the champion,” Lomachenko said through his translator. “I’m just glad I have the belt.”
Russell (24-1) followed an extremely cautious plan over the last five years since turning pro, and his inexperience with top-level competition showed against Lomachenko. The former U.S. Olympic team selection landed a mere 10 percent of his 806 punches, failing to back up his activity with accuracy while unable to match Lomachenko’s size and power.
“I thought it was a fair decision,” Russell said. “I didn’t stick to my game plan like I should have. I should have initiated the action much more and closed the distance on him.
Lomachenko landed 31 percent of his punches, including 43 percent of his power shots. He connected with 57 power shots to the body, according to CompuBox.
Both fighters showed off their remarkable athleticism from the opening bell, with Lomachenko pressuring Russell and deflecting most of the American challenger’s combinations. Lomachenko worked Russell’s body and avoided trouble while stacking up early rounds.
“I was working him to the body, and then I was working his head,” Lomachenko said. “I followed my plan. I didn’t prepare for this fight just to try something different.”
Lomachenko hurt Russell visibly in the fifth round with punches to the body and head, but Russell kept up his activity level. But Lomachenko punished Russell again in the seventh, staggering him back with combinations and power.
Russell’s eye began to swell in the late rounds, and Lomachenko landed a heavy right hand late in the 10th. Lomachenko finished with style, badly hurting Russell in the final minute of the 12th round and likely missing a stoppage by just a few seconds.
Lomachenko leaped into the arms of his father and trainer, Anatoly, after the final bell.
Lomachenko is arguably the best amateur boxer of his generation, winning Olympic gold medals for Ukraine in 2008 and 2012 and claiming the Val Barker Trophy as the Beijing Games’ best fighter. After going 396-1 as an amateur and sparking international competition for his pro talents, he demanded a near-immediate title shot when he signed with Top Rank last year.
In his second pro outing, Lomachenko lost a split decision to Salido, who missed weight for the title bout and repeatedly clobbered Lomachenko with low blows while outworking the Olympian for most of the fight. Lomachenko’s pro inexperience showed, but he finished the bout impressively and jumped right back into another fight for the vacant title.
While Lomachenko waited in the amateurs before rushing into his pro career, Russell followed largely the opposite path.
The quick-handed slugger from a Washington, D.C.-area boxing family made the 2008 Olympic team, but collapsed in Beijing while trying to make weight and never fought.
After turning pro in 2009, Russell was brought along incredibly slowly, with adviser Al Haymon and his family preferring to build up Russell’s record against unimpressive opponents while waiting for the right title shot.