LAS VEGAS — Top Rank promoter Bob Arum is enamored with featherweight titleholder Vasyl Lomachenko and he makes no apologies. Arum views the 2008 and 2012 Olympic gold medalist for Ukraine as one of boxing’s future pound-for-pound talents.
“I think the sky’s the limit for this kid,” Arum said. “He can be one of the great, great fighters of our time.”
So when it came time for Top Rank to select who it wanted to feature in its one televised undercard spot on the Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao show, Arum gave the coveted slot to Lomachenko, a fighter who could someday replace Mayweather and Pacquiao atop the pound-for-pound list. He will make his second title defense against Gamaliel Rodriguez (25-2-3, 17 KOs), 28, of Puerto Rico, on Saturday night (Showtime PPV/HBO PPV, 9 ET) at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
“We think he is going to be one of our big superstars and he is advanced enough to be on this card,” Arum said. “The other guys we have that we think can be superstars are not as advanced and the only other guy we considered for the Mayweather-Pacquiao card was (21-year-old lightweight) Felix Verdejo. He just fought brilliantly (last) Saturday and he is scheduled to go again on June 13 in New York on the Puerto Rican Day parade weekend, so he was not available for this card. Lomachenko was perfect for this spot.”
And it’s a huge one. Mayweather-Pacquiao is the biggest fight in many years and expected to break the pay-per-view record. That means a lot of people will get a look at Lomachenko, including many who rarely watch boxing. Perhaps they will take a liking to him, which could go a long way toward helping to make him the star Arum thinks he can be.
“I want people to see what a performer this guy is and people will fall in love with him,” Arum said.
So what does Lomachenko (3-1, 1 KO) think about being on such a big show?
“It means that I can prove and show that I am at the same level as Pacquiao and Mayweather,” the confident Lomachenko said through translator/manager Egis Klimas.
The 27-year-old southpaw realizes how significant it is to be in this position.
“I understand how big of a show this is,” Lomachenko said, adding that being on the card was even bigger to him than the Olympics. “I’m very excited. When Egis told me I was going to be on the card I couldn’t even believe it. So I am very, very happy.”
Said Klimas, “We’re very happy and thankful to Bob Arum for giving us the opportunity. Vasyl is happy. It cannot be better. What better is there to ask for? What better card could you ask to be on? This is better than carrying your own show as the main event.”
“I really believe this kid will be pound-for-pound material. He’s extraordinarily talented and he understands the sport like a real genius.”
Lomachenko said he is a fan of Mayweather and Pacquiao. He got a chance to meet Pacquiao when he fought on his card in Macau. But he has never met Mayweather, which he has wanted to do.
Klimas said when he first flew Lomachenko to Las Vegas for a meeting with Arum before he signed, Lomachenko asked him he could meet Mayweather – who lives in Las Vegas — and take a picture with him.
“He liked Mayweather a lot. He was a big fan,” Klimas said. “He watched every Mayweather fight and Pacquiao fight and followed them in boxing.”
Lomachenko didn’t get to meet Mayweather then but hopes to at Friday’s weigh-in and maybe even get take that photo with him.
Being on the Mayweather-Pacquiao undercard is just another step on Lomachenko’s fast rise since turning pro October 2012. If Lomachenko had his way he would have fought for a world title in his pro debut. Arum understandably could not deliver that, so Lomachenko looked sensational in his debut against a legitimate opponent in Jose Ramirez and then Arum delivered him a world title bout in his second fight.
Lomachenko lost a split decision to hugely experienced former titleholder Orlando Salido, who did not make weight (so he could not win the belt) and repeatedly hit Lomachenko with low blows. Because it was a competitive fight and Salido had an unfair weight advantage, Lomachenko was approved to fight for the still-vacant belt in his third fight against fellow former Olympian Gary Russell Jr.
Lomachenko took him to school and won the belt by decision last June in a superb performance. In November, Lomachenko made his first defense, scoring a shutout decision — despite an injured hand — against Chonlatam Piriyapinyo on the Pacquiao-Chris Algieri undercard in Macau, China.
“The beautiful thing about this guy is he will fight anybody — the best at 126 pound, the best you got at 122 or the best at 130,” said Top Rank matchmaker Brad “Abdul” Goodman. “He will fight anybody. He doesn’t duck anyone. He’s a hard to guy to match because he’s so good that nobody wants to fight him.
“Lomachenko is such a focused guy. I’m sure he’s appreciative that he’s on this card but he would train and be at his best no matter what show he’s on. He’s very dedicated.”
The fight with Rodriguez is Lomachenko’s first on a new five-year contract extension he, Klimas and Arum recently worked out.
“Vasyl is very happy with what Top Rank has done for him,” Klimas said. “Bob has done more for him than was written in the contract.”
What better way to celebrate the new deal that by an appearance on the biggest card of the decade?
“What other reason would Bob put Vasyl on the card if he didn’t think he was going to be a star,” Klimas said. “Of course, they believe in him and they want him, they have a trust in him and they know he is going to be a huge star in no time. Give him a couple of years and I have no doubt he will be there on top of the pound-for-pound list.”
Rodriguez is not expected to pose much danger but Klimas said they have taken the fight very seriously, especially given the big audience expected to be watching.
“Any opponent is a dangerous opponent so we’re taking him seriously. But I’m sure he never faced anyone like Lomachenko and Lomachenko probably faced more talented guys and better boxers than Rodriguez, nothing against Rodriguez,” Klimas said.
If all goes well for Lomachenko against Rodriguez and fellow titleholder Nicholas Walters wins a proposed June 13 HBO fight at the Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York — opponent to be determined — Top Rank is hoping to match them with each other in a unification bout later this year.
“I want anybody who holds a title in the division so, Walters? Of course I want to fight him,” Lomachenko said.
Arum believes a fight with Walters would be a big test but that it’s one Lomachenko is capable of handling, even so early in his professional career.
“I really believe this kid will be pound-for-pound material,” Arum said. “He’s extraordinarily talented and he understands the sport like a real genius.”
The sky’s the limit for featherweight titleholder Vasyl Lomachenko