Welcome back to the Layers: Vasyl Lomachenko series, a continuing case study into the Ukrainian boxing icon. In this article, we are looking at the fight that saw Lomachenko become a World Champion in only his third professional fight. If you’ve just discovered this article and haven’t started the series yet, you should start at part one below! If you wish to simply read about this fight, read on.
In all of boxing today, there’s not a fighter more technical than Vasyl Lomachenko. While Canelo Alvarez might be the more accomplished and Bud Crawford might show some of the highest IQ, as a boxer, none are better than the Ukrainian. Lomachenko has blazed a path from featherweight all the way up to lightweight. He’s…
Unfortunately for Lomachenko, he could not become the fastest pro World Champion in his second fight. That fight, the controversial loss to Orlando Salido, thwarted his bid to become champion at only 2-0. Instead, Lomachenko would go on to fight Gary Russell Jr., a fight that would, and still does, pay dividends to his legacy for years to come.
His new test was something entirely different from what Salido brought to the table. Instead of a bruiser who would walk through punches to land some of his own, Lomachenko would be taking on a fighter who was lightning fast, both with his feet and his hands. We see today how great Russell Jr. is as he won seven fights after the Lomachenko loss and only dropped the fight to Magsayo at the time of this writing, albeit that was likely due to an arm injury. Lomachenko’s win over Russell would age like fine wine as both fighters careers went on.
Vasyl Lomachenko vs. Gary Russell Jr.
Early on in the fight we see that Gary Russell Jr. is fast, Lomachenko-level fast. His hand speed is good enough to keep up with Vasyl Lomachenko and he does early on in the fight. In this fight, Lomachenko picks up on this quick. Not to go a similar route as against Salido, Lomachenko needed to work the body and keep Russell on his back foot to widen the cardio gap and be the fresher and faster fighter at the end of this fight. He would implement this very game plan.
To counter the forward pressure from Lomachenko, Gary Russell Jr. would begin to come forward himself. In an attempt to keep Lomachenko off of him, Russell would not double, but triple up on his jab. Russell does this by utilizing the forward motion from the step in to move into his next strike. He also does well using this for his cross in this and other fights.
This method is also used by Vasyl Lomachenko, especially as he became more experience. On a jab, a boxer steps in to get more reach and power behind the punch. What Russell does off the step in, as seen in the diagram above, is sliding his back foot forward. This allows him to have the option on another step in all while being balanced in the process. In addition to that, it also plays a trick on less experienced fighters with the reach. After the jab is thrown, it’s assumed that the reach of their opponent has been fully extended. The extra step in adds more “reach” by having the boxer advance and giving another step in.
Unfortunately for Gary Russell Jr., Lomachenko would feel this out real quick. At this stage in his career, he didn’t have the tools in his toolbelt to deal with the offense-negating footwork and handspeed from Vasyl Lomachenko. Near the end of the fourth and on to the fight, Lomachenko would start to pick Russell apart on the counter, really wearing him down. As he did this, Russell would start to relinquish position, allowing Lomachenko to push him back again.
Vasyl Lomachenko vs. Gary Russell Jr. – Playing the Matador
Lomachenko then has major success and would work on future-proofing the fight for himself, learning his lesson from the Salido fight. As he cracks Russell over the top with a right, instead of going for the kill, Loma instead goes to the body and works on slowing down Russell for later in the fight. Notice how, even though he’s targeting the body, Lomachenko goes to the head. But it’s the heavy shots to the body that really make a lasting impact here for Lomachenko.
Round six on, Lomachenko would take up the role of the matador. He begins to let Gary Russell Jr. come forward and get his points on the counter. Russell is noticeably slower and Vasyl Lomachenko has noticed it.
But, Gary Russell Jr. isn’t a scrub fighter. He is a legitimate World Champion caliber fighter. He starts to increase the volume instead of fading into the counter trap game of Lomachenko. This keeps Lomachenko at bay for a bit, but not for long. Vasyl Lomachenko would quickly figure it out, and starts coming forward again, taking the proverbial bull by the horns and drawing out strikes from Garry Russell Jr. instead of allowing him to go first. He has gone on the offensive while staying within the confines of his counter gameplan.
In the championship rounds, Lomachenko switches it up again, getting on the inside and starts to work the body again. In fact, Lomachenko has done well working the body the entire fight but here, he went on the inside where Russell wanted to avoid. The entire fight, Gary Russell Jr. tried to keep Lomachenko on the end of his jab. Here, Loma took the jab away and went where Russell wanted to avoid. But after being outclassed at range and being countered for most of the night, he conceded he needed to try a different range and, while the right idea, it wasn’t successful as Lomachenko worked him down there as well.
The real lesson from the Orlando Salido fight would take place in the 12th round, however. There, Gary Russell hits Lomachenko low. Instead of letting it happen and hoping the referee steps in to warn Russell, the approach taken in the Salido fight, Vasyl Lomachenko looks to the referee immediately. Lomachenko learned that there are some things, especially with size bullies like Salido, that he has to take into his own hands. While Russell isn’t a size bully to Lomachenko, he still puts the call into practice, letting the referee know about the low blow, and it works.
Eventually the bell would ring and Lomachenko would have his hand raised. While it was a majority decision, the win was clearly Lomachenko’s. In the fight, he nabbed a good win over a great opponent. In fact, while Russell hasn’t been the most active since losing to Loma, it would be a win that aged very well. He would defend the belt seven times and only recently lost to Mark Magsayo because of an arm injury. Lomachenko, however was destined for greatness and we would see that in his upcoming title reign.Become a Patron!