Seven Things Lomachenko Needs to Do Right Now

By Matt McGrain on March 3, 2014
Seven Things Lomachenko Needs to Do Right Now
There is something for everyone when shopping in journeyman hell. (Naoki Fukuda)

What has been proven, almost beyond reasoned argument, is that an amateur pedigree is absolutely no replacement for professional experience…

A strange pantomime indeed was played out this weekend in San Antonio, Texas as crack amateur and 1-0 professional Vasyl Lomachenko (now 1-1) was narrowly outpointed by 55-fight veteran and underdog Orlando Salido (now 41-12-2). What was meant to be the anointment of an all-time great in the making was instead a painful lesson in professionalism for a young man who admitted to being “cocky” about his surety over claiming victory before the bell, despite professional experience that amounted to around twelve minutes.

Whilst the scramble to excuse or explain the loss continues, we look here ahead at what Lomachenko should do next. Regardless of whether you believe the Ukrainian was robbed by poor refereeing and corrupt judging (I scored this fight a draw) or saw a whelp get schooled by a playground bully all can agree that Lomachenko delivered far less than was expected of him under the pressure a seasoned professional can bring. Whilst there is no shame in such a loss, the odds that made Salido a four to one underdog underline that there are improvements to be made. 

The seven keynote changes that he should make are listed below.

1 – Get a New Trainer

Anatoly Lomachenko steered his son and physical prodigy from a life dedicated to ice hockey to one dedicated to boxing. His contribution has been significant in making Lomachenko junior one of the most storied amateurs in the history of the unpaid code but he, like Vasyl, needed to be eased into the professional ranks of boxing. 

Vasyl’s strategy against his amateur opponents was often fight aggressively or at pace in the opening round, relying upon his general physical superiority to collect points whilst revealing weakness in his man that he could use to dominate the second and beyond, sometimes boxing conservatively at the end of a fight to protect the inevitable lead. For obvious reasons, this strategy could never work in a 12-round fight and one of the things I awaited with most interest this past Saturday was the adaption of that plan to the professional ring and the longest possible distance.

No plan was forthcoming.

A near planless approach can work for fighters who are at the absolute extremity of physical brilliance (Roy Jones) or who have earned a master’s in generalship through years of experience (Ezzard Charles) but it is rare. What is more common is for a fighter, especially when he is inexperienced, to drift and micromanage individual spells of the fight. This is exactly what happened to Lomachenko against Salido. 

More even than a fighter, a trainer with an amateur background needs to be eased into the longer distances and the new rules, he needs to become acquainted with new strategy and ideas. Usually, an amateur team turning professional at the same time will have opportunity to do just that because they build from the bottom against limited opposition, learning about tomato cans, then journeymen, then gatekeepers, then ranked contenders – together. When the decision was made to match Vasyl with a ranked contender in his second professional contest, it wasn’t just the fighter who was robbed of the learning curve.

It is disturbing to me that Anatoly did not realize he was under-qualified to advise and train his son in the contest he lost this weekend. It is disturbing to me the lack of adaption shown by fighter and corner during the fight. It is harsh, but I think it reveals a naivety that Vasyl cannot afford to shoulder at this time. I would advise a new trainer, and yes I would advise that he be brought in for Vasyl’s very next fight. My choice would be Robert Garcia if communication would allow, although any professional with a good background in strategy would be fine. Garcia’s name came to mind due to a specific weakness Lomachenko demonstrated during his first professional loss, one that needs to be healed forthwith.

2 – Heal the Infighting Breach

Lomachenko’s footwork at the outset was superb. He had Salido moving away to the ropes where he looked cornered and even alarmed, winging in wide one-punch solutions to the problem that looked ripe for the counterpuncher.  The first genuine clinch, at 1:14 of the first though, was completely uncontested by the Ukrainian. Having been pushed all over the ring by world-class movement, Salido removed his opponent’s momentum with one action, walking his man back until he was told to break. You could almost see the light bulb appearing over Salido’s head, and he was not alone. He spent the whole of the rest of the round trying to slip and jab his way inside and when he got there he landed repeatedly, right hands to the chest and even a flurry of punches against his much faster opponent, making what was a Lomachenko round on, ironically, generalship, more debateable. 

And that was about as well as Lomachenko did on the inside all night.

By the middle of the second round the pattern of the fight was established by this weakness. Salido would close, land to the body (and lower…) and Lomachenko would initiate a clinch which he would then wait for the referee to break. He achieved absolutely nothing on the inside through ten rounds of fighting and allowed his opponent to accumulate enough points to win the fight in the same zone.

Infighting as an art has been wildly undermined by modern interpretation of the rules. This is because modern referees break clinches quickly to promote action; rather missing that action on the inside can be amongst the most thrilling in the sport. It must be stated though, that punches thrown right before a clinch is initiated can be crucial. Salido, because he is experienced, knew this, and Lomachenko, because he is not, did not. The older fighter was repeatedly landing punches before Lomachenko initiated the clinch – in fact, taking punishment became his trigger to grab. What Vasyl has to understand is any opponent of experience is going to take advantage of that pattern to dominate that range, and that he must develop a defense against such strategy. Such defenses need not be brilliant. Lennox Lewis for example made clinching against him suicidal by draping himself across any opponent that dared to tuck his head into his shoulder, forcing his 250-lb. frame upon them – simple, effective, and deeply discouraging to any infighter.

There are however considerably more exciting, not to mention easier ways to discourage such tactics.

3 – Learn the Uppercut

I feel exposed telling a two-time Olympic gold medallist to “learn the uppercut” but I also feel justified in doing so. Of course, I’ve seen Lomachenko throw uppercuts before, so perhaps a fairer heading would be “throw the uppercut” because it was a punch Salido begged to be hit with repeatedly on Saturday night only to be grossly disappointed.

The beginning of the third round is illustrative here. Salido, who backed up in the first round, possibly hoping to over-extend his inexperienced foe, now knew there was only one place he wanted to be and that was inside. In the opening seconds of that third round he tried to charge and land a looping right to the body and Lomachenko immediately backed up and away, gloves high, trying to avoid the blow. Salido is wide open for the right uppercut for almost the entirety of the move, a move which was not executed with any real speed. If Lomachenko had here held his ground, and throw a low-risk uppercut at his opponent’s torso, then clinched, he would today be waving an alphabet strap around in front of the press and planning how to spend his first million. 

Only seconds later in the third, he ships punches to the midriff and initiates a clinch. Quite clearly the better balanced of the two fighters, quite clearly quicker of foot and hand, he once again misses a golden opportunity to land the right uppercut – and remember, Lomachenko is a southpaw who is right-handed. The right uppercut should be his money-maker, a punch he is literally built to throw, physically and technically.

By the tenth, I was screaming for him to use this punch and by the twelfth I was frankly hoping Salido would hold on, more to punish him for such a pitiful technical digression than anything else. When the Mexican spent the final two minutes of the fight in a half stoop throwing low-blows, what did Lomachenko do? Did he rocket the Mexican’s head into orbit with an uppercut? No, he threw wide hooks to the body. When a half-shut all in opponent stooped at the waist in front of him in the last minute he finally threw some uppercuts to the body but it was eleven rounds too late.

And it was perhaps not even the most important punch he failed to deploy on the night.

4 – Throw More Jabs

Lomachenko doesn’t throw enough punches for the professional ranks. He threw 441 punches against Salido. He landed at a good rate, but this type of conservatism leaves far too many rounds in the lap of the judges. With his engine (stamina is an area where he seems to have no issues at all), he should be encouraged to work much, much harder. That work should be centered on further use of the jab.

A southpaw that doesn’t throw jabs isn’t really a southpaw. He just becomes a mid-swing heavy-bag by a different name. That is because even an inexperienced opponent can come to understand the angle that he is making on a given object, but it takes experience against southpaws to understand the angle that object is making on you. Geometry 101 starts with the shortest and most direct of punches, the jab.

Pernell Whitaker, perhaps the greatest southpaw of them all, landed 161 jabs on Oscar De La Hoya in his losing effort from 1997. This is 100 more than Lomachenko managed against the much more limited Salido. Comparing Lomachenko to Whitaker is, of course, grossly unfair but the point that I am making is that even an unorthodox southpaw like Whitaker had to obey the law of the jab and knew it. Working upon the evidence Lomachenko offered up this weekend, he does not, and it is a rule he must learn extremely quickly if he is to get on. Standing and looking at an opponent who is there to be hit with a jab is as unforgivable as refusing to throw a right uppercut against a wide-open target. If Lomachenko wants to keep aggressive fighters out then the jab is without any argument the best way to do it. See how keen Salido would have been on driving forwards and into you had you landed 15 jabs on him in every round instead of the average five, Vasyl. 

He has a good jab and he should use it an awful lot more than he has been. But to do so against an opponent as rugged as Salido, it perhaps takes experience. For all that he was strategically and technically incomplete in his second professional fight, both of these shortcomings are arguably just symptoms of a more crucial aspect in which he is lacking.

5 – Get Experience

Yes, taking on a strapholder in just his second contest created a priceless buzz but his failure is in many ways just as exciting to the neutral as his success might have been. What has been proven, almost beyond reasoned argument, is that an amateur pedigree is absolutely no replacement for professional experience, because if Lomachenko can’t do it, no one can.

“I have a good idea on how a pro career is built up if a fighter has potential to become a star,” Vasyl told HBO pre-fight. “He is usually safeguarded through a bunch of punching bags to beef up his record and build confidence…to me that is boring.”

Hopefully not too boring because as long as common sense hasn’t totally deserted the Lomachenko camp in the wake of their first defeat, a “bunch of punching bags” is more or less where he is headed.

Of course, that is a relative expression. If Lomachenko is insistent that 4-14 opposition is not worthy of him I think that’s absolutely fine. There is something for everyone when shopping in journeyman hell for the right opponent and just as there are good contenders and bad, so there are good ham ‘n’ eggers and bad. Lomachenko’s next opponent should be a pushover, and perhaps the one after that too, but as soon as his tenth fight he could be up and around the top fifteen again if it is his desire, and given his considerable talents I would even tend to agree with him. But there is a lifetime of lessons to be learned from fighters who are neither journeymen nor contenders but somewhere in between, and he should learn those lessons, hungrily.

In 1941 a New York scrapper who had taken the name Ray Robinson won by a whisker from an experienced spoiler named Bobby McIntire whose record stood at 45-19-4. Salido is ranked #6 at featherweight in the Transnational Rankings; the #6 ranked lightweight in 1941 was one Bob Montgomery. Had Robinson been in with Montgomery that night instead of McIntire, the whole of boxing history might have been different because Montgomery would have beaten him half to death. Instead, Robinson was in with a fighter to whom he was the clear physical superior. He sucked up what the veteran had to give him, learned from it, and continued his inevitable march to greatness. 

Vasyl: if it’s good enough for Robinson, it’s good enough for you. Pump the breaks. There’s a whole world of fighters out there and you have a good ten years in which to prove your superiority to them.

In the meantime, learn your most recent lesson well.

6 – Get Dirty

The refereeing for Salido-Lomachenko was horrific. Laurence Cole is not fit for purpose. He is a disgrace to an honored profession. 

Having said that, “professionalism” has more than just one meaning, and its darkest is the mastering of the wrong side, the wrong side of both the referee and the law. You will know exactly what I mean when I say “Bernard Hopkins” who has made a fourth career out of working in the referee’s blind spot. Whether it is because of negligence, drunkenness or corruption (Cole has been accused of all three in recent days), a fighter will sometimes have to take the law into his own hands to reign in the opponent’s gamesmanship.

“I am a straight fighter,” Lomachenko said after the fight on Saturday night. “I’m clean. I would never fight dirty and throw punches below the belt.”

In some corners, Lomachenko has been lauded for this statement and I understand why. It’s kinda nice. Know what else is nice? Crocheting. You take some lovely lamb’s wool and make something really pretty out of it. You have to be mannerly when you’re crocheting. You know what you don’t have to be mannerly about? You don’t have to be mannerly about getting hit in the balls.

The most common reaction is a reciprocal punch. You hit me, I hit you, we’ve been doing it since school and it makes absolutely sure the two men in the ring understand one another, but there are other ways. The point is that Lomachenko did nothing. Expecting the referee to protect you is okay, except when the referee is not doing so. When he cannot or will not defend you, you have to defend yourself.

“You’re not in there to play the piano,” is how back-alley wizard Fritzie Zivic put it. “You do what you can get away with.”

You do. If Lomachenko takes nothing else from Saturday night, he should take that.

7 – Learn English

The world is changing, but probably not fast enough for Lomachenko. There is a reason his first two professional contests were in American and not Eurasia: that’s where the money is. Lomachenko wants it and why shouldn’t he? He puts his life on the line for our entertainment and there’s really only one reason to do that.

So he should learn English. If that sounds provincial or racially insensitive, consider what speaking English does for a fighter’s marketability and what marketability means for his income and then consider that it takes around 300 hours of study to become fluent with top class tuition and what he will be “earning” for each hour of study and there’s just no other course of action that makes sense.

Plus, I would have liked to have heard Lomachenko’s explanation for that loss in English.

As well as his views upon his next win.

Orlando Salido vs. Vasyl Lomachenko… by outlawrocker

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  1. Matt McGrain 07:57am, 03/05/2014

    Aye, i’m not a fan of the push - but it’s a stategy, and it’s one fighters who don’t want the fight inside should learn…just not to the exclusion of any others, you know?

  2. raxman 02:16pm, 03/04/2014

    matt mc - I’m the opposite. I hate the push. and I hate watching foreman use it against smoking joe. if that hadn’t been allowed we would’ve seen a completely different fight. having said that joe should’ve been able to deal with it better than he did.
    also re Lomachencko’s uppercut - he should review young Zab Judah’s uppercut probably the best example of a southpaw left uppercut as a weapon as you’ll find - thrown both outside and inside

  3. Matt McGrain 08:57am, 03/04/2014

    I can’t do languages either robyn.  When we go places my girl is ordering in Italian/Czech/Whatever by the time we leave and i’m still working my head around “2 beers”.  You could spend three thousand hours trying to teach me French and still get blank looks when you ask the way to the hostel.

  4. robyn bunting 08:54am, 03/04/2014

    Thanks matt. I think I am just thick. 10 years here and still can’t understand a damn thing.

  5. Matt McGrain 08:27am, 03/04/2014

    Robyn - it comes from which estimates 350hrs for an imigrant with no English, Regional English Language Offices which lists 300 hrs as the lowest curriculum in South America that delivers results.  Given that these numbers and given that Lomachenko would, presumably, be in country and would be afforded top level one-on-one tuition, the number seems reasonable, although of course everyone is different.

  6. Matt McGrain 08:23am, 03/04/2014

    Peace, Pete.
    @Rax, yeah, I agree about Khan.  Having said that, I don’t have a problem with a push to maintain the distance. Worked for Foreman.  It’s a pro trick.  But as you say, it wasn’t working for him. What was alarming was that he had very limited second phase when the referee started warning him, and as you rightly point out he had to go back to it and it cost him a point. 
    I think there’s a presumption amongst these guys that the thing they’ve worked on will work out for them, and when it doesn’t there’s just a shrug.  Lomacheno, of course, didn’t even really display a first phase, which given some of Siri’s pre-fight statements you’d have to wonder at.

  7. robyn bunting 08:06am, 03/04/2014

    Where did the 300 hours to fluency idea come from? I wish that’s all the time it took to learn a language well.

  8. Stephen Rosenberg 07:09am, 03/04/2014

    Matt,  enjoy your comments, but please lose the “whilst” and sentences that run on and on…

  9. Pete The Sneak 05:48am, 03/04/2014

    Despite this ‘loss’, I still think Loma is the goods. The fact that he almost finished off a ‘welterweight’ (Salido) in the final rounds, whilst the kid never went more than 6 rounds before and this being his second pro fight, yeah, I think he has an extremely bright future. Remember, one judge had him winning the fight, though I personally thought Salido just barely pulled it out due to his aggression in the early rounds. But Matt, your idea of a new trainer is on point. A Robert Garcia would indeed cure some of the ills the kid demonstrated. Put him to spar in the gym with some of those Oxnard bad asses, I guarantee you, he will learn to become more “reciprocal” the next time he gets hit in the nuts…Peace.

  10. raxman 06:31pm, 03/03/2014

    Matt - points 2 and 3 are faults applicable to most successful amateur fighters from that era (point per punch and needing 3 judges to see the punch for it score) who can neither in fight or use the uppercut. khan is a great example - loses due to point deductions vs Peterson for continually pushing him away rather than in fighting. and it was a totally technique inferior uppercut attempt vs Garcia that cost him that fight.
    andre ward of course is an exception - but he was taught to fight with a pro style but able to win in that era of amateur because of his speed of hand and foot meant he can fight outside as well as in. it will interesting to see what happens when GGG finally fights a top class opponent. so far he’s had all his fights his own way being able for the most part to keep his opponent at the end of his stellar jab - but just so hater jibes don’t flow i’ll back myself by pointing out it was his inability to handle a mauling inside fight that cost him the Olympic gold (which I guess is ironic - and also contrary to my point - given how rarely that style won in the amateurs)

  11. pj 05:55pm, 03/03/2014

    Best point of your article to me was throw more uppercuts. I complained a lot about Salido getting away with leading with his head all night ( ). This is what caused Lomachenko to hold. If the referee stops this illegal tactic Lomachenko wins the belt by knockout and there is no talk of ‘rushing’ to a title shot. However I agree with you. Loma should have USED THE UPPERCUT when Salido came lunging in. Mikey Garcia used it well when he fought Salido:

  12. Matt McGrain 04:12pm, 03/03/2014

    Hahahaha cheers Frankie.

  13. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 02:32pm, 03/03/2014

    Matt McGrain-Bob Arum needs to have this article translated into Ukrainian or Russian or both and present it to Lomachenko and Dad as required reading and for which you should receive a consultation fee…..forget a second hand reading by an interpreter. One more thing….his power seems to be to the body (no real evidence of it in his text book punches to the head) and he didn’t go there until way too late.

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