Two-time Ukrainian Olympic gold medalist Vasyl Lomachenko is serious about moving quickly in his pro career, so quickly that if he wins his professional debut, he likely will challenge for a world title in his second fight.
You read that correctly.
The 25-year-old will make his pro debut in a real fight, taking on seasoned veteran Jose Ramirez (25-3, 15 KOs) of Mexico in a 10-round featherweight bout Oct. 12 (HBO PPV) at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas on the Timothy Bradley Jr.-Juan Manuel Marquez card.
Lomachenko was originally scheduled to face Jonathan Oquendo (23-3, 16 KOs) of Puerto Rico, but Oquendo withdrew, claiming a hand injury.
“Well, he couldn't have done it signing the contract,” Top Rank vice president Carl Moretti said jokingly. “Ramirez is maybe a better fight.”
Ramirez is coming off a strong 12-round split decision against longtime contender Rey Bautista in Bautista’s native Philippines in April in a fight in which they were both knocked down.
If a 10-rounder against a real opponent in Lomachenko’s pro debut isn’t audacious enough, how about the game plan if he wins?
Should Lomachenko -- the 2008 Olympic featherweight gold medalist, 2012 lightweight gold-medal winner, and a two-time world amateur champion -- win, he likely will challenge for a featherweight world title in early 2014.
The target date is on a Jan. 25 HBO card at the Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York against the winner between former titleholder Orlando Salido (39-12-2, 27 KOs) of Mexico and Puerto Rico’s Orlando Cruz (20-2-1, 10 KOs), who meet for a vacant featherweight world title on the same Oct. 12 card as Lomachenko-Ramirez.
The possible headliner of the Jan. 25 card could be lightweight contender Terence Crawford in a mandatory challenge of the winner of Saturday’s fight between titleholder Ricky Burns and Raymundo Beltran.
One of the reasons Lomachenko signed with promoter Top Rank was because it promised it would meet his condition to be in a world title fight almost immediately, and also because Top Rank could deliver such a fight.
Top Rank chairman Bob Arum told ESPN.com that he already has talked about the title fight against Lomachenko with the camps of both Salido and Cruz, and both are excited about the prospect.
“They know that if they win the title, they can get their biggest payday with Lomachenko,” Arum said. “Why wouldn’t they want that? They’d be fighting a guy who has never been in a 12-round fight and who knows how this guy does? Lomachenko is extremely talented but he’s the kind of kid who is very full of himself and has a tremendous degree of confidence in himself. This guy is special. How special remains to be seen.”
Arum also signed Japan's Ryota Murat, the 2012 Olympic middleweight gold medalist, and attended his pro debut last month in Tokyo. Murata, who beat No. 1 pro Japanese middleweight Akio Shibata by second-round knockout, also wants to move quickly.
“For me, what Lomachenko and Murata are doing is contrary completely to the normal way we build fighters at Top Rank,” said Arum, whose matchmakers are known as the best in the business for the way they methodically build champions and stars. “But maybe these aren’t normal times and these are not normal athletes.
“It’s one thing if we made the suggestion or we persuaded them into being moved fast. Maybe then I’d say did we do the right thing. But this is what they wanted. This is what Lomachenko wants. He wanted to fight for a world title in his first fight, but we told him that couldn’t be done. So we’ll do it in the second fight.”
One hurdle to Lomachenko fighting for a world title in his second fight was cleared at the recently concluded WBO annual convention, where Lomachenko was approved to fight for one of the organization’s regional belts in his debut, meaning Lomachenko would qualify to fight for a world title if he wins.
If the January title shot doesn’t come off, Arum said an alternative plan could be for him to stage a show in Macau in February called “Night of Gold,” on which he would feature three of the 2012 Olympic gold medalists he signed: Chinese flyweight Zou Shiming in a 10-rounder, Lomachenko in a world title fight, and Murata in a 10-rounder.