Vasyl Lomachenko signs with AIBA

LONDON -- World champion Vasyl Lomachenko and four of his medal-winning teammates on Ukraine's dominant Olympic boxing team have signed with a new professional boxing venture created by the governing body of the amateur sport.

AIBA President Wu Ching-Kuo announced his signings of the world's best amateur boxer and his four talented teammates to The Associated Press on Friday.

Lomachenko has dominated his sport since his gold medal-winning performance at the Beijing Games, winning two world titles with crowd-pleasing skills that have attracted enormous interest from pro promoters worldwide.

The deals with five fighters on the most powerful team at the London Olympics are a coup for Wu's organization and its fledgling AIBA Professional Boxing (APB), a novel venture -- similar to a league -- scheduled to begin regular shows in the fall of 2013.

"We have signed many good, strong boxers," Wu told The AP. "What we offer is different from the current professional promoter. The boxers have a full protection. They have a good living, and a minimum number of bouts a year, and also a close affiliation with their national federation."

Lomachenko and his father, Anatoly -- also his longtime coach -- listened to professional promoters' offers in 2008 before deciding to stay in the amateur ranks after winning the Val Barker Trophy as the best Olympic boxer.

APB's connections with the amateur sport's national federations apparently were the key to landing Lomachenko and his teammates. Although any professional promoter would sign Lomachenko immediately, he appears more comfortable staying with his national federation and the nascent APB, which will allow its fighters to maintain Olympic eligibility while making money from professional bouts.

APB already has signed a lengthy list of veteran amateur talent, many from nations with no lucrative pro boxing structure. Wu intends to reserve 56 Olympic quota places for the top APB fighters, while regular professional boxers wouldn't be eligible for an Olympic shot.

Lomachenko's teammates also are among the world's best amateurs. Ukrainian light welterweight Denys Berinchyk and heavyweight Oleksandr Usyk both will fight for gold medals this weekend after winning their semifinal bouts Friday, while welterweight Taras Shelestyuk and light heavyweight Oleksandr Gvozdyk also are fighting for medals Friday night.

Lomachenko has stormed through the lightweight bracket in London, beating Cuba's Yasniel Toledo 14-11 in his semifinal bout. Lomachenko wouldn't comment on his APB deal immediately after his fight.

He will fight for his second gold medal Sunday against South Korea's Han Soon-chul.

APB fights will have little in common with the current amateur competition rules, a distinction likely to benefit the Ukrainians. Boxers won't wear protective headgear, and they'll fight under the traditional 10-point pro scoring system, rather than the computerized system that's on the way out of amateur boxing, in bouts that will be longer than the three-round amateur fights.

Although APB is still a work in progress with more than a year before its full launch, AIBA is attempting to create a standardized worldwide approach to turning amateur boxers into pro fighters in this notoriously fragmented sport. APB's boxers will get health insurance, salaries and regular professional dates -- at least three or four a year -- on television-friendly fight cards while maintaining their Olympic eligibility.

Ukraine placed a tournament-high five boxers in the Olympic semifinals, topping traditional amateur powers Cuba and Russia and even host Britain. And the Ukrainians don't fight the technical, sterile style of many elite amateur boxers: They like to mix it up, throwing big shots and using pure aggression where other amateurs use tactics and defense.

Berinchyk has been maybe the most crowd-pleasing fighter not from the British Isles in the Olympics, capping his impressive run through the light welterweight bracket with a thrilling 29-21 victory over Mongolia's Munkh-Erdene Uranchimeg on Friday.

Berinchyk doesn't try to pick apart his opponents with soft, point-scoring punches: He charges straight at them and doesn't stop, just as he did while forcing two standing-eight counts on Uranchimeg in the third round of his comeback victory.

The 6-foot-3 Usyk has been the most impressive heavyweight in a middling bunch in London. He will fight Italy's Clemente Russo, another APB signee, in the gold-medal bout.