Buncey’s BOXXER Bulletin: Lomachenko, and the Tough Journey from Amateur to Pro
Double Olympic champion and former three-weight world champion Vasyl Lomachenko prepares to take on Japan’s Masyaoshi Nakatani this Saturday in Las Vegas.
In this week’s column, presented by RDX Sports, veteran columnist Steve Bunce takes a look at fighters who have succeeded and those who have failed when making the transition from the amateur ranks to the professional game.
If Vasyl Lomachenko never fought again he would be remembered as one of the greatest amateurs, Olympians and professional world champions.
This Saturday he has a very difficult fight against Masayoshi Nakatani in Las Vegas. It will be Lomachenko’s first fight since the extraordinary loss to Teofimo Lopez last October.
Amazingly, people have asked if that loss means the double Olympic champion – a man who became a professional world champion at three weights and after only sixteen fights – is now finished.
This is a man who made the journey from Olympic podium to world title look easy, winning his first title in his third fight. ‘Lomachenko the amateur genius’, who lost just once in 397 fights, made a quick transition into ‘Lomachenko the brilliant pro’.
In the last seventy years, the years when Olympic medals were currency in the pro game, only six heavyweight gold medallists have gone on to win the heavyweight championship of the world as a professional (that’s 17 Olympics, by the way).
The top weight division in the Olympic Games has been full of chaotic finals, great wins, bad defeats, flops, failures and controversies.
Some of the finals at heavyweight (it was renamed super-heavyweight at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles) have been a perfect example of the extremes, a perfect example of what can go right and what can go spectacularly wrong.
Perhaps the craziest of heavyweight finals took place in Helsinki in 1952.
The winner was American, Ed Sanders; he won on a disqualification over Sweden’s Ingemar Johansson. It was a bad fight, both cautious, but it was Johansson getting all the warnings and at the end of the second round it was stopped: Johansson refused to fight. Johansson was called a coward, a rat and a disgrace to Olympic sport. His career looked over; Sanders looked set for a good career in the pros.
It’s funny how things work out.
Sanders turned professional in March of 1954 – and by Christmas of that year he was dead. Having won six of his nine fights, his final bout left him in a coma from which he never awoke.. He was just 24 when he succumbed to his injuries.
Johansson turned professional, became an idol of redemption in Sweden and in 1959 won the world heavyweight title when he knocked out Floyd Patterson. In Sweden, by the time he was world champion, he could walk on water.
In the 1988 final in Seoul, Lennox Lewis, boxing for Canada, stopped America’s Riddick Bowe in the third round.
They both turned professional, they both won world titles and that is where the similarities end. They never met as professionals, which remains one of the greatest lost fights in history.
Lewis is now a regal and respected figure in boxing, acknowledged as one of the great heavyweights.
Bowe, on the other hand, has been arrested for assault (his legal team claimed he was punch-drunk) and can often be found at the big fights in Las Vegas charging 20 dollars for a selfie. It has been a sad decline to watch.
Life can be cruel for Olympic finalists – and it can also be heartbreaking.
The first Olympic super-heavyweight champion was American, Tyrell Biggs. His win in Los Angeles in 1984 looked certain to help him become the world heavyweight champion. And a multi-millionaire. Sadly, drugs and a crisis or two away from the ring finished his dreams. His tumble was epic.
In the 1984 final, Biggs beat Italy’s Francisco Damiani. In 1989, Damiani won the WBO heavyweight title. In retirement he coached the Italian national boxing team and is still revered.
There is no love for Biggs and his rise and fall is one of boxing’s most disturbing modern tales: in the Olympic quarters, Biggs beat a very young Lennox Lewis. In the professional ranks, Biggs was stopped by Damiani and Lewis.
Lomachenko turned that gold into more gold, but the heavyweights prove it is not that simple.
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