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Olympic star Lomachenko unleashed on pros

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Vasyl Lomachenko arrives at the Wild Card Boxing Club with his gloves crammed into a large brown paper bag, and he wears the striking blue-and-yellow gear of the Ukrainian Olympic team when he climbs into the ring.

His father and trainer, Anatoly, clicks the stopwatch around his neck while Lomachenko does everything from standard bag work to a two-man wheelbarrow crawl around the canvas. Later, Lomachenko puts on a cap with a small ball attached by a springy cord. He jabs the ball repeatedly away from him, treating it like a speed bag in an astonishing display of coordination.

As anybody who saw the most accomplished amateur boxer of his generation in Beijing or London could attest, Lomachenko has an inimitable style. When the two-time Olympic gold medalist makes his pro debut Saturday night at the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas, he'll continue to do things in a way few fighters could imagine.

``If everything works out the way we hope, this kid will be the hottest thing in all of boxing,'' said Bob Arum, his star-struck promoter. ``I've seen some things I've never seen in my life. He could revolutionize the way things are done.''

Instead of several short warm-up fights to build his experience and confidence, Lomachenko will debut in a 10-round bout with Jose Luis Ramirez (24-2-2), a respected Mexican featherweight. Instead of a gradual move toward the top, Lomachenko is contractually guaranteed a 126-pound world title shot in his second fight if he wins his first.

No fighter in Arum's near half-century of promotion has moved so quickly - not even Leon Spinks, who had to wait until his eighth pro fight to upset Muhammad Ali for the heavyweight title in 1978.

After dominating the headgear-and-punch-scoring amateur version of the sport for several years, Lomachenko sees no reason he should wait. In fact, he insisted upon it when he interviewed Western promoters this summer.

Lomachenko didn't want a seven-figure signing bonus. He wanted a title shot in his very first time in a pro ring - and he missed by only one fight.

``I want to make history,'' Lomachenko said through his adviser and translator, Egis Klimas. ``I don't want to be just a regular great fighter. I want to be the best.''

Assuming Lomachenko wins his debut this weekend on the pay-per-view undercard of Timothy Bradley's welterweight title bout with Juan Manuel Marquez, he's likely to return in New York in January for that title shot. He'd face the winner of Orlando Salido's bout for a vacant title against Orlando Cruz on Saturday, or maybe WBA champion Nicholas Walters.

``He did the smart thing,'' Arum said. ``Because now, based on his performance, he'll be making relatively huge money, and he'll have earned it instead of making us pay him at the start.''

Top Rank still gave top-shelf treatment to Lomachenko, renting an apartment just off the water in Redondo Beach and putting the car-loving fighter behind the wheel of a Mercedes C63 AMG. But Lomachenko spends most of his time in the gym with his father, honing his athleticism with their unique workouts.

Anatoly said he started his son in boxing at 4 years old, but pulled him out of the gym at 9 and put him in a dancing school for four years. At 13, Anatoly put the gloves back on his son and honed the footwork skills gleaned from dance.

Lomachenko mastered the amateur sport during his two Olympic runs, but he did it in a crowd-pleasing, big-punching style that seems well suited for the pro game. He also won six fights in the International Boxing Association's World Series of Boxing before signing with Arum, but Top Rank isn't counting those bouts as professional fights.

``He's very quick, and he's very heavy-handed,'' Arum said. ``He's everything you want in a professional boxer.''

If Lomachenko is as good as the boxing world expects, it's not tough to imagine him following in the footsteps of the Klitschko brothers or Manny Pacquiao as a fighter from a pugilistic outpost who became a worldwide figure on the strength of his sheer talent. Lomachenko acknowledges his supreme confidence in his skills, but refuses to predict immediate results.

``It's not in my character to say what I'm going to do and how it's going to go,'' Lomachenko said. ``I'm going to try to do my best, and we'll see what happens.''

Now 25, Lomachenko has a wife and two children back home in Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi, a port city near the Black Sea in southern Ukraine. His son is already playing around with boxing gloves, while his daughter was born on the same day Lomachenko signed his pro contract - and they named her Victoria.

Klimas claims Lomachenko plays soccer, rides horses, swims in the Black Sea and runs the occasional marathon when he isn't in the ring. But Top Rank and Lomachenko's coterie of advisers still put together a full team to prepare their fighter. He's increasing his speed with a trainer who specializes in NFL players, and he's working with Marko Yrjovuori, the Los Angeles Lakers' Finnish massage therapist.

``This is very hard work!'' a grinning Lomachenko said in English.

Arum envisions a showcase in Macau next year featuring Lomachenko, fellow two-time gold medalist Zou Shiming and the rest of Top Rank's Olympic heroes on the same card. He dreams of matching Lomachenko against Guillermo Rigondeaux, the Cuban 122-pound champion.

Lomachenko also is likely to move to Los Angeles next year, continuing his pro career in his unique way.

``I don't want to be like any other boxer,'' Lomachenko said. ``My goal is to be a champion in my own style.''

Copyright 2018 by STATS LLC and Associated Press.
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