After a busy weekend in Las Vegas, Boxing Social columnist Russ Anber gives the inside track on working Vasiliy Lomachenko’s corner and dealing with an early cut as the Ukrainian maestro returned to the ring with a bang…
It was great to be back in Vegas to work corners for Janibek Alimkhanuly against Rob Brant and Vasiliy Lomachenko against Masayoshi Nakatani, his first fight since his loss to Teofimo Lopez.
I’ll speak about the Janibek fight in another column this week. As for Loma, well, the first thing to say is that he was very relaxed all week, which might surprise some people because there were a lot of folks looking at the Nakatani fight thinking it was a very dangerous assignment.
After a relatively calm and uneventful pre-fight week hype, Nakatani was full of confidence once he entered the ring, arrogance almost, as he gave the old throat slit gesture to Loma and pointed right at him during the ring introductions. That showed Nakatani was coming to fight and give it everything – and on the night he sure did.
He tried everything, but Loma was at his Matrix best. He was ducking and dodging and firing shots in from all angles against the taller guy and just throwing brilliant punches. Nakatani just couldn’t figure out how to get away from him. When they were on the inside, Loma stayed low, Nakatani stayed high and Loma was cracking him over the top – Boom! Boom! Boom!
I’ll tell you what, Nakatani showed real fucking heart because he took some hellacious shots and still refused to give it up. As the fight progressed, his eye started to swell, and still he took some truly vicious shots. It was impressive the number of blows this guy took and stood up to and how he carried on trying. He really showed that Japanese warrior’s heart.
But it just wasn’t enough. Loma was at his absolute best and dismantled him round after round, which was incredible to witness given the size difference between the two men. To look at them and observe the size difference at the weigh-in and in the ring was ridiculous to be honest – and it wasn’t just the height difference, it was the fact that Nakatani was so much thicker and bigger in the body, too.
Despite the physical disadvantages he faced, Lomachenko did everything right. He broke Nakatani down to the body and the head, he judged the distance correctly and he hardly got hit.
It really was a statement performance. I spoke before the fight about how keen Loma was to make a statement and he truly delivered with flying colours.
Loma did something that Teofimo Lopez wasn’t able to do against Nakatani and he did it in style. Lopez wasn’t at the fight, but his father was and he and his guys were mouthing off against Loma. Trainer Teofimo Lopez Senior also said afterwards that they will give Loma a rematch after their fight against George Kambosos. By saying that he’s really stoked anticipation for what I think is one of the best fights that can be made in boxing.
Attention now turns to how Lopez looks when he fights Kambosos. He has to look impressive, because Loma has shown he’s back, or rather that he hasn’t gone anywhere. Just because he lost a close fight to Lopez – a fight Loma feels was a draw – doesn’t mean he’s any less of a fighter and Saturday’s performance really proved that. It was a masterclass in execution, in style, in speed, in power, in everything.
There was also a viciousness about Loma. It was like he wanted Nakatani to pay for the sins of Lopez! There was a lot of pent-up frustration and unhappiness and inner demons that Loma was exorcising and Nakatani paid the price.
There was also some corner drama, of course, because Loma was cut in the very first round. I told Loma after the fight, ‘I hate having to work for you!’ He didn’t understand what I meant at first, but I explained that what I meant was it’s better for him if all I have to do is wrap his hands, put the Vaseline on and that’s it! Because then there’s no drama. Being paid to do nothing or next to nothing is what we all want to happen in that corner!
But on this occasion, I had to get to work pretty quickly. There was a clash of heads in round one, which is almost inevitable when you’ve got a southpaw against a righty. The cut was a couple of inches above the hairline and the blood just flowed down Loma’s face. Immediately I thought ‘oh shit!’ and had images of Badou Jack and that monster cut of his that I had to deal with in his fight against Marcus Browne in 2019 flashing through my mind.
Those type of cuts on the head are hard to stop. So much heat goes through that part of the head, it’s tough to keep a cut like that dry because the hair is already wet and it dilutes the adrenaline. Anyway, Loma came back to the corner and I cleaned him up and did what I had to do. It started to trickle a little in the second, but I got to it again, it trickled again in the third, but I got to it again and then it was gone, it wasn’t a factor.
After the fight, Crystina Poncher told me that Loma gave me a shout-out in his post-fight interview on ESPN. That was really nice of him and later I was able to watch the tape of it. Loma was doing the interview with a translator but when they asked him about the cut he responded in English: “I want to thank you to my cutman Russ Anber. He is a professional. He helped me win this fight.”
It was a really great feeling that Loma appreciated the work I did and his father did, too. It wasn’t a massive cut but it was in a terrible place and I was glad I was able to deal with it.
As a cutman you’re in a strange position. During your tenure with a fighter you’re only as good as your last performance and, if you fail to deal with a cut properly, if you screw it up, you don’t get a second chance. Your career can rest on one cut and in a big fight everyone’s watching what you do! That sort of pressure is crazy when you think about it, but during a fight I don’t feel it at all. On the contrary, I feel like being in a boxing corner is where I belong.
The best compliment of all about how I dealt with the cut might have come from Buddy McGirt though. He told me that after the fight he spoke to his wife Gina and she said, “Wow, Russ did a really good job with the cut. He was cut badly and bleeding real bad.”
Buddy said to her, “What are you talking about, baby? What cut? There is no cut.”
She insisted, and Buddy again said, “Baby, I’m right here watching the fight live, there is no cut!”
Turns out Buddy missed the first round and never knew the cut happened. Can you get a better compliment than that?
Russ Anber was talking to Luke G. Williams.
Main image: Mikey Williams/Top Rank.