Ahead of this weekend’s massive lightweight showdown between Vasiliy Lomachenko and Teofimo Lopez, Russ Anber talks Boxing Social through the 11 fights he has spent in the corner of the Ukrainian maestro…
Gamalier Rodriguez, May 2015, WKO9
This was the nervous fight for me because it was my first one working with Loma. I remember going up to his hotel room with all the gloves we had made for him through my company Rival Boxing. It was a big moment for me because he had had so many hand issues and issues with his gloves. He’d tried pretty much every brand so I was pretty nervous as he looked at the gloves – I so wanted him to like them! Anyway he selected a pair and we used them. I don’t usually get nervous when wrapping a fighter’s hands, but I was nervous this time! I knew I had to be perfect, but as soon as we got to the ring and I was holding my bucket, and I was standing on the apron and I greased his face for the first time, all my nerves just melted away. I remember thinking to myself: ‘This is where I belong!’ I felt good, I felt in the zone, like I was in my territory, my domain. After the fight we went back to the dressing room, I didn’t say anything but then Loma just looked at me, smiled, stuck out his hand, shook my hand, and said: ‘Welcome to Team Lomachenko!’ That sealed it and a big smile came across my face!
Romulo Koasicha, November 2015, WKO10
It was good to be back with Team Lomachenko. I had the feeling that I was really part of the camp now. Before the fight Loma came up to me and said: ‘Russ, I have a gift for you’. He’d noticed that I always wear a tie when I’m working in a corner and kindly gave me his Ukrainian Olympic tie. That gave me such a thrill and, ever since, that’s the tie I always wear whenever I’m in Loma’s corner. For this fight, I was fascinated by Koasicha because he was Mexican but with a Japanese name which I thought was kind of cool. I remember walking through Vegas before this fight with Lomachenko and he pretty much went unnoticed. We’d go eat, get a table for four or a table for six, sit there and no one would bother him. Every now and then a hardcore boxing fan would recognise him but on the whole it was pretty peaceful. Loma dominated and won that fight with ease. There were no issues with his hands or gloves or with cuts. I was very happy about that, because after several fights with serious hand issues he had now experienced no issues for two fights in a row with me and with Rival gloves. That was very satisfying.
Roman Martinez, June 2016, WKO5
This is one of Loma’s performances that gets overlooked, I feel. Rocky Martinez was a former world champion and a good fighter. By now, Loma’s profile was really building and he had reached Madison Square Garden. It also felt like we had hit our stride in terms of making gloves for him. We could do more now with customisation, for example by matching his ring uniform with the colour of his gloves. We put a lot of effort and time into making the gloves exactly as he wanted them. Loma was an integral part of the evolution of Rival’s pro fight gloves range. His input meant a lot and helped a lot. At the end of this fight, Marilyn Paulino, a photographer from New York, captured one of my favourite ever shots with a link to Rival boxing – a beautiful shot of Lomachenko standing against the top rope clutching his world title belt against his chest while still wearing his Rival gloves [see main image]. I love that shot. And this was a great performance by Loma, which ended with a debilitating knockout. He looked like he was about to throw an uppercut and then he changed it into a hook and knocked Rocky out. It was a destructive knockout, which proved Loma can be a puncher when he needs to be as well as a boxer. By now, I was very comfortable within Team Lomachenko and feeling like I was an integral member of that small but tight-knit group.
Nicholas Walters, November 2016, WRTD7
Walters was expected to be a really great challenge for Lomachenko. He was unbeaten in 27 fights, he’d stopped Nonito Donaire, he’d stopped Vic Darchinyan, he’d beaten Miguel Marriaga and drawn with Jason Sosa. He was legitimate and people looked at him as being a real threat. He had power, he was a big guy and Loma, remember, was only 6-1 at this point in his pro career! However, what we all thought would be a real test turned out to be a domination. I remember after the fight Walters said to Loma by the dressing room: ‘I couldn’t catch you, I couldn’t hit you’. It’s like Walters was shadow-boxing – he was hitting the air and the shadow was beating him up! And, of course, this fight started that amazing run of consecutive fights in which four credible, world level opponents all retired on their stools against Loma. I don’t think that’s ever been seen before in world championship boxing – four guys in a row retiring against a champion.
Jason Sosa, April 2017, WRTD9
Sosa was a rough, tough and solid guy. He’d beaten Stephen Smith, Javier Fortuna and had only lost one fight. He came to fight but again it was a case of the matador against the bull. Jason had all the heart in the world and tried everything he could but it was no use. For the first time here, I think, Loma began to understand how to work the crowd and the TV audience with a bit of showmanship – he kind of mocked being a matador holding a cape at one point. The pressure Loma puts on just breaks fighters and it broke Sosa.
Miguel Marriaga, August 2017, won RTD7
Marriaga was an outsider but was expected to give Lomachenko a tough fight and in a way he did because Loma was cut in the fourth round over the left eye after an accidental butt. People didn’t really notice the cut or comment on it but it actually needed nine stitches after the fight. I dealt with it to my satisfaction though and Lomachenko was barely inconvenienced. Again, we saw his showmanship develop in this fight – he toyed with Marriaga throughout and even waved him in at one point. By now Loma’s flamboyance was in full evidence.
Guillermo Rigondeaux, December 2017, WRTD6
This was a big one for me on a personal level. I’d followed Rigondeaux’s career since the amateurs. He’s one of the best amateurs I’d ever seen. He was a beast, so big, so strong, so skilled. A machine. After the fight the excuses came in droves from the Rigondeaux fans and his camp – ‘Oh, the size was too much!’ and so on. But there were a ton of people picking Rigondeaux to win and it wasn’t size that beat him, it was skill. Loma gave him a boxing lesson, a spanking, a humiliation. He toyed with him like a cat with a mouse. Rigondeaux couldn’t touch him and when he retired on his stool claiming he had hurt his hand I was very surprised – after all you can’t hurt your hand when you’ve only hit air all night. This was a really special win for me. I went to Loma’s training camp at my own expense because I wanted him to get the ‘W’ so badly. The reason why was because Rigondeaux was being trained by Pedro Diaz. I was the guy who originally brought Pedro to Montreal and brought him into professional boxing. I got him working with Jean Pascal and David Lemieux and got him a job with promoter Yvon Michel. And then he scrammed for Florida and, from that point on, always seemed to have a certain hostility towards me. When I saw Pedro in New York in the lobby of the hotel before the fight I said to him “Todo bien?” “Everything good?” and he screamed at me at the top of his voice, “Mas que good!!” which means “More than good!” and walked away from me in disgust. I thought, “Okay, we will see”. They were supremely confident going into the fight and were certain they were going to win. From that point on, my close friend Cicilio Flores, who was Loma’s strength and conditioning coach at the time, would answer everybody who asked how Loma was, with, “Mas que good!” and then look at me and laugh! Getting that win was very special to me. That fight ranks up there as one of the highlight wins of my career. It will always be sweet. In fact, a photo of the fight is my background photo on my laptop.
Jorge Linares, May 2018, WTKO10
From a physical perspective, this was probably Loma’s toughest fight. By now, his popularity had built to a crescendo – he’s headlining at Madison Square Garden, and in the main room, not the small theatre, and he’s fighting for the world lightweight title having started his career, of course, as a featherweight. Linares was a very good fighter, a very tough, solid and well-disciplined fighter. Loma suffered an injury to his shoulder, I think it was as early as round two and it was a serious injury. He told his father in the corner that it was badly hurt. But he stayed in control and was taking it to Linares and really dominating him, but then in the sixth he made a mistake. He stepped inside the leading foot of Linares and just walked into a straight right hand right on the mush. Boom! He was dropped on the seat of his pants. Having said that, before the referee had turned back towards Loma after pointing Linares to a neutral corner, Loma was already up again, like a real champion. I don’t think he was really hurt, he was just caught. Then he won the rest of the round and scored a debilitating body-shot knockout to win in round ten. It’s rare at world-class level to win a fight late in a fight with a knockout to the body. I think this fight proved that Lomachenko’s power is underrated. He can still punch hard late into a fight. It also showed his true grit. Unbelievably, at the time of the stoppage, one judge had Loma level and one had him behind, which is unfathomable to me in a fight he was dominating.
Jose Pedraza, December 2018, W12
Pedraza only had one loss on his record. He gave Loma some problems because of the way he boxed. He had clearly gone to school and worked out what sort of style would give Loma the most trouble. He was awkward for the better part of the fight, although Loma was winning clearly. Then Loma decided, okay, I’m going for him now and dropped him twice late in the fight which meant for all intents and purposes the contest was over then and there. The fact Loma found his power late in the fight and almost stopped Pedraza reinforces my point that Loma can still find his power late on. Some of these bigger lightweights can absorb more power, of course, that’s for sure.
Anthony Crolla, April 2019, WKO4
This was a hard fight for me. I love Anthony. He’s the first British boxer whose hands I ever wrapped and I’m great friends with his trainer Joe Gallagher, who I’ve worked with many times. I was happy that Anthony got the payday and you know what? I wish this fight had been in Manchester, where Anthony is so popular. That would really have launched Loma in the UK in an even more appropriate way than the Luke Campbell fight later did. It would have been perfect. Crolla is nothing short of a legend in Manchester, he’d probably sell out an arena there fighting the janitor. Anyway the fight was in LA and Loma was just too strong. It should really have been over in the second round. Referee Jack Reiss called a knockdown when Crolla fell against the ropes which bought him a bit of extra time before that devastating shot ended it in the fourth. Crolla had been 24 rounds with Linares and was a very solid, seasoned guy so the fact Loma was able to stop him in such a devastating fashion was very impressive.
Luke Campbell, August 2019, W12
I always thought this would be a tough fight because of Luke’s physique, not just his brute size but his height and length. Campbell is not only big but he’s long and he must have been at least 10lbs or 15lbs bigger than Loma when they got to the ring. Stylistically, I thought that would be a tough proposition for Loma and so it turned out. No doubt he won the fight and won it well, and late in the fight Loma hurt him and almost stopped him. But Luke managed to stay in the fight, for which he deserves credit and he put up a very spirited effort.
Russ Anber was talking to Luke G. Williams.
Main image: Marilyn Paulino.