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Vasyl Lomachenko split on allowing pro boxers in Olympics

Vasyl Lomachenko, left, of the Ukraine is sent

Vasyl Lomachenko, left, of the Ukraine is sent to his corner by referee Robert Byrd, center, after knocking down Gamalier Rodriguez, of Puerto Rico, during their featherweight title fight on Saturday, May 2, 2015 in Las Vegas. Lomachenko won the bout by knockout. (AP Photo/John Locher) Photo Credit: AP

In just his seventh fight as a professional, two-time Olympic gold medalist Vasyl Lomachenko is seeking to become a two-time professional world champion when he moves up to 130 pounds to challenge veteran Roman (Rocky) Martinez for the WBO junior lightweight title on June 11 at the Theater at Madison Square Garden.

So, who better to ask about a ruling on Wednesday by AIBA, the governing body of amateur boxing, to permit professional boxers to take part in the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in August if they qualify? After all, the Ukrainian is one of the greatest amateur boxers ever, compiling a 396-1 record, including gold medals in 2008 in Beijing and 2012 in London.

When the question was posed on a conference call Wednesday afternoon, Lomachenko rendered a split decision. “If you’re talking about this Olympics, I don’t think it would be a very wise idea for any professional to run into the Olympics in a two-month period,” he said. “There needs to be more time to prepare.

“But as far as the idea of professional boxers in the Olympics, I’m all for it. If you take any other sport — basketball, tennis — they support professional participation in the Olympics, which makes the sport stronger.”

Lomachenko predicted professional boxers might line up for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, but he cautioned, “I don’t think big stars like Pacquiao or Mayweather are going to take risks to go to the Olympics and have some amateur win.”

The prevailing concern throughout the boxing community is the prospect of mismatches and greater health and safety risks to amateurs. But as an accomplished amateur, Lomachenko would have welcomed the challenge.

“I wouldn’t be scared,” he said. “I always said, ‘If you want to be the best, you have to fight the best.’ ”

Although many “amateur” Olympic boxers receive stipends for winning medals, the conditions would pose a vast difference for top professionals, who would not earn anything comparable to a major pro purse and would be subject to dramatically different rules and a rigorous schedule.

“You have to weigh in every day before each bout,” Lomachenko said. “You have to be in the weight class six [fights] in a row.”

That’s in sharp contrast to Lomachenko’s second pro fight when he met WBO featherweight champion Orlando Salido, who weighed in over the 126-pound limit, meaning he only would lose his title if Lomachenko (5-1, 3 KOs) had won. On fight night, Salido came into the ring at 147 pounds after eating and hydrating for 24 hours compared to 136 for Lomachenko, who lost a split decision.

“He came in the ring and took off his T-shirt and was a completely different person than I saw at the weigh-in,” Lomachenko said. “I felt his weight.”

The biggest difference in fighting pros, Lomachenko added, is adapting to “dirty boxing.”

New York Sports