On 1 March, 2014, Vasyl Lomachenko suffered his one and only professional defeat – to veteran, Orlando Salido.
The result stands as a bizarre blemish on the pound-for-pound king’s magnificent 13-1-0 record and it’s understandable that many who weren’t watching that night may not understand quite how such a uniquely talented boxer could be beaten by a man who’d already suffered 12 losses.
Coming into the bout, Lomachenko was attempting a record-breaking feat by challenging to become the first fighter in history to win a world title in just his second professional contest.
Thailand’s Saensak Muangsurin was the man to beat, with his record of winning the WBC super-lightweight belt in his third pro fight standing strong since 1975.
In his stellar amateur career before turning over, Loma won gold medals at two Olympic games and put together an astonishing record of 397 fights, 396 wins and just one defeat (which he avenged twice).
This gave the Ukrainian confidence that he’d be able to storm into the pro ranks and quickly dominate there as well – the challenge was set.
When he agreed to turn pro, Lomachenko was offered a seven-figure signing bonus by promoters Top Rank, however, he turned it down and instead demanded a title bout on his debut.
Due to the way the sport works in modern times, he needed at least one win to gain a ranking before challenging a champion, so the then 25-year-old knocked out Jose Ramirez and got a shot in his second fight instead.
The targeted champion? Orlando ‘Siri’ Salido.
Salido at this stage was an ageing fighter at 33, but still a featherweight world titlist who had been around for a long time and seen it all.
Despite coming in with a record of 40 wins, 12 losses and two draws, it is worth noting that most of the Mexican’s defeats took place within the embryonic stages of his career.
In stark contrast to Loma, Salido turned pro in his homeland at the age of just 15 and, by the time of his 24th fight, had 14 wins to his name, eight losses and two draws – effectively the record of a journeyman.
As he gained maturity, he turned his career around and became a three-time world champion, though also still worked as an Uber driver in his spare time in Mexico as he found it to be ‘an enjoyable way to stay busy.’
Salido won his third world title on the same show that saw Lomachenko make his professional debut, and this was no coincidence as they were subsequently matched up.
Controversy began to brew on weigh-in day.
The Ukrainian challenger comfortably made weight under the 126lbs limit as he came in at 125¼lbs, while the Mexican champion clocked a whopping 128¼lbs.
This meant that Salido had a couple of hours to attempt to lose the additional 2¼lbs and keep his title, but instead he immediately started drinking to rehydrate and made no effort to do so, explaining this would be his last fight at featherweight and he didn’t want to deplete himself further.
As a result, he was stripped of his WBO title and the belt was now only on the line for Lomachenko if he emerged victorious.
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Come the following night, the weight questions grew further.
In just over 24 hours, Salido rehydrated up to 147lbs and entered the ring with a massive size advantage over the 136lbs Lomachenko.
As the champion walked to the ring at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas, HBO broadcaster Max Kellerman declared: “I think more than anything what his not even attempting to make weight, after weighing in heavy, shows Salido regards Lomachenko as his most difficult challenge.
“He must feel that he can’t afford any disadvantage and in fact needs an advantage, weighing in heavier than the weight class allowed, in order to compete with Lomachenko.”
As soon as the first bell rang, the size difference between them was evident, however this was not the only telling factor.
Many rounds of the fight were tough to score, especially early on, as Lomachenko’s amateur style had not yet fully transitioned into the pro ranks.
Despite beginning on the back foot, Salido soon began to effectively target the body and push his opponent back.
The Mexican utilised every roughhouse tactic in the book to make Lomachenko feel as uncomfortable as possible at all times and refused to allow him to find his natural rhythm.
By the midway point after six rounds, you could have easily had the bout level or ‘Siri’ slightly in front.
Around the same time, fans and broadcasters began to notice a new theme emerging in the contest – Salido’s illegal low blows.
Much maligned referee Lawrence Cole appeared completely oblivious between rounds four to six as the 33-year-old began to smash the Ukrainian in his most vulnerable area on multiple occasions.
Perhaps naively, Loma opted not to complain and so Salido was allowed to get away with what commentator Jim Lampley said at the time was ‘a graphic piece of professionalism’.
Other have since branded it ‘dirty tactics’.
In the second half, a special fighter was made to look ordinary at times.
Lomachenko was criticised for his persistent holding – an attempt to prevent Salido from working on the inside – and was unable to show clear superiority between him and his opponent.
With four rounds remaining, the bout was beginning to look like it was in the veteran’s hands, prompting Lampley to add: “This is the reason why most hot prospects coming into professional boxing get an 8/12/15/20 fight professional apprenticeship.
“To learn all of those nuances before they get into a fight like this.”
Finally, referee Cole issued a couple of warnings to Salido for his relentless low blows, but with time trickling away and no points deductions forthcoming, Lomachenko knew he’d have to take things into his own hands.
Prior to the bout, many questioned the Ukrainian’s endurance given the fact he was used to the far shorter fights of the amateur code and semi-pro WSB tournaments.
Despite this, he came on strong with sharp counters in the eleventh and had Salido holding on to buy time.
Everything was set up for a dramatic final round, and this was most certainly delivered.
Neither man had been hurt at any point in the contest up to the twelfth, but this was all about to change.
With just over a minute remaining, the 136lbs man caught the 147lber with a straight left coming in and badly wobbled him.
Salido desperately held while Lomachenko, spurred on by his corner, pursued a stunning finish.
However, this never came and the Mexican was ultimately saved by the bell before split decision scorecards were read out in his favour: 115-113, 113-115, 116-112.
Despite the weigh-in shenanigans, low blows and split decision, Lomachenko made no excuses.
“I did my best, I really tried,” he said in his immediate post-fight interview, “But it didn’t work out.
“I don’t wanna say anything about the judges, I’m a fighter and my job is to fight.
“I don’t like dirty fights, I’m a straight fighter, I’m clean. I don’t like that kind of fighting and that’s why I didn’t want to hit him back below the belt.
“I didn’t try to think of it [the weight], I believed I could beat him even if he was a bigger fighter than me.”
Salido’s overweight triumph meant the WBO featherweight title became vacant and, because of the controversy that hung over their fight, Lomachenko was ordered to compete for it again in his very next bout.
Three and a half months later, the now 26-year-old gave a one-sided boxing lesson to a phenomenally talented American, Gary Russell Jr, and hasn’t looked back since.
The experience Loma picked up in his defeat to Salido proved invaluable and he is now a fully adjusted professional with world title victories in three weight divisions.
In the years that followed, there was often talk of a rematch between Lomachenko and Salido at super-featherweight, however it never materialised.
Salido is now retired and will forever hold a win over the man who has become boxing’s pound-for-pound king.