This two-time Olympic gold medalist may be boxing's next star

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This two-time Olympic gold medalist may be boxing's next star
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Vasyl Lomachenko waltzed to a featherweight gold medal in 2008, not one of his matches in Beijing even remotely close.

He was just 20, but clearly was talented enough to turn professional and quickly win a world title. There was little he couldn't do: He was fast, strong and aggressive.

Lomachenko briefly considered it, but after consulting with his father, Anatoly, opted to remain an amateur. He went on to win a second gold medal in 2012 in London and on Saturday at the Alamodome in San Antonio, in his second professional fight, he'll meet Orlando "Siri" Salido for the WBO featherweight championship.

Unquestionably, he made the right choice: Had he turned pro in 2008, he probably would have needed five, maybe even six or seven, fights before going for the world title.

This time, he's doing it in just his second bout, though he isn't as giddy about that as most of those around him are.

"He would have rather done this in his first fight," manager Egis Klimas said.

Only heavyweight Pete Rademacher, who won the 1956 Olympic gold medal and then challenged Floyd Patterson in his first pro bout for the world title, fought for a professional championship quicker.

But Rademacher, after flooring Patterson in the second round, had a short and undistinguished professional career.

Lomachenko is a freakishly gifted athlete, the kind who comes along once in a generation.

Had he been born in the U.S. instead of Ukraine, he'd already be one of the country's most celebrated stars.

He was 396-1 as an amateur, but he beat the only man to defeat him, Russian Albert Selimov, twice.

It's no stretch to suggest he may be the greatest amateur boxer ever, and he's even more suited for the professional ranks.

In his professional debut at the Thomas & Mack Center in October, he took apart veteran Jose Ramirez in just four rounds. He brutalized Ramirez with body shots and nearly stole the show from Timothy Bradley, who defeated Juan Manuel Marquez in the main event that night.

But because he grew up in Ukraine, he's still largely unknown in the U.S., except to those precious few who live and die with the goings on in the frequently bizarre world of amateur boxing.

When he was 12, he watched boxing and dreamed of one day having a gold medal placed around his neck.

He loved hockey, and would have pursued a professional career in that sport, but his father was one of the country's best boxing coaches and turned his son toward boxing.

Never once, though, did Lomachenko idolize another boxer or see himself following in another's footsteps. From his earliest days, he was supremely confident.

"I didn't have any idols because I was working together with my father, trying to become an idol myself," he said.

He is a powerful and explosive fighter, but he competes with an eerie calm. He never seems to be rattled in the ring and the look on his face is almost always placid.

When one has fought almost 400 times – Saturday's match will be No. 399, including amateur and that one pro fight – it takes a lot to get one worked up.

His training sessions are amazingly intense and almost need to be seen to be believed. He could sell tickets for people to watch him work out and he'd attract a crowd, because his workout is so hard and so unusual.

In addition to his boxing work and all of the other traditional training exercises fighters use, Lomachenko does many unusual things, like walking on his hands.

His publicists would love nothing more for him to hop on the scale at Friday's weigh-in upside down, balancing on his hands.

It's just another sign of his strength, power and athleticism.

Whether all of this means he'll go on to professional greatness is another question, though all of the tools are there.

He's clearly not intimidated by facing the veteran Salido, a hard-nosed competitor who is 40-12-2 with 28 knockouts and one no contest in his 18-year pro career.

Salido lost the title to Mikey Garcia on Jan. 19, 2013, at Madison Square Garden in New York, but regained it on Oct. 12 in Las Vegas on the Bradley-Marquez card by stopping Orlando Cruz in seven.

Lomachenko fought two bouts prior to Salido on the latter card and got a good look at him, but whether he was impressed is unknown. A man of few words with the media, Lomachenko wouldn't offer an opinion on Salido's abilities, his bout with Cruz or the biggest problems he poses on Saturday.

"I'll tell you about him after the fight," Lomachenko said. "But I'm very confident in myself and my team. I've been in the gym for two months, and I can tell you this: I am not Cruz. We'll see what [Salido] thinks of me."