Featherweights Gary Russell and Vasyl Lomachenko, both former ESPN.com prospects of the year, will meet for a vacant world title after Golden Boy Promotions, representing Russell, beat archrival Top Rank, Lomachenko's promoter, in one of the closest purse bids in memory Friday.
Golden Boy won the promotional rights to the fight with a bid of $1,052,250, edging Top Rank's offer of $1,050,000 at the ceremony in Orlando, Fla., site of a Top Rank card on Saturday night.
The difference of $2,250 was only two-tenths of 1 percent between the bids. The minimum bid was $150,000.
Golden Boy Promotions chief executive Richard Schaefer said the fight will take place on June 21, likely at the StubHub Center in Carson, Calif., as an undercard bout of a Showtime telecast for which the main event is not yet set.
Lomachenko is entitled to 60 percent of the winning offer ($631,350), and Russell will receive the remaining 40 percent ($420,900). Both figures represent career-high purses.
Russell is the higher-rated fighter in the WBO's rankings, but Lomachenko will receive the larger share because of a WBO rule that reads, "If the fight is held in the country of origin, residence or nationality of one of the contenders, the resident contestant shall receive 40 percent and his opponent shall receive 60 percent off the total purse offered."
Since Lomachenko, who is from Ukraine, is fighting in Russell's home country, he gets the greater percentage.
"I'm happy we are going to be promoting the fight. Gary is very happy, Showtime is happy, and it should be an interesting fight," Schaefer told ESPN.com. "I am having conversations with [Showtime Sports chief] Steven [Espinoza] about it. I should have everything wrapped up shortly. We are going on June 21, most likely in Carson."
Golden Boy and Top Rank, bitter rivals, will not do business with each other, but by winning the purse bid, Golden Boy can put on the fight without Top Rank's involvement. Other than finalizing travel and accommodations for Lomachenko and cutting a post-fight check for the purse, Golden Boy doesn't have to deal with Top Rank at all, which is just how Schaefer likes it.
"I won the purse. I have to do nothing with them. All that has to happen is that their fighter has to show up," he said. "I'll have my matchmakers take care of the paperwork with Top Rank and that's it. This fight has nothing to do with Top Rank."
The closeness of the bid was a surprise, but Schaefer said he came up with his winning figure after discussing with Espinoza what Showtime would pay for the fight as well as crunching the numbers for what he felt he could generate for foreign television rights, particularly in Ukraine, and going over the figures with Al Haymon, Russell's adviser.
"I discussed a range with Stephen and agreed on a number," Schaefer said. "We figured out what we could get in foreign television and then I discussed it with Al, and he gave his blessing. I had four envelopes prepared for the bid and then [Friday] morning I called Raul Jaimes [the Golden Boy employee representing the company at the auction]. He was on his way to the purse bid, and I told him which envelope to use.
"It's an intriguing fight, and there's more to the story because of what's going on between Golden Boy and Top Rank and HBO and Showtime."
Carl Moretti, the Top Rank vice president who represented the company at the bid, told ESPN.com that Lomachenko will participate in the fight.
"Lomachenko will be there 110 percent ready to win the title," Moretti said. "It's two southpaws that should make for a very intriguing fight. We know Lomachenko can go a tough 12 rounds, but we don't know if that's the case with Russell. We were told the fight is June 21 with a site to be determined. Let's hope it's not at the MGM Grand."
The last comment was Moretti making reference to the ugly battle that erupted last week between Top Rank and the Las Vegas resort over its heavily promoting Floyd Mayweather's May 3 Golden Boy-promoted Showtime PPV fight against Marcos Maidana during fight week for the HBO PPV fight that Top Rank was promoting between Manny Pacquiao and Timothy Bradley Jr. at the resort.
Russell and Lomachenko will be fighting for the 126-pound belt that was stripped from Mexico's Orlando Salido for his failing to make weight for a March 1 defense against Lomachenko, a two-time Olympic gold medalist who many consider the best amateur ever. The fight went ahead with Lomachenko being eligible to win the vacant belt, but he lost a split decision.
Because Lomachenko fought well and because Salido didn't make weight and also fouled Lomachenko repeatedly with low blows, the WBO allowed Lomachenko, 26, to face Russell, the mandatory challenger, for the vacant title.
Russell (24-0, 14 KOs), 25, of Capitol Heights, Md., was also a decorated amateur and a 2008 U.S. Olympian. He was made the mandatory challenger despite an extremely weak resume. Lomachenko fought more highly regarded opponents in his first two fights than Russell has in any of his 24. He is coming off a fourth-round knockout of journeyman Miguel Tamayo on Jan. 30.