On Saturday, June 26, 2021, two time Olympic gold medalist and three-division champion Vasiliy Lomachenko returned to the ring with a ninth-round TKO victory over former world title challenger and top contender Masayoshi Nakatani of Japan.
Lomachenko returned to the ring for the first time since having shoulder surgery and losing his Lightweight titles last October in an upset to current unified champion, Teofimo Lopez.
A multitude of questions were being asked of Lomachenko, who did not seem himself in the Lopez fight with many wondering exactly how much he may have left following the loss.
Many questioned his decision to return against such a tough and physically larger fighter in Nakatani, instead of testing the waters with a softer touch.
To Lomachenko, the obvious reason for the matchup was in his and Nakatani’s mutual losses to Teofimo Lopez.
Lomachenko intended to make a case for a rematch with Lopez by scoring a dominant win over Nakatani, who gave Lopez all he could handle in their fight.
To his credit, Nakatani came into the bout riding a wave of momentum following his lone loss to Teofimo Lopez.
Nakatani returned to winning ways with an upset, come-from-behind victory over Felix Verdejo of Puerto Rico. The bout was a slugfest with both fighters trading two knockdowns a piece before Nakatani was able to close the show in the ninth and capture the WBO Intercontinental title.
From the opening bell, the size difference was apparent with Nakatani’s four-inch height and five-and-a-half inch reach advantages presenting themselves even at a casual glance as the fighters came to touch gloves at the opening bell.
Those advantages would mean little as Lomachenko started fast on his toes, moving back and forth, flicking and fainting his jab and moving closer to close the distance on Nakatani.
Lomachenko intended to start fast, quickly finding his way inside and landing a straight right hand off the pivot that landed flush on Nakatani.
Lomachenko got more aggressive in the second half of the first round, forcing his way inside to not give Nakatani the chance to back him up and impose his size.
A clash of heads opened a gash in the center of Lomachenko’s head under his hairline, sending blood down the face of the former champion before the end of the first.
Lomachenko appeared unbothered by the cut as he continued to find his way inside with short crisp right hands down the middle and exit exchanges at will often leaving his opponent swinging at air.
Lomachenko consistently shifted the angles and moved in and out, never allowing Nakatani an opportunity to set his feet or build an offensive.
Lomachenko continued to out think and outland Nakatani through the third backing him up and mixing in lead left hands and combinations that backed Nakatani into the ropes.
Lomachenko used his movement on the inside to attack from angles Nakatani could not counter from.
Nakatani did his best to aim for the body when up close to Lomachenko in an effort to slow him down but through four rounds he had landed nothing of note and less than ten percent of his total punches thrown.
Lomachenko used the fourth round to study and probe Nakatani for an opening behind right hands to the body and careful feints upstairs while Nakatani began to tie up his opponent and become more tentative.
Lomachenko scored the knockdown coming off of a clinch in the final minute of the fifth landing a hook from two different angles that spun and stunned Nakatani off balance sending him tumbling on to the canvas.
Nakatani beat the count and finished out the round seemingly not hurt.
Lomachenko started the sixth aggressively picking up where he left off following the knockdown.
Lomachenko took advantage of Nakatani’s lack of an inside game to unload a barrage of punches and beat Nakatani from ring post to ring post changing angles and firing off short hooks and uppercuts that snapped back the head of his opponent and had him on the verge of being stopped before the rounds end.
Lomachenko used the seventh to recharge and go back to probing for the KO shot while landing big counters and crisp short punches when up close to Nakatani.
But Lomachenko’s dominance over the Japanese fighter was painfully obvious as the left eye of Nakatani was swollen nearly shut and according to CompuBox over 57 percent of his opponent power shots had connected as it became clear the end may come soon.
By the end of the eighth each clean shot seemed to have a huge full body effect that buckled the knees of Nakatani and left him virtually out on his feet.
As the bell rang for the ninth it was obvious to all Nakatani perhaps included) that he had nothing left as Lomachenko came out for the finish landing left hands at will before the referee came into to stop the fight at 1:48 seconds into the round giving Lomachenko the win by ninth round TKO.
Lomachenko used his post fight interview to stress that he gave Lopez his shot at the title and he deserved his chance for a rematch to reclaim his titles, Lopez’s father and trainer, Teofimo Lopez Sr., agreed to the fight on the condition that it would happen immediately following Lopez’s upcoming mandatory title defense vs. George Kambosos which is slated for August 14 on Triller.