Fight Previews

RED PILL OR BLUE PILL? THE RETURN OF VASILIY LOMACHENKO

Mikey Williams/Top Rank

Last Fall, on October 17th, Vasiliy Lomachenko (14-2, 10 KOs) suffered the second defeat of his pro career. Teofimo Lopez (16-0, 12 KOs), his young and brash opponent, successfully took the play away from the Ukrainian and nullified his offense.

It was an odd fight to watch, albeit an interesting one. Lomachenko had lost before: once in his second pro fight, and once more in his 397-fight amateur career. But he had never been outboxed the way he was by Lopez. When Lomachenko lost in the amateur ranks–to Albert Selimov–he avenged it.

When he lost a world title bid by split decision in his second pro bout – to Orlando Salido (then 41-12-2, 29 KOs) – it was one of the dirtier fights (on Salido’s part) in recent world championship history. There was little doubt about Lopez’s win over him, however. The better man won on the night.

Now, the man dubbed “The Matrix” looks to correct the glitch in the simulation.

Teofimo Lopez’s recent positive Covid-19 test makes things a little more interesting at 135 pounds.
Tom Hogan/ HoganPhotos

His opponent is the rugged and battle-tested Masayoshi Nakatani (19-1, 13 KOs). His only loss came to Teofimo Lopez in summer of 2019. It was a spirited, but decisive defeat. Nakatani was there all night and pushed Lopez the twelve-round distance. It proved much about both fighters: mainly that Teofimo could go the championship distance, and that Nakatani belonged in the ring with the top dogs at 135 pounds.

Nakatani cuts an imposing figure at the weight. At a shade under six feet with a 71-inch reach, he’s even bigger than Jorge Linares, whose size and speed gave Loma problems. A fight against Nakatani is a predictable move by Lomachenko’s camp. This is the perfect measuring stick to see where the Ukrainian is at after his latest setback. His performance against Nakatani will invariably be compared to that of Lopez. If he still looks the part of a pound-for-pound level fighter, then he could set up a pay-per-view rematch with Teofimo in the fall. If not, then his future is markedly more difficult to predict.

Stylistically speaking, Lomachenko/ Nakatani is a fun one. Nakatani’s reach will make Loma work for whatever advantage he gains. However his slower, sometimes round punches from the outside will give the Ukrainian ample opportunities to exploit some openings.

Frankly, for boxing skill, this one is a no-brainer. Masayoshi’s only real hope is to overwhelm Loma with volume from bell to bell and wear him down. Even if he sustains damage early, he has shown the ability to weather an onslaught to deliver damage late. His knockout of Felix Verdejo (27-2, 17 KOs) in December showed as much. After two early knockdowns, he rallied to stop Verdejo in round nine.

Verdejo is no Lomachenko, but it is a recent win, and it reveals true resolve in Nakatani. With Lomachenko’s volume and angles, and Nakatani’s guaranteed dogged pursuit, this can’t help but be entertaining.

Gervonta Davis – one of the most-talked-about potential Lomachenko opponents – is briefly removed from the 135-pound picture.
Marilyn Paulino/RBRBoxing

This fight will effectively be at the center of the Lightweight universe for the foreseeable future. Gervonta Davis (24-0, 23 KOs) has made a temporary move to 140 pounds. Devin Haney (26-0, 15 KOs) just beat Jorge Linares (47-6, 29 KOs) by decision. Haney being rattled by Linares late in their fight shouldn’t eliminate him from big fight conversations, although it could complicate them. He is a real threat to anyone at the top of the division, but being visibly hurt by Linares will hurt his negotiating power going forward. Ryan Garcia (21-0, 18 KOs) had a bout scheduled with Javier Fortuna (36-2-1, 25 KOs), but pulled out, citing his own mental health.

Finally, Teofimo Lopez had his first title defense against George Kambosos Jr (19-0, 10 KOs) postponed until August after testing positive for Covid-19. Per a recent interview with DAZN, Triller founder Ryan Kavanaugh revealed that it’s a more serious case. Lopez is symptomatic, has run a fever of 102 degrees, and cannot sustain even a full minute of shadowboxing. The new date on August 14th seems to be a bit of wishful thinking. Covid affects everyone differently so, frankly, we just won’t know until we know.

So, despite a loss where he looked nothing like the Lomachenko we all know, the Ukrainian may just be back in the driver’s seat with a quality win. If he stops Nakatani inside the 12-round distance, it will be a surprise to most. He is already undersized at 135 pounds, and his opponent is a rather large Lightweight. Nakatani’s punch resistance and lack of foot speed also mean that he will be in a position to return fire all night long. That counts for something; for the elites in the division, he is very beatable. However, if you don’t come to the ring in impeccable shape, you’ll have a rough go of it.

Lomachenko knows what this fight could mean. It could secure a chance at regaining his titles and his old place on the pound-for-pound list. He must certainly have a chip on his shoulder with Lopez’s seeming indifference towards or refusal to grant a rematch. Looking impressive on Saturday would give Loma far more negotiating power when going to the table with Lopez’s team. Similarly, Nakatani needs to at least look good. Getting outclassed, or shut out would put him in a precarious position. He would likely be matched against an up-and-comer and would need an upset victory like the knockout of Felix Verdejo which secured this fight.

Neither of the two combatants on ESPN+ this Saturday will be showing up for a paycheck alone. They both need to look impressive, relative to expectations, in order to advance their careers, which promises to yield an exciting matchup. Don’t miss it.

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