By: Hector Franco
This weekend, fans and pundits will witness the return of former pound-for-pound king Vasiliy Lomachenko (14-2, 10 KOs). The two-time Olympic gold medalist will face off against Japan’s Masayoshi Nakatani (19-1, 13 KOs) in a 12-round lightweight bout.
The match will take place at the Theater at the Virgin Hotels in Las Vegas and will be televised on ESPN.
The last time Lomachenko was seen inside the squared circle was in October 2020 where he lost a unanimous decision to Teofimo Lopez. Following the loss to Lopez, Lomachenko underwent surgery on his right shoulder.
The injury was undoubtedly a factor in the bout with Lopez as Lomachenko fought in a shockingly reserved fashion in the first half of the match. However, with almost 400 amateur fights and a majority of his professional fights being world title bouts, injuries may be a recurring theme for the Ukrainian for the remainder of his career.
“I have never shown my 100 percent skill because there was always some little problem,” Lomachenko stated on Top Rank’s documentary Relentless, promoting the fight with Nakatani. “The fight with Linares, I had the problem with my shoulder. If we remember Pedraza, it was my first fight after surgery, and with Crolla, I broke my hand, but I finished the fight.
“Now I am healthy, I am ready mentally for this fight, and I want to win.”
Lomachenko’s opponent, Nakatani, may be best known for providing Teofimo Lopez with arguably one of the toughest fights of his career. The Japanese fighter is one of the most unique fighters in the lightweight division, standing at almost six feet with a 71-inch reach.
More notably, Nakatani is a fighter that has no quit, as exhibited in his previous bout with the now-infamous Felix Verdejo. Through the first half of the match, Nakatani was primarily dominated by the jab and knocked down in the first and fourth rounds. The Japanese fighter continued to apply pressure and eventually wore down the Puerto Rican, scoring two knockdowns leading to a ninth-round stoppage.
For Nakatani, the opportunity to fight someone like Lomachenko is something he is not taking lightly.
“This is a fight that I have to win and that I want to win,” said Nakatani. “When this fight came up, I felt that it is the biggest fight of my career. But getting the fight doesn’t mean anything. I must win for this fight to mean something.
“I’m going to win!”
At 33-years of age, the former unified lightweight champion is a fighter that has responded well to losses. When Lomachenko suffered his first and only loss as an amateur to Russia’s Albert Selimov, he responded with two victories in rematches.
After suffering his first loss to Orlando Salido in his second professional bout, Lomachenko, in his next fight, defeated the then-undefeated Gary Russell Jr. to capture the vacant WBO featherweight title.
If history is any indication, Lomachenko may have a standout performance against Nakatani. However, history won’t have anything to do with what happens inside the ring. Nakatani represents a difficult challenge for the Ukrainian, and a victory won’t come easy.
While Nakatani may prove to be arduous opposition for the former pound-for-pound star, fans will look forward to what Lomachenko does next, specifically if a rematch with Lopez will take place.
A rematch clause wasn’t in place for the first bout with Lopez, and the younger fighter has vehemently stated that a rematch isn’t in the cards. However, with Lopez recently resigning with promoter Top Rank if a more significant fight can’t take place, a rematch between the two pugilists could happen.
For now, Lomachenko remains focused on the task at hand.
“I have a fight this Saturday,” said Lomachenko. “After, we can talk about the Teofimo Lopez rematch. But, of course, everyone knows I want that fight again.”