Vasiliy Lomachenko (14-2, 10 KO’s) will be making his much-anticipated return to the ring against Japanese contender Masayoshi Nakatani (19-1, 13 KO’s) on June 26 at the Theater at Virgin Hotels, Las Vegas.
Former unified lightweight champion Lomachenko took boxing by storm before his upset loss to Teofimo Lopez in October 2020, in which he surrendered his 135 lbs belts and was unable to secure an immediate rematch.
The 33-year-old won consecutive gold medals at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, then proceeded to turn professional and become the fastest three-weight division male champion in history in just 12 fights.
Before his loss to Lopez, Lomachenko was on a 13-fight winning streak, defeating worthy names such as Gary Russell Jr, Nicholas Walters, Guillermo Rigondeaux, Jorge Linares, Jose Pedraza and Luke Campbell. During this run, many considered Lomachenko to be the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world.
Nakatani, meanwhile, is coming off the back of a career-best win after a ninth round stoppage victory against Felix Verdejo in a back-and-forth war in December of 2020, a fight in which the Japanese had to rise from the canvas twice. In the fight prior to that, in July 2019, he suffered a unanimous decision loss to Lopez, in which he provided Lopez with a stern test, a victory which has aged well over time for the unified lightweight champion after Nakatani has proven himself to be a very credible foe.
Nakatani will be entering this fight with distinct physical advantages against Lomachenko, and he must utilise these in order to have any success against the supremely skilled Ukrainian. Nakatani possesses around a 5 inch height advantage and six inch reach advantage against Lomachenko. At just over 5ft 11, Nakatani towers above all other top lightweights, has proven himself to be a durable warrior with tons of heart and is unrelenting when he is on the offence.
Following the Lopez loss, Lomachenko underwent surgery on his right shoulder, not the first time the Ukrainian has had issues with his shoulder, and for his first fight back since the Lopez loss, Lomachenko has certainly not chosen an easy touch. If there is any lingering shoulder issues, or Nakatani has the perfect game-plan to put the pressure on Lomachenko, this could be a tougher night than the Ukrainian or most will expect.
The Ukrainian has gone from the pound-for-pound No.1 fighter in the sport to the forgotten man of boxing after a single loss, and will be looking to make a statement in his comeback fight. His star will have rightly dimmed after such a momentous upset loss, but ‘The Matrix’ could yet defeat any lightweight in the world, including Lopez in the rematch.
Was Lomachenko’s shoulder injury a crucial factor in the Lopez loss? According to the Ukrainian, yes, and he will be looking to return with a statement and prove the Lopez loss was a mere fluke.
“It’s best choice for me,” Lomachenko stated during a Top Rank broadcast. “I want to compare myself with this guy because he fought Teofimo.”
“Hi-Tech” has been eyeing a rematch since that upset loss, and he is looking to make a statement with the best alternative.. do a better job on the guy who gave Lopez the toughest fight of his career.
The exquisite skills and ring IQ possessed by Lomachenko makes him a formidable foe for any opponent, so long as the size advantage is not overwhelmingly in the favour of an opponent who also has the skills and intelligence to match, which Lopez so impressively did.
Whilst competing at lightweight, Lomachenko is undoubtedly giving away size advantages to his opponents. He will be smaller than many of them, and gets hit a lot more frequently whilst losing more rounds compared to when he was competing at the lower weight classes. In order to be the victor and produce another shock victory involving ‘Hi-Tech’, Nakatani must exploit this, and the Japanese has already outlined this as a reason through which he can gain plenty of confidence.
Whilst speaking to The Ring Magazine through Hank Hakoda, Nakatani said: “Since Lomachenko moved up to the lightweight division, he looks different from how he used to be. To his credit, his hard-fought victory over Jorge Linares was impressive, showcasing his exclusive skillset, but otherwise, he has not displayed his own boxing [at lightweight], which used to make him so special.”
Will Nakatani’s superior size and indomitable will prevail? Is this a big mistake for Lomachenko coming off a huge loss? Is Lomachenko going to show that so many are wrong to have written him off so quickly, with plenty still left in the tank?
Not long until these questions are answered
By Sina Latif of SimBoxx
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