The lightweight division was always about Vasiliy Lomachenko, the Ukranian with knockout power and in that pound-for-pound discussion. Then a complexion changed in the lightweight division because Teofimo Lopez began his takeover and dethroned Lomachenko of the unified titles.
Since that unanimous decision loss to Lopez two years ago in Las Vegas, Lomachenko has been on the comeback trail with two wins last year, including a TKO and 12-round unanimous decision over highly touted Richard Commey at Madison Square Garden,
Then an attack on his homeland stalled plans to regain the titles. Russia invaded Ukraine which put his fighting career on pause. Lomachenko decided to hang up the gloves and be a part of the front line to defend his country without going into the battleground. He sacrificed and at times questioned when he could return to the ring and regain the lightweight titles.
He bypassed an opportunity to challenge George Kambosos Jr. the champion who dethroned Lopez. A June 5th fight was scheduled, but fighting for his country, defending family and friends was more important than regaining the titles.
Becoming the elite fighter in a contested and competitive division was not significant. So, the question is, when would the punching power of Vasiliy Lomachenko return and become the talk of boxing?
“It was an easy decision for me, my hometown needed to be with my people to defend my country,” Lomachenko said Thursday afternoon at Madison Square Garden. “You don’t think about boxing. I was in territorial defense, patrol the city to impose curfew.”
But boxing and sports always seems to alleviate the pain and bring people together during a tumultuous time. It was time now for Lomachenko to begin his other fight and regain the titles. At the same time, he has concern for his people and will be thinking of them in the ring Saturday evening at the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden.
Lomachenko opposes Jermaine Ortiz, eighth-ranked with the WBC as the main event on a Top Rank card that will be televised on the ESPN + streaming network.
This will also be a challenge for Ortiz, who defeated former champion Jamel Herring in May. He and Lomachenko are former sparring partners and as always there are implications for both fighters. Lomachenko gets his hands raised and an opportunity is a step closer.
“Something always manifested in my life to face Lomachenko here in the Mecca of boxing,” Ortiz said. “Lomachenko will bring the technician in me.”
Ortiz is saying he also has an agenda to stall the plans of a friend and push himself in the lightweight title picture, all the belts having to go through the unified champion Devin Haney, the young superstar who took the fight with Kambosos Jr in Australia.
Haney beat Kambosos twice, recently again as of two weeks ago with a unanimous and easy decision.
And here are the latest odds as of Thursday according to ACTION NETWORK and most sports books:
Lomachenko: Moneyline: -3000 Probability: 92.07%
Ortiz: Moneyline: +1100 Probability: 7.93%
The favorite is Lomachenko, but Ortiz has the ability to pull the upset and continue to stall any opportunity for his opponent. In other words, this is an opponent that Lomachenko looks at now. The future and where he goes next will come after Saturday, with a priority of his country and family that remain in turmoil to defend and preserve their safety.
“Will be an interesting fight,” he said. “I’m focused on my job, my boxing. You can’t stop thinking about your country. It’s always in your head. I need to focus. I must want to fight Saturday night and after that talk about the future.”
Though, when asked, Lomachenko said his goal is to regain those titles. He always said that the fight with Lopez was an outcome that could have been different. He left the ring dejected, a former champion dethroned of his kingdom, and in boxing a fighter will never accept no longer having that title or a piece of them.
However, that battle has to go through Haney, or any of the others that are in line to overtake the current champion, even as there is talk about the young champion moving up in weight to challenge those at Junior Welterweight (140) another of those interesting and compelling divisions.
Lopez is now at 140 and making his mark for another takeover. He will main event a Top Rank Boxing card December 10 in the main area at Madison Square Garden, opposing Jose Pedraza, the two-weight world champion that will be televised on ESPN.
Yet, Saturday night this fight will be a brief and welcomed reprieve for Lomachenko. He loves the sport, competing, winning, holding those titles proudly for himself and for the Ukraine. Those that can will be watching there on a Sunday morning.
For one night of 12-rounds or less, the concerns of his country and family will take a step aside. And then, Lomachenko will return to his family and friends with that more significant challenge of making sure they are safe.
But if he has to take on Kambosos first, he will because that could get him to meet Haney. It’s a lightweight division of consequences and more interesting because Vasiliy Lomachenko is facing that challenge of regaining his stance as that premiere fighter.
Rich Mancuso: [email protected] Facebook.com Watch “Sports with Rich” live on Tuesday Nights at 8pm EST on The SLG Network/Youtube with Robert Rizzo Available on Apple Podcasts and Spotify under The SLG Network