Will the best version of Masayoshi Nakatani show up versus Vasiliy Lomachenko?
World-rated lightweight Masayoshi Nakatani will face former three-division titleholder Vasiliy Lomachenko at Virgin Hotels, Las Vegas on Saturday.
Nakatani, who is rated No. 9 by The Ring at 135-pounds, has long admired the Ukrainian’s superlative skills but doesn’t feel the former pound-for-pound king is what he used to be.
“I consider this [a] big opportunity,” Nakatani (19-1, 13 knockouts) told The Ring through Hank Hakoda. “Watching Lomachenko, I never imagined that I would fight him. Prior to [him moving up to] lightweight, some of his bouts in which he outclassed the opponents, toying with them, amazed me. The unique footwork that no other fighter has. His craftsmanship was so fantastic that [it] even made me wonder who on Earth could beat him. His dominant victories were simply great.
“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.”
Nakatani, who is 5-foot-11½, will tower over Lomachenko and intends to use his greater size to make things as difficult as possible for his rival.
“My advantage is that I have a bigger frame than his,” said Nakatani, who is 4½ inches taller with a 5½-inch reach advantage. “I have been fighting at lightweight for a long time, whereas he has been moving up in weight. That should give me a sort of mental advantage too.”
The 32-year-old heads into this contest in a buoyant mood, off the back of a come-from-behind, ninth round stoppage win over former contender Felix Verdejo last December.
“Coming back from my [17-month] hiatus, it was not easy to prepare for the encounter against one of the top contenders without [a] tune-up [bout],” he explained. “I [knew if I] won, further opportunities will naturally follow.”
And they did in the form of Lomachenko (14-2, 10 KOs), The Ring’s No. 1 lightweight, who has claimed titles at featherweight and junior lightweight before winning The Ring Magazine championship and WBA, WBC and WBO titles at lightweight.
Both men have a common opponent, undisputed lightweight champion Teofimo Lopez. However Nakatani feels their respective fights happened at different points of their careers.
“I think Lomachenko had a different approach from mine,” he explained. “At that time, Lomachenko was already a proven champ, years of being on top with a profound track record, while I was a fighter who just started climbing the world lightweight ladder.
“During my collision with Lopez, I was spontaneously dealing with his strong punches not to let him take control of the fight. On the other hand, Lomachenko was rather conservative not to get damaged by Lopez’s fierce punches. You know, Lopez is a super-dangerous fighter, especially in the first two rounds, so Lomachenko was so prudent without putting himself at risk in the early rounds. Lomachenko and I had different mindsets going into the fight with Lopez and, because of that, we had different strategies in place.”
Nakatani feels how Lopez fought Lomachenko, especially in the early rounds, is the blueprint for him to potentially upset the old master.
“Ideally I want to fight at my own long distance, staying out of Lomachenko’s favorite range,” he admitted. “The most informative bout to know him is his encounter against Lopez. The takeaways from [that] bout include a clue of how to make Lomachenko feel unpleasant. He appears to be uncomfortable when he is attacked with daring punches.
“Also, the straight right hand that Jorge Linares dropped Lomachenko [with] tells me something. I sparred with Jorge Linares last time but I did not this time because Lomachenko is a southpaw. I am sure Lomachenko and I will try to find a home for a decisive straight punch and we will stay and fight at a distance where each straight punch is highly reachable.
“I have to expose him to a highly-charged atmosphere, especially when we are not trading punches. Otherwise he would freely attack me with a flurry of punches anytime.”
Nakatani, who trained at the Teiken Gym, under the watchful eye of Sendai Tanaka, where he has sparred with Kenji Fujita and Subaru Murata until 10 days before the fight, when he traveled to America, offered a warning to Lomachenko.
“In order to come into this showdown in top shape, I am bringing everything in my preparation to demonstrate the best version of me on the fight night,” said Nakatani. “I will fight Lomachenko with a determination to win, no matter what.
“Even in the midst of depressing pandemic, I want to provide Japan with a positive inspiration by showing Japanese boxers can fight in a big event overseas, like my countryman [The Ring Magazine bantamweight champion] Naoya Inoue does.”
Our correspondent Hank Hakoda coordinated and translated this feature.
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