Vasiliy Lomachenko in perfect shape for Richard Commey, targets Kambosos in 2022
Vasiliy Lomachenko’s goal has not changed. He remains determined to become the undisputed lightweight champion even though his road to that opportunity is more complicated now than it was a year ago.
He was the pound-for-pound king a year ago when he fought Teofimo Lopez to unify three of the major belts in October 2020. Lomachenko was the big favorite, but barely fought over the first six rounds, and even though he finished strong still lost a unanimous decision and the belts.
As it turned out, Lomachenko boxed with a right shoulder that had been injured in training camp. Days after the fight, he had it surgically repaired and rued the fact that he had no rematch clause in the contract.
Three-division champion and two-time Ukrainian Olympic gold medalist Lomachenko returned in June and looked like the old Lomachenko – not an old Lomachenko – as he took apart Japanese contender Masayoshi Nakatani. He dropped him in the fifth round and battered him into a ninth-round knockout.
At that point, there seemed to be a good shot of a rematch with Lopez. It was a fight Top Rank chairman Bob Arum was interested in making – and he promotes both fighters – and Lopez’s father and trainer, Teofimo Lopez Sr., was in attendance at the Nakatani fight and said during an interview afterward that they would take the rematch but only after his son first dealt with IBF mandatory challenger George Kambosos Jr.
Then the younger Lopez later contradicted his father and said he had no interest in fighting Lomachenko again, which turned out not to matter because Kambosos pulled perhaps the upset of the year by winning a split decision over Lopez to take the belts and The Ring championship in their long-delayed bout on Nov. 27 in New York.
Because of that shocking Kambosos victory, Lomachenko’s path to another title shot is clearer, but he has work to do.
He is ranked No. 1 at 135 pounds by the WBO and WBC, but he is risking those positions against big puncher and fellow former titlist Richard Commey in a scheduled 12-rounder on Saturday (ESPN, ESPN Deportes, ESPN+, 9 p.m. ET) in the return of boxing to the main arena at Madison Square Garden for the first time in two years, a gap caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
A win means the 33-year-old Lomachenko (15-2, 11 KOs), a southpaw, will be in position to press for a mandatory shot in 2022 against Kambosos, who would first have an interim bout early next year.
“My goals keep me motivated, one of which is to become undisputed champion,” Lomachenko said. “Commey is one of the division’s most dangerous fighters and he is the one standing in my way. Richard Commey has big power, reach and experience. This is an interesting challenge for me, and I know it’s a fight the fans are excited to watch.”
While Lopez had balked at a rematch with Lomachenko, Kambosos likely would take such a fight. But Lomachenko was not celebrating Lopez’s defeat. On the contrary, he showed support for his former foe.
“I am not happy because I understand what he’s feeling because I was in the same situation when I lose,” Lomachenko said. “It’s never happy for you when you lose. Sorry, my English is not good, but I think you understand what I mean.
“(When you) lose, it’s always hard to continue your career. You need to find motivation. You need to find what push you in the gym, what pushes you to come back in the gym and train hard and continue your career. So, I understand his feeling now. But it is what it is. This is sport. This is boxing. This is why we love boxing.”
Lomachenko was as surprised as everyone else that Lopez lost to Australia’s Kambosos (20-0, 10 KOs).
“I was surprised a little bit, but before the fight I gave some chance to Kambosos,” Lomachenko said. “But I was surprised in the first round that (Lopez) goes down. I was very surprised. And during the fight, I think Lopez have a problem with his strategy.”
As for his fight with Commey, Lomachenko expects to perform more like the fighter who destroyed Nakatani than the one who lost to Lopez. A big part of that is the good health of his right shoulder.
“I am 100-percent healthy and ready for Saturday night. I can’t wait,” Lomachenko said. “Madison Square Garden is like a second home for me. So many great moments in my career have taken place at Madison Square Garden. I won the lightweight title against Jorge Linares in that arena (in May 2018), so returning there brings back many great memories.”
While Arum was critical of Lomachenko’s strategy in the fight with Lopez, he believes he is back on track to becoming a champion again.
“He looked bad (against Lopez) but you have to understand, this has been a perfect storm,” Arum said. “He went into that fight with a bum shoulder and the strategy was to go easy and then fight the back end (of the fight) hard. His strategy made no sense but that was his strategy.
“Two days after the fight he was operated on by Dr. Neal ElAttrache, the famous orthopedic surgeon, and now he’s fully repaired. So, he blew the titles really by not taking a postponement.”
Between the loss, the surgery and the pandemic, Lomachenko’s plans were delayed by about a year. But now he can assure himself of a title shot by beating Commey (30-3, 27 KOs), 34, of Ghana.
“Commey is a very competent lightweight, who punches like a mule, so he’s a significant challenge for any lightweight out there,” Arum said.
The division is red-hot too. There’s the elder statesman of the division in Lomachenko and a host of young stars, including champion Kambosos, WBC titlist Devin Haney, Lopez (who is likely headed to junior welterweight for his next fight), Gervonta Davis and Ryan Garcia.
“I’m not going to say if I am the number one lightweight. That is a question for the fans,” Lomachenko said. “I always want to show my skills in the ring and I hope the fans enjoy what I do.
“We can discuss my future after Saturday night. Of course, Kambosos is a fight I would like. He is the new champion, and he had a great performance against Lopez. But Commey deserves my full attention and that is the task I am focused on now.”
Arum was more willing to discuss a push for Lomachenko to face Kambosos, an about-face from what he really wanted, which was to match Lomachenko, if he beats Commey, with WBO junior lightweight titlist Shakur Stevenson, be it for Stevenson’s title at 130 pounds or in a non-title bout at lightweight or a catchweight.
“I said what I wanted to do,” Arum said. “I subsequently have talked to (Lomachenko manager) Egis (Klimas) and Lomachenko and they want to go on a direct path to get those titles back. So, Shakur is not an option at this point, even though it would be a terrific fight. So, we would push for the WBO mandatory against Kambosos.
“I think (Lomachenko) is the most skilled (lightweight) and you have these young guns who would look to beat him to enhance their resume, but I think he’s still number one. I think he’s the best fighter in the weight class.”
The telecast will also include three other fights involving Top Rank prospects:
–Heavyweight Jared Anderson (10-0, 10 KOs), 21, of Toledo, Ohio, will face Oleksandr Teslenko (17-1, 13 KOs), 29, a Ukraine native fighting out of Montreal, in the eight-round co-feature.
–Lightweight Keyshawn Davis (3-0, 2 KOs), 22, of Norfolk, Virginia, will have his first fight since signing with Top Rank last month. He will return to the pro ring after claiming a silver medal at the Tokyo Olympics in a six-round bout against Jose Zaragoza (8-3-1, 2 KOs), 33, of Mexico.
–Las Vegas middleweight Nico Ali Walsh (2-0, 2 KOs), 21, the grandson of Muhammad Ali, will open the broadcast against Reyes Sanchez (6-0, 2 KOs), 29, of Topeka, Kansas, in a four-rounder.
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