Vasiliy Lomachenko was on the verge of the most important fight of his life, to bring him back to the precipice of what he wanted most.
Just as he was within reach, a much bigger fight broke out. This one was far from a boxing ring, however, but replaced all pugilistic battles.
Slated to fight George Kambosos on June 5 for the unified world lightweight title, Lomachenko’s native Ukraine has been invaded by Russia. He decided to retire from fighting Kambosos, return to the country and help defend his homeland.
“I would say it was not a difficult decision for me to refuse to fight Kambosos, because I think any man would do the same in wartime and make the decision to defend his homeland,” Lomachenko said. to the Post through a translator. . “At first it was difficult, but over time the situation improved a bit, which allowed me to return to training.”
While in Ukraine, budding superstar Devin Haney took Lomachenko’s place and beat Kambosos by unanimous decision in Australia. Since he already held the WBC world title, this win made Haney the undisputed world lightweight champion.
Now 34, Lomachenko, who faces Jamaine Ortiz on Saturday night at the Hulu Theater in Madison Square Garden, has long ruled the lightweight division. He topped the pound-for-pound rankings as one of the best boxers of a generation. Lomachenko had won the WBA, WBO and WBC lightweight titles and had 13 straight wins. Then in October 2020, he took on IBF titleholder Teofimo Lopez, finally giving him the chance to win all four belts and the undisputed title to lift Lomachenko among an exclusive club of fighters.
It didn’t go as planned, however. Lomachenko lost in a unanimous decision, his only defeat other than a loss in 2014 in his second career bout. He lost all three of his belts in the process, setting him back dramatically from his uncontested quest.
Dominant victories over Masayoshi Nakatani and Richard Commey in his later bouts brought Lomachenko back into the title conversation. This set up the fight against Kambosos, which would have put Lomachenko back in position for the undisputed title.
Until the call of duty.
“I didn’t have the opportunity to follow the events leading up to Haney-Kambosos, and I didn’t learn the outcome of the fight until after the fight was over,” Lomachenko said. “I didn’t have time to follow that. Because back then we were living a completely different life. Our life was very different and we had neither the time nor the opportunity to follow boxing.
Ten months since he last fought in the Commey bout, and after being called to war, Lomachenko returns to once again continue his pursuit of his ultimate goal against Ortiz on Saturday night at MSG’s Hulu Theater .
Not a top contender, Ortiz provides Lomachenko with a tune-up before he looks to face the elite again in the weight class. The lightweight division has become the most exciting group in boxing, boasting Haney, Ryan Garcia, Gervonta Davis and Shakur Stevenson, who just moved up to weight. They are all 27 or younger and Haney, 23, holds all the belts after beating Kambosos twice.
The youngsters have taken over the lightweight division and are threatening to stay for a while. This development, however, does not sit well with Lomachenko, who has still not achieved his ultimate goal.
“I’m not going to say if I’m a keeper, or that I can control this weight division, but I can tell you that I’m ready to fight. any fighter you mentioned and take on any fighter in the ring and see who is the best,” Lomachenko said.
With a win over Ortiz, Lomachenko realizes he would be in line to challenge Haney for the undisputed title. Both fighters belong to Top Rank, which makes it easy to negotiate a match.
After his win over Robson Conceicao and his subsequent move up to lightweight, Shakur Stevenson announced that he would like to fight Lomachenko next. Garcia and Davis would also provide Lomachenko with one of the biggest boxing fights of the year and intriguing matchups with hugely talented stars.
However, none of these other fighters offer Lomachenko the chance to win the undisputed title. While these would be huge fights, at this point in his career Lomachenko has only one interest.
“The answer is obvious here – fighting for the undisputed is the goal, to get all four belts in this weight class,” Lomachenko said. “And it doesn’t matter who has the belt at that time, that’s as long as those belts are on the line. Whether it’s Haney or another fighter at that time, I want to fight for the belts.