This weekend, former pound-for-pound No.1 Vasiliy Lomachenko makes his long-awaited return to action when he battles Japanese contender Masayoshi Nakatani at the Virgin Hotels Resort in Las Vegas.
Lomachenko (14-2, 10 KOs) was almost universally regarded as boxing’s premier fighter before he lost a wide unanimous decision, that seemed much closer on the cards, against new kid on the block Teofimo Lopez last October.
Afterwards, an off-colour Lomachenko placed blame on a shoulder injury, but after his recuperation the Ukrainian has one goal on his mind – revenge against nemesis and undisputed champion Lopez. But with injuries taking their toll and Lopez seemingly eyeing a move to 140lbs and a bout with undisputed king Josh Taylor, veteran Lomachenko is facing a race against time, according to two-time world champion turned boxing analyst Tim Bradley.
“A lot of people are judging Lomachenko and where he is in his career based on his performance against Lopez. Lopez fought a smart fight – positioning was very important for him – and then the combination of his hand speed, his power, and the fact that he’s simply a naturally bigger guy than Lomachenko. And while Lomachenko isn’t done yet, there are some things we should keep an eye on,” Bradley told ESPN.com.
“It definitely feels like Lomachenko’s toward the back end of his career, despite having only 16 fights as a pro, because of the hundreds of amateur fights he had, a 396-1 record as an amateur. Then there’s the way he trains — he trains extremely hard for every single fight. It’s almost like he puts a couple of training camps in one — that’s how hard he works.
“Mentally, Lomachenko works with a sports psychologist to keep his head right, and he has a lot of loyal people around him. But I think we’re starting to see the toll that all of that boxing and all of that training has had on his body, as it seems like he’s slowly breaking down. That’s why you’re seeing injury after injury; some serious, some less so. What Lomachenko can do moving forward really depends on how well he can maintain himself and avoid major injuries.
“Of course, it’s not a coincidence that Lomachenko has chosen to face Nakatani in his first fight since losing to Lopez. Nakatani gave Lopez issues, taking him the distance in their fight. But it was a different Lopez from the one Lomachenko eventually stepped into the ring with. It does show you what type of fighter Lomachenko is, and the type of mindset he has. The only thing he has eyes on right now is finding a way to get a rematch with Lopez, no matter what it takes. Lopez doesn’t seem to be too interested, and he’s been on the record saying he doesn’t want to do a rematch, claiming he blew Lomachenko out of the water.
“Lomachenko also wants to show that he wasn’t 100% going into the Lopez fight with a shoulder injury that required surgery just days after the fight, standing as the key reason in his mind why Lopez was able to pull off the upset.
“Lomachenko is a guy that just hasn’t lost much in his career, hasn’t dealt with that much. He lost once in the amateurs, and then he came back and beat that guy twice. He wants revenge on Lopez and he’ll do whatever is necessary. But in addition to doing what it takes to get Lopez back in the ring, just in terms of fighting the right guys and working his way up, Lomachenko is also fighting against the clock.
“I think Lomachenko knows the score. He’s not delusional,” continued the respected Bradley. “He’s smart, he’s thinking calmly and clearly, and he understands that this is a business, and sometimes a fight just isn’t going to happen. Eventually, if the big money for Lopez is in a fight for the undisputed championship at 140 against Josh Taylor, I think he’s going to go that way. And that’s going to be the end of Lomachenko’s chances at a rematch.
“Lomachenko’s consolation prize in that scenario is that all of the titles Lopez has at 135 would then get released if he makes the move to 140. Then Lomachenko can start back on his climb to become undisputed at 135.”