By Michael Malaszczyk: After Vasiliy Lomachenko (15-2) took care of business on June 26th in Las Vegas against Masayoshi Nakatani (19-2), many eyes were back on the former three-weight world champion.
Nakatani was expected to be a tough test for Lomachenko, who was coming off a loss in a title unification bout with Teofimo Lopez.
Nakatani was probably chosen by Lomachenko’s team as the comeback opponent due to the fact that Nakatani himself had faced Lopez back in July of 2019.
Though Nakatani lost by way of unanimous decision, he gave Lopez a ton of trouble, with Lopez himself admitting he had trouble with Nakatani’s size and range.
It’s well known that styles make fights and that “triangle theory” is mostly untrue in boxing. Nevertheless, many gave Nakatani a great chance to upset Lomachenko since he’d given Lomachenko’s conqueror everything he could handle.
It was seen as a risky comeback fight for the now-former champion. However, this was proven false when Lomachenko completely dominated Nakatani, walking him down and snapping his head back with jabs and left crosses all night before the referee put a stop to it in the ninth round.
Nakatani was never able to get any serious offense going against Lomachenko. To his credit, Nakatani was brave and never backed down, but he was simply overmatched. The message was clear: “The Matrix” is back.
Many wrote Lomachenko off after his loss to Lopez. Lomachenko was called overrated despite his many accomplishments and frozen out of any big-name fights at 135 (though it was questionable on Lomachenko’s team’s part not to include a rematch clause).
This was doing both Lomachenko and Lopez a disservice because it downplayed both Lomachenko’s huge body of achievements and Lopez’s hard-fought, impressive victory.
Former two-weight world champion Ricky Hatton, however, was not one of them. “The lightweight division is the best division in boxing at the moment,” Hatton said in his column at The Metro after Lomachenko’s victory over Nakatani. “And Lomachenko still has a big role to play in it, all day long. He is the dark horse among them all, I think. Because he got beat by Lopez, people have forgotten about him a bit… Everyone is talking about Ryan Garcia and Devin Haney, but I think Loma is still the one to watch… I think he will want to come back with a vengeance.”
Hatton is correct that Lomachenko has returned with a vengeance. He is also correct that Lomachenko is now the “dark horse” at 135. He was largely written off after losing to Lopez but just obliterated a well-rated fighter in Nakatani. He is a risky fight for any of the big names at 135 and offers little reward since he currently holds no belts. Let’s take a look at the top talent of 135.
Devin Haney (26-0) is currently the WBC champion. He is coming off of an impressive decision win over former three-weight world champion Jorge Linares (47-6), in which he boxed smartly and survived a late-round scare from the veteran Linares. He has little reason to want to fight Lomachenko since it is not an easily winnable fight, nor would it be a title unification, which is what Haney appears to be pursuing.
Gervonta Davis (25-0) is coming off of an exciting knockout win against WBA “Regular” light welterweight champion Mario Barrios, which now makes Davis technically a three-weight world champion himself (if one wants to count the “Regular” titles as real titles). It is unclear if Davis intends to stick around at 140 or go back down to 135 or 130. Were he to return to 135, it’s doubtful that he would fight Lomachenko since Lomachenko could very well beat Davis, and there would be no title on the line.
Ryan Garcia (21-0) is a talented young contender who just knocked out Luke Campbell and will likely be announcing his next opponent any day now. He has not won any world titles yet, but his crowd-pleasing talent has shot him into stardom already.
Garcia will likely face one or two more contenders before fighting for a world title and is also not likely to fight Lomachenko due to the risk of suffering a loss so early in his career (in this day and age, that “0” is something many fighters want to hold onto).
Then there is, of course, Teofimo Lopez (16-0), the unified IBF, WBO, WBA, and The Ring champion. Lopez has business to take care of with George Kambosos right now, but if he is to handle that business, there are currently calls for a rematch with Lomachenko due to Lomachenko’s easy win over a fighter who gave Lopez trouble.
Whether the rematch will happen, though, is difficult to say. Lopez is not likely to stay at 135 for much longer, and unless Lomachenko forces his way into a mandatory position, there is no logical reason for Lopez to rematch someone he already beat. And while Lopez did beat Lomachenko clearly (this writer scored it 8-4 in favor of Lopez), it was certainly no walk in the park for Teofimo, who dealt with a late rounds onslaught from Lomachenko before he rallied to bring it home in the twelfth.
At a weight class he struggles to make, against a fighter he’s beaten who holds no titles, no one can say for certain that Lopez will give Lomachenko a rematch. Teofimo Lopez Sr., Lopez’s father and trainer, seems to think a rematch is on the table after Lopez fights Kambosos, but that could just be talk.
None of this is to say that these guys are afraid of or ducking Lomachenko. That would be ridiculous. One of them has already beaten him, and the others very well could beat Lomachenko if they fought him. But Lomachenko has just proven that he is still a live dog in the stacked lightweight division; without a championship belt around his waist, though, he is a dangerous fight for any of them to take. It will be interesting to see if Lomachenko is frozen out of the big fights to the point of going back down to 130 or if someone bites the bullet and signs the contract to fight “The Matrix.” We shall see.