With Ukraine Backing Him Lomachenko Returns
Vasiliy Lomachenko, the onetime pound-for-pound king and a three-division world champion, has no regrets about a significant decision he made pertaining to his career earlier this year.
He had agreed to travel to Australia to challenge then-unified lightweight champion George Kambosos Jr. in his home country in June in an effort to regain the 135-pound belts he had lost by decision to Teofimo Lopez in a major upset in October 2020.
Lopez had refused to give Lomachenko a rematch but when he lost the belts to Kambosos last November, Lomachenko had the opportunity to face Kambosos instead to get them back.
Lomachenko had shaken off the loss to Lopez and post-fight shoulder surgery to win two fights in dominating fashion — a ninth-round knockout of Masayoshi Nakatani and a one-sided decision against former titleholder Richard Commey — and would have been the heavy favorite to defeat Kambosos.
War At Home Changed Everything
But in late February, Russia invaded Ukraine, Lomachenko’s home country that he won two Olympic gold medals for, and suddenly fighting for the title again was not so important.
A missile strike destroyed buildings in close proximity to where several members of Lomachenko’s family were.
He could have left Ukraine and taken his family to the Southern California home and training camp owned by his manager, Egis Klimas, and prepared for the fight with Kambosos.
Instead, Lomachenko decided that remaining in Ukraine to help protect his country was the only choice he could make.
The fight — and his dream of regaining the titles and continuing his pursuit of the undisputed championship — would just have to wait.
Lomachenko joined a territorial defense battalion and while he was not involved in combat he was part of a group that patrolled their town after the evening curfew.
Eventually, Lomachenko decided to return to boxing and he eventually did bring his family to Southern California, where he prepared for his next fight, which will come against unbeaten Jamaine Ortiz in the 12-round main event of a Top Rank Boxing on ESPN+ card on Saturday (10 p.m. ET for main card with preliminary stream beginning at 6:15 p.m. ET) at the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York.
“For me, it was an easy decision because there was a war in my country,” Lomachenko said on Thursday of his decision to bow out of the fight with Kambosos, who instead faced WBC titlist Devin Haney and lost a lopsided decision in a unification bout for the undisputed title and then lost to him again in a similarly one-sided decision in a rematch two weeks ago.
“There was a war in my hometown,” Lomachenko continued. “I needed to stay with my family and with our people and defend our country. You don’t think about boxing. You don’t think about your future. You just think about saving your life and saving your family. That’s it.”
Unified heavyweight titlist Oleksandr Usyk, Lomachenko’s close friend and Olympic teammate, also remained in Ukraine for months after the war began to do his part to defend the country, delaying a mega-fight rematch with Anthony Joshua. Usyk was eventually convinced that he could do more for the mood of his countrymen by boxing again and lifting their spirits while also putting the nation in a positive light on an international stage, so he returned and defeated Joshua again in August.
Lomachenko, who arrived in Southern California with his family for training camp in August, is returning against Ortiz for the same reason.
“I just wanted to bring a bit of sports attention to our country,” Lomachenko said. “And Saturday (night), which is Sunday morning in Ukraine, I want the people to change their mind towards good emotions.”
Loma Back Where He’s Had Success
Lomachenko will be fighting at Madison Square Garden, a meaningful venue to him, for the sixth time. Between fights in the main arena and the Hulu Theater, he is 5-0 and it is a place where he has won some of his most significant fights.
Included among them are when he spectacularly knocked out Roman Martinez to win a junior lightweight title in 2016; made fellow two-time Olympic gold medalist Guillermo Rigondeaux quit after six blowout rounds in 2017; and knocked out Jorge Linares in the 10th round to win a lightweight world title in 2018.
“I feel great. I feel good. I can’t wait to come back Saturday night at Madison Square Garden,” Lomachenko said. “I think it’s a special place for me. I’ve had a lot of fights there. So, it’s a lucky place for me.”
Lomachenko (16-2, 11 KOs), a 34-year-old southpaw, has not fought since dominating Commey last December in the Garden main arena. Now he faces a familiar opponent in Ortiz, who he sparred dozens of rounds with when he was training for the fight with Commey.
“Sparring (against Ortiz) is different from competition because our conditioning is not at 100 percent, so Saturday night will be a very interesting fight,” Lomachenko said. “I’m focused on my job. I’m focused on my boxing.”
Ortiz (16-0-1, 8 KOs), 26, of Worcester, Massachusetts, is coming off the biggest win of his career, a 10-round unanimous decision over former junior lightweight titlist Jamel Herring on May 21 that sent Herring into retirement.
Ortiz knows this is his big moment and that a victory would be life changing.
“This fight means everything to me,” Ortiz said. “This is something I’ve manifested into my life, eventually fighting Lomachenko. And the time has come here at the ‘Mecca of Boxing,’ Madison Square Garden. God has delivered everything I’ve asked for.
“I learned a lot of things about myself in the Jamel Herring fight, as I do in every fight. I try to make improvements. I go back to the basics and fundamentals and try to master those skills. Saturday night you’re going to see the best Jamaine Ortiz. I think the opponent in front of you brings out the type of fighter you are. I think Lomachenko is going to bring out the best Jamaine Ortiz.”
Lomachenko, of course, is the heavy favorite and a victory likely will propel him to the fight he wants so much — a shot at Haney (29-0, 15 KOs) for the undisputed title in the spring.
Lomachenko has said he is willing to do whatever it takes to make the fight with Haney. But more immediately after fighting Ortiz, Lomachenko said his mind will be right back to where it has been for so many months — on Ukraine.
“You can’t stop thinking about your country,” Lomachenko said. “It’s always on your mind. But now I’m focused, and I need to be focused because I’m an athlete. After the fight, I’ll go back to Ukraine and support my country.”