Vasyl Lomachenko returns from a painful loss this Saturday in Las Vegas, as the Ukrainian aims to get back on track with a win against Masayoshi Nakatani.
Nine months ago, Lomachenko (14-2, KO10) was shorn of his Lightweight gold when Teofimo Lopez dominated the opening half at least of their encounter at MGM Grand, before taking a clear decision win to relieve ‘Loma’ of his WBA (Super) and WBO titles.
In the aftermath, Lomachenko blamed defeat on an injured shoulder, but, with no rematch clause, the 33-year-old must now go to the back of the queue in an attempt to secure at least a second fight with Lopez.
Prior to that reverse, Lomachenko was well on his way to greatness. A double Olympic Gold Medallist as an amateur, as well as a three-weight world champion as a pro, he cut a swathe through the weight classes, forcing many opponents to retire after simply being outclassed.
He took a step too far in challenging for the WBO featherweight title in 2014, when Orlando Salido used every veteran trick in the book to take a split verdict.
From there, Lomachenko has defeated classy operators such as Gary Russell Jr (MD), Roman Martinez (KO5), Nicholas Walters (RTD7) and Guillermo Rigondeaux (RTD6), and then moved up to Lightweight to deal with Jorge Linares (TKO10) and Jose Pedraza (UD), as well as British pair, Anthony Crolla (KO4) and Luke Campbell (UD).
Then came Lopez, and ‘Hi-Tech’ will want to put that setback behind him in style this weekend.
Tokyo-based Nakatani (19-1, KO13) is a good yardstick for Lomachenko, with the Japanese’s only loss coming to the aforementioned Teofimo Lopez in July 2019, widely on the cards.
Before that defeat, the 32-year-old had campaigned exclusively in Japan. After his loss to Lopez, Nakatani rebounded with an upset win over Felix Verdejo, after being down in rounds one and four, and behind on all three cards.
He came back in scintillating style, scoring two knockdowns in the ninth before stopping the Dominican in the same round. That was in December 2020, and a win over Lomachenko in Vegas would be an even bigger achievement than the Verdejo win.
Prediction: Lomachenko will want to put his name right back in the mix with a statement win here, but Nakatani is certainly no pushover, and is tall and rangy.
This could cause problems for Lomachenko, but he should be able to overcome these challenges to score a dazzling victory after the halfway mark.
Another quality Kazakh off the seeming endless production line is Zhanibek Alimkhanuly (9-0, KO5), and he tackles former world champion, Rob Brant (26-2, KO18), over ten at Middleweight.
It’s a marked step up in class for Alimkhanuly, with Brant a WBA champion as recently as 2019. He won the belt in Japan with a deserved points win against Ryota Murata, defended once, and then shipped the title inside two rounds in a rematch with the Japanese.
Brant was last seen in August 2020, retiring Vitalii Kopylenko after five rounds in Las Vegas. Alimkhanuly can take a points win, but it could well be a close one.
A solid ten rounder at Super Flyweight sees two unbeatens collide. Columbia’s Jose Soto (15-0, KO6) and Jesse Rodriguez (13-0, KO9) put their unblemished records on the line.
Both are young and untested, and Soto fights outside of his homeland for the first time. He should have a little too much for the 21-year-old though, and can take a decision win.
At Welterweight, Quinton Randall (8-0, KO2) should be able to diffuse Fazliddin Gaibnazarov (9-1, KO5), over eight rounds for a clear points victory.