Vasiliy Lomachenko was on the brink of the most important fight of his life, to bring him back to the precipice of what he’s most wanted.
Just as it came within reach, a much more important fight arose. This one was nowhere near a boxing ring, though, but superseded any pugilistic battles.
Scheduled to fight against George Kambosos on June 5th for the unified lightweight world title, Lomachenko’s native Ukraine was invaded by Russia. He decided to pull out of the Kambosos fight, and return to the country and help defend his homeland.
“I would say that it was not a difficult decision for me to refuse to fight Kambosos, because I think any man would do the same in times of war, and make the decision to defend his homeland,” Lomachenko told The Post through a translator. “In the beginning it was difficult, but with time the situation got somewhat better, which allowed me to resume training.”
While in Ukraine, budding superstar Devin Haney took Lomachenko’s place and defeated Kambosos via unanimous decision in Australia. Since he already had the WBC world title, the win made Haney the undisputed lightweight champion of the world.
Now 34, Lomachenko, who takes on Jamaine Ortiz Saturday night at the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden, had long-ruled the lightweight division. He dominated 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 cruised through 13 victories in a row. Then in October 2020 he squared off with IBF title holder Teofimo Lopez, finally offering him the opportunity to win all four belts and the undisputed title to lift Lomachenko among an exclusive club of fighters.
It didn’t go to plan, however. Lomachenko lost in a unanimous decision, his only defeat other than a 2014 loss in his second-career bout. He lost all three of his belts in the process, setting him back dramatically from his quest for undisputed.
Dominant wins over Masayoshi Nakatani and Richard Commey in his subsequent bouts brought Lomachenko back into title contention conversation. It set up the bout against Kambosos, which would have put Lomachenko squarely in position again for the undisputed title.
Until duty called.
“I did not have an opportunity to follow the events leading up to Haney-Kambosos, and I only learned about the result of the fight after the fight was over,” Lomachenko said. “I didn’t have time to follow that. Because at the time we lived a completely different life. Our life was very different and we did not have time or an opportunity to follow boxing.”
Ten months since he last fought in the Commey bout, and after he was called into 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 a tune-up before he looks to again take on the elite in the weight class. The lightweight division has emerged as the most exciting group in boxing, touting Haney, Ryan Garcia, Gervonta Davis and Shakur Stevenson, who just moved up to the weight. They’re all 27 or younger, and 23-year-old Haney holds all the belts after defeating Kambosos twice.
The youngsters have taken over the lightweight division, and threaten to stay for a while. That development doesn’t suit Lomachenko, however, who still hasn’t accomplished his ultimate goal.
“I’m not going to say whether I’m a gatekeeper, or that I can control this weight division, but I can tell you that I’m ready to fight any fighter that you mentioned and to face any fighter in the ring and to figure out who’s the best,” Lomachenko said.
With a win against Ortiz, Lomachenko understands he’d be in line to challenge Haney for the undisputed title. Both fighters belong to Top Rank, making a matchup easy to negotiate.
After his win against Robson Conceicao and subsequent move up to lightweight, Shakur Stevenson announced that he’d want to fight Lomachenko next. Garcia and Davis would also provide Lomachenko one of boxing’s biggest fights of the year, and intriguing matchups with uber-talented stars.
None of those other fighters, at the moment, offer Lomachenko the chance for the undisputed title, however. While they would be huge bouts, at this stage in his career, Lomachenko has only one interest.
“The answer is obvious here – the fight for undisputed, that’s the goal, to get all four belts in this weight division,” Lomachenko said. “And it doesn’t matter who has the belt at that moment, it’s just as long as those belts are at stake. Whether it’s Haney or another fighter at that moment, I want to fight for the belts.”