Both sides of this weekend’s main event in Las Vegas will be in the presence of familiar company beyond each other.
Celestino Ruiz will serve as referee for the lightweight fight between Vasiliy Lomachenko (14-2, 10KOs) and Masayoshi Nakatani (19-1, 13KOs), which takes place Saturday evening on ESPN+ from The Theater at Virgin Hotels Las Vegas. Chicago’s Ruiz—who has regularly worked in Vegas since the pandemic, though not always to rave reviews—will be joined by judges Steve Weisfeld (New Jersey), Patricia Morse Jarman (Nevada) and Dave ‘Not Carl’ Moretti (Nevada) at ringside.
The fight marks the second straight in Las Vegas for Nakatani, who also fought with Ruiz as the referee for his previous fight in town. The rising contender from Osaka, Japan was floored twice before rallying to send Verdejo to the canvas two times in the fateful ninth round for his biggest win to date.
Morse Jarman was one of the three officials for the bout, having Nakatani down 77-74 at the time of the stoppage. Her card had the action closer than was the case for judges Tim Cheatham (78-72) and Max DeLuca (78-72), though all three scores reasonably reflected the action to that point.
Saturday’s main event will mark the first fight for Nakatani involving judges Weisfeld and Moretti, both of whom have worked multiple fights involving Lomachenko.
Judge Weisfeld—often lauded as one of the best in the sport—was among the three officials for Lomachenko’s last fight, a 12-round unanimous decision defeat to Teofimo Lopez last October 17 at MGM Grand Conference Center in Las Vegas. Weisfeld’s card of 117-111 was one round wider than the card of 116-112 turned in by judge Tim Cheatham, while Julie Lederman drew public scorn for her 119-109 score.
All three officials were criticized by Lomachenko, who suggested the judges were biased and that their scores were perhaps predetermined. Several other accusations were hurled by the two-time Olympic Gold medalist and former three-division, though offering clarification on—and denying—any suggestion that he alleged the officials were bribed.
Weisfeld was also a ringside official for three other fights involving Lomachenko, all in succession and taking place at a Madison Square Garden property in New York City. He had the Ukrainian star ahead 60-53 at the time of his seventh-round stoppage of Guillermo Rigondeaux in their December 2017 WBO junior lightweight title fight. He was also the only judge who had Lomachenko leading (86-84) at the time of his off-the-canvas tenth-round knockout of Jorge Linares to win the WBA lightweight title in May 2018.
Seven months later, Weisfeld (117-109) joined judges Tom Schreck (119-107) and Joseph Pasquale (117-109) In awarding a 12-round decision in favor of Lomachenko over Jose Pedraza in their December 2018 WBA/WBO lightweight title unification clash.
Morse Jarman has previously worked three bouts featuring Lomachenko, none of which went to the scorecards—a ninth-round stoppage of Gamalier Rodriguez in May 2015 on the undercard of Floyd Mayweather’s historic win over Manny Pacquiao at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas; a tenth-round stoppage of Romulo Koasicha in November 2015 at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center (with Moretti also assigned as a judge); and Lomachenko’s seventh-round stoppage of Miguel Marriaga in August 2017 at Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles.
Moretti was previously assigned to two fights featuring Lomachenko—the aforementioned win over Koasicha, along with Lomachenko’s fourth-round stoppage of Anthony Crolla in April 2019 at Staples Center in L.A.
In the evening’s chief support, former WBA “World” middleweight titlist Rob Brant (26-2, 18KOs) faces 2016 Olympian and rising contender Janibek Alimkhanuly in a 10-round regional title fight.
All three judges working the bout—Max DeLuca (California), Tim Cheatham (Nevada) and Lisa Giampa (Nevada)—were assigned to Brant’s most recent fight, a fifth-round technical knockout of Vitali Kopylenko last August 22 at MGM Grand Conference Center. Brant led 50-45 on all three scorecards at the time of the stoppage.
The referee will be Mike Ortega (Connecticut), who has never previously worked a fight involving either fighter.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox