Masayoshi Nakatani doesn’t expect the same version of Vasiliy Lomachenko as the one who fell short to Teofimo Lopez last year.

Of course, the version of Lomachenko that he expected to show up that night would be bringing the WBA/IBF/WBO lightweight titles into the ring this weekend.

“I don’t expect him to fight me the same way he fought Teofimo Lopez last year,” Nakatani told “He’s a unique fighter and always brings something different. We saw him fight two different fights (against Lopez), and was able to push himself in the second half.

“I wish that version showed up earlier. If Lomachenko was able to be more aggressive early versus Lopez, I could be fighting for the lightweight championship this weekend.”

Instead, Nakatani (19-1, 13KOs) fights for the right to position himself for a shot at the lightweight crown. There is no major hardware at stake for his showdown versus Ukraine’s Lomachenko (14-2, 10KOs), which headlines an ESPN+ show this Saturday from The Theater at Virgin Hotels Las Vegas.

That doesn’t at all matter to the 31-year-old lightweight contender from Osaka, Japan, who is just here to prove himself against the best that the lightweight division has to offer. Nakatani earned his stripes following his off-the-canvas, ninth-round knockout of Felix Verdejo last December 12 at MGM Grand Conference Center in Las Vegas. The same venue hosted Lomachenko’s 12-round loss to Lopez (16-0, 12KOs) in their lightweight title unification clash last October 17, a fight where the 33-year-old Ukrainian southpaw struggled to get out the gate.

“I was impressed by the fact that Teofimo was so aggressive against the very talented Vasiliy Lomachenko,” notes Nakatani, whose lone loss came in a 12-round unanimous decision to Lopez in their July 2019 title eliminator. “We saw a lot of Vasiliy’s weaknesses in that fight but he was able to push himself later on.

“How I respond to whatever Vasiliy brings into the ring will be the key to win this fight.”

Jake Donovan is a senior writer for Twitter: @JakeNDaBox