Vasiliy Lomachenko returned with a vengeance.
A tour-de-force performance was offered by the two-time Olympic Gold medalist and former three-division champion from Ukraine, who battered Japan’s Masayoshi Nakatani in their lightweight crossroads bout. Lomachenko overcame a cut in the opening round to force a one-sided stoppage at 1:48 of round nine Saturday evening from The Theater at Virgin Hotels Las Vegas.
All eyes were on the adjustments Lomachenko would make on the heels of conceding his slew of lightweight titles to Teofimo Lopez (16-0, 12KOs) in his most recent start eight months ago. The 33-year-old Ukrainian southpaw offered angles and aggression early, connecting with a left hand in the first minute of the opening round. Nakatani responded with a straight right hand, with Lomachenko forced to deal with a different kind of adversity after a clash of heads left him with a cut along the center of his hairline.
Armed with worldwide respected cutman Russ Anber, Lomachenko was left with little to worry about regarding the wound.
“I want to thank you to my cutman Russ Anber,” Lomachenko told ESPN’s Bernardo Osuna after the fight. “He is a professional. He helped me win this fight.”
Lomachenko’s supreme set of skills did a fine job taking care of that, though his restored confidence showed in round two. Lomachenko hurt Nakatani with a left hand, forcing the lightweight contender from Osaka to clinch.
Lomachenko landed a straight left hand at close quarters in round three, causing Nakatani’s knees to buckle. Nakatani was unable to compose himself fast enough to counter as Lomachenko was already out of punching range and working on the next combination.
Nakatani was briefly hurt midway through round four, courtesy of a body shot that nearly lifted his feet off the canvas. Nakatani returned the favor later in the round, landing right hands to redden the midsection of Lomachenko though one too many shots straying low as he was warned by referee Celestino Ruiz.
Round five threatened to devolve into a wrestling match, largely prompted by Nakatani who would initiate a clinch whenever Lomachenko worked his way inside. Things would get much worse for the 5’11½” lightweight, who would hit the deck courtesy of an overhand left and subsequent right hand in the closing seconds.
Lomachenko saw the opportunity to cause more damage and fought accordingly in round six. A left hand by the former three-division titlist along the ropes snapped back the head of Nakatani, who rode out the storm and fought through a stream of blood flowing from his nose and mouth.
Things grew worse for Nakatani in round seven, who was repeatedly clipped by left hands from Lomachenko. Action remained in one direction, to the point where the ringside physician and Nakatani’s corner grew concerned over the threat of compromised eye sight due to the high rate in which Lomachenko was landing power shots upstairs.
Lomachenko continued to chop away in round eight before closing the show one round later. Nakatani was badly wobbled by a left hand midway through round nine, the same round in which he recovered from two earlier knockdowns to drop and stop Felix Verdejo last December. His fighting heart disallowed him to step back and try to box, as Lomachenko continued to pour on the attack.
A series of left hands from Lomachenko caused significantly swelling around the right eye of Nakatani, who was all but out on his feet. Referee Celestino Ruiz—who served as the third man for Nakatani’s comeback knockout win over Verdejo—jumped in at the opportune time to stop the onslaught.
“I met all of my goals,” Lomachenko said of his performance. “I did everything I wanted to do in the ring tonight. I am back.”
Lomachenko led 80-71, 80-71 and 78-73 at the time of the stoppage.
Nakatani suffers his first defeat inside the distance as he falls to 19-2 (13KOs). His lone other career defeat came to Lopez in their July 2019 title eliminator, leading to Lopez’s wins over Richard Commey and Lomachenko to currently serve as the lightweight king.
It’s a role that Lomachenko seeks to reclaim, as he improves to 15-2 (11KOs). The stoppage victory is his first since halting former lightweight titlist Anthony Croolla in the fourth round of an April 2019 defense of his WBA/WBO lightweight titles.
The level of dominance was well reflected in the final Compubox statistics. Lomachenko landed 104-of-214 punches (49%), compared to just 29-of-250 (12%) for Nakatani, who was held to single digits in total connects in every round prior to the stoppage.
The next desired fight for Lomachenko is a shot at revenge, though it will have to wait. Lopez has experienced two separate delays surrounding his mandatory title defense versus IBF number-one contender George Kambosos Jr. (19-0, 10KOs). The latter postponement saw their June 19 bout shut down after Lopez reportedly tested positive for COVID.
Conflicting information surrounds Lopez’s current health status. An on-air report during the broadcast suggested that Lopez had recovered from the infectious disease and is currently on vacation in Italy with his wife. The suggestion would contradict current travel restrictions in place between the two nations, with Italian government requiring a negative COVD test within the last 72 hours prior to entering the nation along with a 10-day quarantine test.
Boxing insider Mike Coppinger reported that Lopez is still at home in Las Vegas and tested positive again on Saturday, less than two weeks after his health status shut down the Triller Fight Club Pay-Per-View event.
A target date of August 14 looks less realistic for Lopez-Kambosos, which could get pushed back to September or even later depending on how soon Lopez can recover.
It is of little concern to Lomachenko, who doesn’t care to place a timetable for getting his shot at revenge.
“Everyone saw how I won (on Saturday),” stated Lomachenko. “Everyone is waiting for the rematch. So, let’s do the rematch.
“[Lopez] has a fight in the future with Kambosos. How about after? Next year, maybe December, January, February. I am waiting.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox