The 135-pound division in boxing has exploded in recent years. The proliferation of young talents emerging has led some to say we could be heading toward a new "four kings era" with big names all fighting each other and all between 22 and 26 years old. But while Ryan Garcia, Gervonta Davis, Devin Haney and Teofimo Lopez Jr. seem ready to take the spotlight, one former champion may not be ready to cede the stage.
Former unified lightweight king Vasiliy Lomachenko is set for his first bout since losing the belts to Lopez last October when he takes on Masayoshi Nakatani in the main event from Virgin Hotels Las Vegas. It's a fight against a former foe for Lopez, who went the distance with the Japanese brute. Nakatani is a difficult out at 6-feet tall for the 135-pound division, but the biggest question remains: is a win over him enough to get Lomachenko back to title contention against Lopez or any of the other lightweight titleholders?
The fight with Lopez was the rare off night for Lomachenko, with Lomachenko coming out flat for the first half and digging too big of a hole to climb out of as he came on late in the fight. The result was clear, but Lomachenko's work in the later rounds showed that he was more than capable of hanging with the man 10 years his junior.
Perhaps that is why Lopez has been publicly opposed to the idea of granting a rematch. Lopez has said his unwillingness to get back in the ring with Lomachenko is based on what he perceived as a lack of respect from Lomachenko's camp before the fight, as well as the fact that the former champion's camp didn't bother fighting to put a rematch clause in the contract for the first fight.
Of course, Lopez has also publicly shot down the idea of fights with Garcia, Haney and Davis, saying none of them have fought anyone of note to earn a shot at the division's top star.
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The reality is that a Lomachenko win on Saturday likely does set up a rematch with Lopez if for no other reason than promotional ties. Lomachenko and Lopez are both Top Rank fighters, with Lopez recently ending his rivalry with his promoter and signing a restructured contract.
Top Rank's Bob Arum has suggested that the fighters could end up back in the ring should Lomachenko beat Nakatani and Lopez take care of business in his fight with George Kambosos Jr. on Aug. 14, telling Bad Left Hook, "I think a rematch between Loma and Teofimo on pay-per-view does a lot of business."
Ultimately, whether the boxing world's attention turned to the young guns in the lightweight division, Lomachenko remains an undeniable presence. And winning against Nakatani makes the possibility of immediately reentering the world title picture an inevitability.