One of the best boxers in the world will look to get back in the win column this weekend when Vasiliy Lomachenko returns to the ring to face Masayoshi Nakatani. The action takes place on Saturday from Virgin Hotels Las Vegas (10 p.m. ET, ESPN+).
Lomachenko (14-2, 10 KO) will be fighting for the first time since an upset loss to Teofimo Lopez this past October. The loss cost Lomachenko his WBA and WBO lightweight titles as the division moved fully into a youth movement that seemed to leave Lomachenko out of most conversations of the biggest potential fights at 135 pounds.
Despite focus for many shifting to Lopez, Gervonta Davis, Devin Haney and Ryan Garcia, Lomachenko securing a rematch with Lopez remains a strong possibility for his next fight should he pick up a win against Nakatani.
This fight is not a gentle road back to contention for Lomachenko. Nakatani (19-1, 13 KO) is a tall, tough fighter who gave Lopez a fair amount of trouble in their 2019 fight despite losing wide on the scorecards. In his most recent outing, Nakatani picked himself off the floor twice to knock out Felix Verdejo in the ninth round.
Nakatani will be the much bigger man on fight night, with nearly a five-inch height advantage and being a much more natural fit at lightweight. There has been talk from many -- though not from Lomachenko -- that a return to 130 pounds would be the best career move as Lomachenko moves toward the back end of his career. How the fight with Nakatani plays out will show if there's any truth to that line of thinking.
Top Rank's Bob Arum has instead said Lomachenko has a focus on the big names at lightweight, suggesting fights with Davis and Haney are possibilities, in addition to the Lopez rematch.
"Obviously, if Lomachenko wins, he doesn't want to sit around waiting," Arum told FightHype. "Lomachenko only wants to fight the best, and who are the best? Maybe Devin Haney or maybe Tank Davis. I mean, Loma would consider both of them big challenges, and we would certainly like to make those matches. But again, it takes two to tango."
Lomachenko will enter the ring as a massive favorite against Nakatani at -1500, but it's important to remember just how difficult it could be for him to find the target on the much larger opponent. It's also of note that Nakatani has just the one pro defeat at the hands of Lopez and was never close to being knocked down or out in that battle. Nakatani carries plenty of power in those hands at 6-foot tall and could make for a long night at the office.
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The co-main event sees a middleweight contest between Janibek Alimkhanuly and Rob Brant. Alimkhanuly has amassed an impressive run as an amateur with gold medals at the 2013 World Championships, 2013 Asian Championships and 2014 Asian Games. He also represented Kazakstan in 2016 Olympics. Alimkhanuly is undefeated at 9-0 in his young pro career. Brant, meanwhile, has nearly triple the pro experience with a 26-2 record and 18 knockouts to his name.
You can check out the full card below, with odds from William Hill Sportsbook.
Lomachenko vs. Nakatani card, odds
Vasiliy Lomachenko -1500
Masayoshi Nakatani +850
Janibek Alimkhanuly -330
Rob Brant +260
Luis Fernando Saavedra
Nakatani has the physical tools and the mentality to be a tough out for Lomachenko, for sure. However, Lomachenko may be his own worst enemy heading into the fight. He can't afford to give away the first half of the fight like he did against Lopez. He will take a round or two to try to figure out the angles and right approach to take against Nakatani. Once he has a bit of information, Lomachenko needs to apply it and start using his world-class skills to pull away and pile up rounds because it seems unlikely he scores a stoppage in any circumstance beyond a referee stoppage due to swelling. Pick: Vasiliy Lomachenko via UD