Superstar in making seeks to be a household name
Vasyl Lomachenko is eager to take on all comers as he moves up boxing’s ranks.
Vasyl Lomachenko has quickly ascended the ranks of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world and his lore only continues to grow, with opponents lining up to take on the two-time Olympic champion from Ukraine.
Now, as Lomachenko (8-1, six knockouts) returns to the ring Saturday night at Microsoft Theater at L.A. Live to defend his World Boxing Organization super-featherweight belt against Colombia’s Miguel Marriaga, the main question is which fights are in his future.
Unbeaten lightweight champion Mikey Garcia and unbeaten super-bantamweight champion Guillermo Rigondeaux are among the elite fighters seeking a showdown.
“If it was only my decision, I’d fight two or three names on one night,” Lomachenko said.
For now, Lomachenko will have to settle for Marriaga (25-2, 21 KOs), whose only losses came in prior featherweight title bouts, including a gritty showing in an April bout against WBO featherweight champion Oscar Valdez.
Marriaga’s an offensiveminded challenger, but is dealing with a rare foe in Lomachenko, who’s gained the nickname “The Matrix” by ranking just behind elusive Floyd Mayweather Jr. in the CompuBox plus/minus category of punches landed versus punches taken.
The statistics company also ranks Lomachenko No. 3 in power shots landed (51%) and fourth with eight jabs landed per round.
While the numbers show Lomachencko’s dominance, his greatest challenge is attracting an audience to appreciate his talent.
Lomachenko’s most recent bout was at the new 3,000-plus-seat MGM Grand resort outside of Baltimore. The Microsoft Theater has a capacity of 7,100 and attendance should benefit from the exposure of ESPN televising the card.
ESPN “is giving this more publicity than a major college football game,” Lomachenko promoter Bob Arum said after more than 4 million ESPN viewers watched Manny Pacquiao’s upset loss to Jeff Horn July 1 in Australia. “They’re treating it like the major sport we’ve always believed it is.”
Lomachenko’s manager, Egis Klimas, said he finds the sport’s “politics” the only other impediment to Lomachenko’s ascent in popularity. According to Arum, Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered broadcasters not to air Saturday’s fight within Russia.
Meanwhile, the other big names have been circling Lomachenko, eyeing a big payday.
Rigondeaux, a two-time Olympic champion from Cuba who has struggled to draw fans because of his defensive emphasis, has sought to engage Klimas in a Twitter feud to press for a fight.
On Thursday, Garcia (37-0, 30 KOs) found himself inside ESPN’s L.A. Live building with Lomachenko and took it upon himself to walk into a room to initiate his first meeting with Lomachenko as he awaited a “SportsCenter” appearance.
“This fight could be on pay-per-view because all the fans have been asking about it,” Garcia said while expressing a willingness to fight on whatever network offers the best financial package. “We’re the main names [below 147 pounds]. No other names can generate that kind of attention. “
Klimas and Lomachenko said that as World Boxing Council champion, Garcia probably moves toward a unification bout against the Sept. 23 Jorge Linares-Luke Campbell winner. Lomachenko may take one lightweight fight by the end of the year to position for a 2018 summer date with Garcia, who had less than a million viewers for his July 29 victory over former four-division world champion Adrien Broner on Showtime.
“The worst thing we can do is go on pay-per-view and fail,” Klimas said. “It needs to be built.”
The ESPN card also includes a lightweight bout between Southland-trained Ray Beltran and Bryan Vasquez. Beltran, from Mexico, needs a victory to improve his chances to gain permanent residency in the U.S. as someone with “extraordinary ability” as his non-immigrant visa nears expiration.
“[Beltran’s] blue-collar image will show those how one fights to stay in this country and make it he and his family’s dream,” Beltran attorney Frank Ronzio wrote in an email forwarded to The Times.
“IF it was ... my decision, I’d fight two or three names on one night,” Vasyl Lomachenko says.