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.

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Lance Pug­mire lance.pug­mire@la­times.com Twit­ter: @la­time­spug­mire

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.

Nick Wass As­so­ci­ated Press

“IF it was ... my de­ci­sion, I’d fight two or three names on one night,” Va­syl Lo­machenko says.

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