Lomachenko batters Nakatani, scores 9th-round TKO in return


LAS VEGAS — Former three-weight world champion Vasiliy Lomachenko was successful in his return to the ring, stopping Japanese veteran Masayoshi Nakatani int he ninth rund Saturday night.

With Nakatani’s left eye closed after eight devastating rounds, Lomachenko (15-2, 11 KOs) used a flurry of battering lefts to finish off his much taller opponent in what was a statement return in his first bout since an upset loss to Teofimo Lopez in October.

It marked the first time Nakatani (19-2) was stopped in a fight, with his only other loss coming by way of decision, at the hands of Lopez in 2019.

Lomachenko landed 59% of his power punches, as he dominated from the opening bell, peppering Nakatani with a steady stream of hard, straight lefts. Lomachenko was only hit by 12% of Nakatani’s power punches.

Lomachenko’s biggest round prior to the ninth was a destructive sixth, during which he landed a number of punches that caused Nakatani’s head to snap backward several times, eventually bloodying the Osaka-native’s eye, nose and mouth.

Lomachenko also knocked down Nakatani in the fifth, using a three-punch combo near the end of the round.

In his last fight, Nakatani was knocked down twice by Felix Verdejo before responding with a ninth-round KO win. This time, Nakatani never stood a chance as he was outclassed by the former pound-for-pound Ukranian great in every round.

“I’ve accomplished my goals and I’m back on track,” Lomachenko said.

With the win, Lomachenko is hoping to land a rematch against Lopez, who was set for his first title defense in Miami on June 19 until he tested positive for COVID-19. His mandatory bout against George Kambosos, and the entire undercard, has been rescheduled for Aug. 14 in Miami, but could be moved to Sept. 11 in Las Vegas.

Lopez’s father, Teofimo Sr., was in attendance and told ESPN prior to the fight his son’s camp is willing to grant the rematch, but with the caveat it had to happened immediately after the Kambosos bout.

Lomachenko’s loss to Lopez cost the 33-year-old his WBA and WBO lightweight titles and left the former unified champ on the outside looking in on a division that inherited a youth movement of undefeated fighters, including Lopez (16-0), Gervonta Davis (24-0), Devin Haney (26-0) and Ryan Garcia (21-0).

A Lopez rematch could take place later this year or in early 2022, while Top Rank’s Bob Arum mentioned matches against Haney and Tank Davis for Lomachenko.

In the 10-round middleweight co-feature, 2016 Olympian Janibek Alimkhanuly (10-0, 6 KOs) continued his ascension up the ladder of contenders with an impressive TKO destruction of former world champion Rob Brant (26-3, 18 KOs). The fight was stopped after the eighth round, when Brant’s cornemen requested referee Michael Ortega.

While Alimkhanuly landed 46% of his power punches (65 of 142, including 20 to the body), Brant struggled the entire fight to find confidence to challenge inside, vivdly cautious of Alimkhanuly’s counter punches.

“Ever since I turned pro, I wanted a big fight like this,” Alimkhanuly said. “Whenever a title shot comes, I’ll be ready.”

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