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

June 27, 2021 GMT
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Vasiliy Lomachenko, of Ukraine, lands a left to Masayoshi Nakatani, of Japan, during a lightweight bout Saturday, June 26, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
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Vasiliy Lomachenko, of Ukraine, lands a left to Masayoshi Nakatani, of Japan, during a lightweight bout Saturday, June 26, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Vasiliy Lomachenko is back, and in vintage form.

The former three-weight world champion was successful in his return to the ring, stopping Japanese veteran Masayoshi Nakatani in the ninth round Saturday night.

With Nakatani’s left eye closed after eight devastating rounds, Lomachenko (15-2, 11 KOs) used a flurry of battering lefts in front of an announced sellout crowd of 2,072 inside Virgin Hotel’s The Theater, to finish off his much taller opponent in a statement return in his first bout since an upset loss to Teofimo Lopez in October.

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

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.

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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.

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.

“I realized (I was in control) after the third and fourth rounds because I was punching him with straight lefts and punching him with precision,” Lomachenko said. “I’m very happy because of the strategies that had been chosen, and also all the work, all the preparations, the trainings that had been done, all worked just fine and well, so I’m very happy. The result was as we planned.”

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., who was in attendance, told ESPN during an interview after the fight his son’s camp is willing to grant the rematch, but with the caveat it must happen immediately after the Kambosos bout.

“After this performance I think the public wants to see this fight,” Lopez Sr. said. “I think I can convince my son to fight him again. After Kambosos it can be made. It’s gonna be the biggest fight in the world. We can make it happen in December. We can make it happen in Madison Square Garden.”

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), Devin Haney (26-0), Ryan Garcia (21-0) and Gervonta Davis (25-0), who also fought Saturday, defeating Mario Barrios with an 11th-round TKO in Atlanta.

A Lopez rematch could take place later this year or in early 2022, with Top Rank chairman Bob Arum ready to pull the trigger.

“In case there was any doubt, Lomachenko proved he is still one of the very best fighters in the world,” Arum said. “He is healthy and ready to fight any of the lightweights. As the promoter of these two great lightweights, my job and duty is to bring them together for the fight everyone wants to see. I’m fielding offers now from different places in the world.”

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 cornermen 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, vividly 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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