Ukrainian great Vasyl Lomachenko returns from nearly a year out this weekend, taking on rising opponent Jamaine Ortiz in what he hopes will be a prelude before another run at the title scene after his shock loss to Teofimo Lopez two years ago. He’s got several things to prove, both with that loss and to prove that age, injuries and time out haven’t slowed him too much. Lomachenko in that kind of mood tends to want to put on a show, so hopefully we’ll be in for a treat.
The main card can be watched starting at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN+, ESPN and ESPN Deportes. ring walks for main event expected at around 10 p.m. ET.
As a Ukranian, Lomachenko has had a year in which… well, boxing wasn’t really on his mind for much of it. Like his team-mate and friend, Oleksandr Usyk, he joined a territorial defence battalion when Russia invaded in February, and spent most of the year back home. Also like Usyk, he appears to have been persuaded he’s better placed being a symbol for Ukraine doing what he does best, and is now returning to the boxing ring after 11 months out.
Unlike Usyk, who returned with a rematch against Anthony Joshua, Lomachenko is taking it a bit easier here. That’s understandable to an extent, since while younger, Loma has dealt with injury problems Usyk has not- and add to that, the top fighters in the division are probably a tougher out than Anthony Joshua, so a bit of a tune-up isn’t unreasonable.
His opponent, Ortiz, is 16-0-1 and has never so much as fought a 12-round fight, let alone for a world title. He did, however, put himself into position for this fight with a solid win over Jamal Herring, and he’s a fighter on the rise with a few tricks in his pocket. So while we can be clear from the outset that Lomachenko should win this if he’s anywhere near his best, there might be a few wrinkles for him to work out.
Lomachenko is, of course, long-established at this stage- if you’ve watched him before, you know what he’s bringing. He’ll use that magical close-quarters footwork to try to step and pivot around Ortiz into positions where he can work for maximum damage with minimum return fire, and layered combinations to break down the defence. One of his defining characteristics is that he essentially uses a set of usually mid-range skills at very close range, which makes him a nightmare to deal with as his punches come from angles opponents haven’t trained to deal with and his movement is very hard to follow and cut off. That has come with some weaknesses in the past, that may also have fed into his injury problems- in particular, because he likes to slip, move and throw combinations at what is usually clinching range, when an opponent has clinched he has been known to wrench himself free rather unsubtly rather than commit to normal clinch tactics. He showed refinements to that aspect of his game against Commey, though, so we’ll probably see that more controlled response to potential clinches again.
Ortiz is harder to nail down, both because he’s not well known but also because he’s a still-developing fighter who does a lot and has, maybe, not yet quite decided what he’s best at. Probably the most notable feature initially watching his last couple of fights has been his own in-and-out footwork, of a very different style to Loma. Essentially, he’ll do much of his angular movement at range, then close distance with big explosive movements bringinging his punches in with his feet, then drop back out and reset. When combined with a style that is sometimes very, very hands-down he sometimes gives the impression that he’s trying to emulate former Middleweight star Sergio Martinez (side note: if you’ve not watched Martinez before, I recommend it).
He’s also an incorrigible stance switcher, which can be helpful but has also served to get him in trouble, because he doesn’t always make sure he’s in a safe position before he does and occasionally he just gets his feet badly crossed.
The thing is though, he opens that way these days, but as the fights have gone on, he’s shown a different side- in the later stages against Herring, he dropped that in and out movement for a much more directly aggressive style, bringing his hands up more and coming forward with extended combinations. He makes technical errors there too – most notably, leaning too far over his front foot as he approaches- but the ability to push back his opponents when he needs to is a good second string to have to his bow.
If he’s going to have any chance at all here, he’ll need to apply both those styles consistently with smart variation. In honesty, it’s not that likely- even his best performances to date can be characterised more as doing a lot of things to see what sticks than picking out a strategy specifically for what his opponent is bringing. That’s a difficult style to make work against someone as good as Lomachenko, who’ll be probing incessantly to see where he can draw Ortiz into mistakes. He wouldn’t be the first opponent to seriously raise his game for a fight like this, but although we may see some moments early on where the Ukrainan has to take his time to consider all the probabilities, he’ll probably get there in the end. The biggest issue is likely to be those raw technical errors- if Loma can draw Ortiz into ill-timed stance switches he should be able to dance around the side and have a lot of time to work while he resets. Likewise, if he gets more aggressive, Ortiz had better have been working on getting his balance right because if he leans over as heavy as he has been he’ll be met with either an uppercut or, again, Lomachenko stepping around the side of his lead foot and having all sorts of freedom to work while his opponent sorts his balance out.
So, it’s a tune-up, but an opponent with enough to his game that it should be entertaining. Whether Lomachenko gets the KO is difficult to say, because we haven’t really seen Ortiz under extreme duress before and Loma, undersized for this division, tends to take more care and back off more easily than he would have done at lighter weights.
What’s on the undercard?
The Olympics is something of a theme for this one. Aside from Lomachenko, with two golds, three other medalists at various games feature. The main attraction and chief feature will be Robeisy Ramirez. His amateur career was almost as decorated as Lomachenko’s, with two Olympic golds of his own, but his pro career didn’t quite start as sharply, with a massively unexpected loss on his debut. Since then though he’s reworked his game for the pros, becoming a crafty and sometimes frankly disrespectful pressure-counterpuncher, the kind of fighter who can stand in front of an opponent without seeming to move much and see their shots slide past him. He’s fun to watch and will be hoping to move up to the top of a busy featherweight division next year, so he’s worth tuning in for.
Beyond that, we’ll also see Duke Ragan (featherweight, silver medal in Tokyo) and Richard Torres Jr. (heavyweight, also won a silver) making their next professional steps, as well as Troy Isley (not a medalist, but also an Olympian) and a spate of other prospects.
Lightweight: Vasyl Lomachenko (134.6) vs Jamaine Ortiz (134)
Featherweight: Robeisy Ramirez (125.6) vs. Jose Matias Romero (127.4)
Featherweight: Duke Ragan (128) vs. Luis Lebron (128)
Middleweight: Troy Isley (159) vs. Quincy LaVallais (157.4)
Heavyweight: Richard Torrez (229.4) vs. Ahmed Hefny (218)
Lightweight: Abdullah Mason (135.6) vs. Angel Barrera (135)
Middleweight: Nico Ali Walsh (159) vs. Billy Wagner (159)
Super-featherweight: Haven Brady Jr (131) vs. Eric Mondragon (130.6)
Welterweight: Delante Johnson (141.4) vs. Esteban Garcia 139.2)
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