Vasiliy Lomachenko is 34 years old and hadn’t fought in 10 months, as he served his country, Ukraine, by defending his homeland in the war with Russia.
On Saturday, he looked every bit of 34 and as if he had been off a long while.
The two-time Olympic gold medalist and three-division world champion entered his bout Saturday at the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York against Jamaine Ortiz needing a victory to earn a shot at Devin Haney’s undisputed lightweight title.
He got it, but just barely. He came hard down the stretch to outlast a determined Ortiz. Lomachenko won by scores of 115-113, 116-112 and 117-111 in a bout that was bruising and hard-nosed.
Lomachenko was a -2500 favorite at BetMGM, but he told anyone who would listen before the fight that he chose Ortiz because he felt Ortiz was a highly skilled and smart boxer.
Ortiz, fighting the biggest bout of his life by far, showed up and was in the fight start to finish. He gave Lomachenko plenty of trouble, and switched stances a lot.
But Lomachenko was able to cut the distance and won the fight by overcoming his younger adversary in the championship rounds.
“I told you he is a good fighter and we knew this,” Lomachenko said.
Lomachenko needed all of his guile and considerable skill to get past Ortiz, whose height seemed to cause problems for him. But when Haney entered the ring afterward, Lomachenko’s eyes widened.
Haney defeated George Kambosos two weeks ago, and when he entered the ring, Lomachenko said, jokingly, “Are you a heavyweight?”
Haney agreed to fight Lomachenko even though he didn’t see anything in Saturday's fight that concerned him.
“It wasn’t the the best performance, but when we fight, he could [show] a better version on that night,” Haney said.
Lomachenko was barely good enough on Saturday, but he pulled it out. His dream of winning the undisputed championship remains alive.