Junior lightweight world titleholder Vasyl Lomachenko, one of boxing’s pound-for-pound elite fighters, has lost only twice in his life.
He went 396-1 as an amateur en route to two Olympic gold medals for Ukraine, but avenged his lone loss in the unpaid ranks multiple times.
As a pro, Lomachenko made the audacious move to fight for a featherweight world title in only his second bout against the hardened, supremely experienced Orlando Salido, a three-time featherweight titleholder. Salido failed to make weight and was stripped of his world title the day before their March 2014 bout. He then spent much of the fight fouling Lomachenko, who got no help from the referee, and, despite his amateur experience, was not equipped to deal with such a rough, tough fight. He wound up losing a close split decision.
Lomachenko went on to win the same vacant title in his third pro fight to tie the record for fewest bouts needed to capture a world title. And then, when he moved up to junior lightweight and knocked out Rocky Martinez to win a junior lightweight world title in only his seventh fight, Lomachenko set the record for fewest bouts needed to win titles in two weight divisions.
All along, he hoped to avenge his pro defeat in a rematch with Salido. It looked as though it would happen in August, but Salido ultimately turned down the fight with a built-in storyline of revenge for Lomachenko.
Instead, Lomachenko will defend his title against big puncher Miguel Marriaga on Aug. 5 at the Microsoft Theater at LA Live in Los Angeles.
The card will air live on ESPN and ESPN Deportes and stream live on the ESPN app, beginning at 10 p.m. ET. On Wednesday, the fighters met the media in Los Angeles to kick off the promotion for the bout that was finalized a couple of weeks ago.
Lomachenko (8-1, 6 KOs), 29, admitted that he would have preferred to face Salido again, but Marriaga is now the focus of his attention for his third title defense.
“Of course, I wanted to fight Salido but that’s not happening,” Lomachenko said. “Now I must deal with Marriaga, who had the courage to take this fight. Marriaga has a great defensive skill set and I need to find the right keys and unlock that defense. Every fight is important for me. My goal is to be the best fighter in the world. Being on ESPN means many more people are going to see this fight and to see what I am all about.”
Said Egis Klimas, Lomachenko’s manager, “There is not much to say when Lomachenko steps into the ring. The way Vasyl boxes is not unlike a symphony orchestra where all instruments are played beautifully. He is the best and most entertaining boxer. I am looking forward to seeing him fight again on August 5.”
Marriaga (25-2, 21 KOs), 30, of Colombia, has already had two opportunities to fight for world titles. In 2015, he lost a decision to Nicholas “Axe Man” Walters for a vacant featherweight title, but then ran off five wins in a row and got a chance to challenge featherweight titlist Oscar Valdez. They met on April 22 and although Marriaga lost a decision, he gave Valdez a very tough night in a highly entertaining slugfest. Because of that performance — and Salido’s decision to not take the rematch with Lomachenko — Marriaga has his third title shot.
“I am in boxing to fight in the biggest fights. There is nothing bigger than fighting Lomachenko,” Marriaga said. “I am going into the ring to win this fight. No one — no one — is unbeatable, not even Lomachenko.
“I have respect but no fear of Lomachenko and I cannot wait to fight for his world title. Fighting Lomachenko on ESPN opens the door for my present and for my future. I’m training very hard in Mexico City and I’ll be ready on August 5. I’m going to give him a real fight.”
The co-feature will pit former two-time lightweight title challenger Raymundo Beltran (33-7-1, 21 KOs), 35, a Mexico native fighting out of Phoenix, and former interim junior lightweight titlist Bryan Vasquez (35-2, 19 KOs), 29, of Costa Rica, in a 10-round lightweight fight. Beltran is coming off a sensational second-round knockout of the year contender against Jonathan Maicelo on May 20. Beltran views Vasquez as a better grade of opponent with an entirely different style than Maicelo.
“I am fighting Bryan Vasquez, who has a good style and a natural rhythm in the ring which is much different than Jonathan Maicelo, who was a more awkward type fighter in my last fight,” Beltran said. “Both can punch. Now I have to take care of Vasquez, who is more dangerous and is in the way of my goal to win a world title. There is danger in all fights, and I will be completely prepared.
“I’m excited to fight on ESPN because so many people will be able to see me. It’s cool that Top Rank and ESPN are doing these shows together. As for my fight, I always respect my opponent, but I’ve knocked out the past [four] and they had my respect as well. I expect Vasquez to come to fight, but I have a bigger goal to be a world champion. I’m sure Vasquez and I will make it a great fight for the fans.”
Vasquez lost a unanimous decision to Javier Fortuna for a vacant junior lightweight title in May 2015 and then, after 14 months out of the ring, returned for a win last July. Then came a 13-month layoff. He said he will be prepared for Beltran, who has been much more active.
“I think Ray Beltran is a great fighter, motivated and skilled,” Vasquez said. “In one word to describe him in the ring, he’s an animal. This fight means a lot for me, fighting for my two idols, Chiquita Gonzalez and Roy Jones Jr., who promote me. Beltran is going to be the toughest fighter I have ever faced.
“The game plan is to be smarter than him. Speed? How can you use speed against a fighter who sparred with [Manny] Pacquiao his entire career? We are going to have to be smarter since I am moving up to Beltran’s weight class, but I am confident I am the better fighter — faster, smarter, more skilled.”