Vasiliy Lomachenko was made to work very hard as he beat Jamaine Ortiz on points on Saturday night to set up a fight with undisputed champion Devin Haney next.
Lomachenko took the unanimous decision win at the Madison Square Garden Theatre in New York.
The former world champion from Ukraine won by scorecards of 115-113, 116-112 and 117-111 for the three judges. But those tallies did not tell the story of what was a close, thrilling fight.
Lomachenko was coming back to the sport after walking away from a major title unification earlier this year when he returned to his homeland once Russia invaded Ukraine to enlist in the Territorial Defence Force.
Ortiz was his first fight back after coming out of Ukraine and returning to training. The American, the younger man by eight years, was taller with an advantage in reach. He put those dimensions to use with dynamic energy in the first round.
The 26-year-old threw hard shots from long range and stayed busy enough to keep the Ukrainian southpaw at bay. As early as the first round dark bruising became apparent under Lomachenko’s right eye.
In these early rounds, Lomachenko found it hard to establish his own rhythm. Ortiz threw him off with intensity and hard punching. The Ukrainian ramped up his own work rate in response. As the bout progressed, he began to blast hard straight shots to Ortiz’s head, reeling off fast lead left crosses.
Ortiz’s own footwork was sharp and agile. Concentrated attacks forced Lomachenko to back off.
The Ukrainian made sure he finished the final two rounds strongly. He surged onto the front foot, linking together combinations of punches and fighting furiously to the end.
“I’m happy, I’m happy to be back in the ring and make this great show,” Lomachenko said afterwards.
“He is a tough fighter, he is a good fighter.”
Lomachenko dug deep to get through the contest. “You know what motivated me – four belts,” he declared.
The holder of the four belts Lomachenko wants, the undisputed lightweight champion Devin Haney was ringside.
He could not confirm a defence against Lomachenko, yet, but opened the door to negotiations. “I think it wasn’t the best performance, but I know if I and Loma were to fight, we’d see a better version on the night. Congratulations, and hopefully we can get it on,” Haney said.
“I will be ready,” Lomachenko promised. – Sky Sports
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