Vasiliy Lomachenko is ready to embark on the road to reclaim his status as among the sport’s very best fighters.

The former three-division titlist returns to the ring this Saturday in an intriguing showdown versus perennial Top ten lightweight contender Masayoshi Nakatani. Their scheduled twelve-round lightweight bout—which airs live on ESPN+ from The Theater at Virgin Hotels Las Vegas—marks Lomachenko’s first since losing his WBA/WBO/WBC “Franchise” lightweight titles to Teofimo Lopez last October 17 at nearby MGM Grand Conference Center.

Most in his position would have sought a more favorable style matchup, if not a softer touch altogether. Such a route won’t get Lomachenko to where he plans to go sooner rather than later.

“What inspired me to take this fight is the fact that I just lost all of my titles,” Lomachenko told “I have to start from scratch and wanted to face a top contender.

“I didn’t want a (hand-picked) opponent. This guy gave Teofimo Lopez a very tough fight and I have prepared well for his challenge.”

Prior to his ESPN-televised defeat last fall, Ukraine’s Lomachenko (14-2, 10KOs) was widely regarded as among the sport’s best pound-for-pound fighters, in fact topping several lists. The two-time Olympic Gold medalist racked up titles in a hurry in the pro ranks, coming up just short in a bid for the WBO featherweight belt in just his second pro fight before claiming the strap just three months later in a decision win over then-unbeaten Gary Russell Jr.

From there have come titles wins at junior lightweight and lightweight, the latter seeing the Ukrainian southpaw unseating reigning titlists Jorge Linares (WBA) and Jose Pedraza (WBO) to become a unified champ for the first time in his compact career. A win over Luke Campbell in August 2019 added the WBC strap, though he was unable to clean out the division as the 23-year-old Lopez proved to be too much. Lomachenko picked up steam in the second half of the fight but was already well down on the scorecards by that point and unable to close the gap.

This Saturday is designed to mark his first step back to the lightweight championship circle. A clash with Nakatani comes at the right time, as the 6’0” lightweight from Tokyo—nearly five inches taller than Lomachenko—enters on the heels of a ninth-round knockout of Felix Verdejo in their Fight of the Year-level slugfest last December. The bout saw Nakatani rally from two knockdowns and a scorecard deficit in order to prevail, coming nearly 17 months after his strong showing versus Lopez.

“He is strong, very tall and very long arms,” notes Lomachenko. “He has experience at the top level, as he showed in a (competitive) fight with Lopez and the way he was able to beat Verdejo. This is the perfect challenge for me. I’ve always aimed to face the highest level of competition.”

Jake Donovan is a senior writer for Twitter: @JakeNDaBox