By Jake Donovan
Make no mistake, Vasyl Lomachenko is giving Roman ‘Rocky’ Martinez his undivided attention ahead of their June 11 title fight at Madison Square Garden Theatre in New York City. However, the two-time Olympic Gold medalist and reigning featherweight beltholder will be met with an interesting dilemma with a win in their HBO-televised super featherweight title fight.
A win will give Lomachenko (5-1, 3KOs) the honor of becoming a two-division titlist by his seventh pro fight, which will be a world record in boxing. However, it will also leave him with a tough choice to make and with a limited time frame.
“Vasyl Lomachenko is the featherweight champ; he will enter the ring as champ,” Carl Moretti, vice president of Top Rank explained of his boxer’s current title status. “If he is victorious in challenging Rocky Martinez and winning the WBO 130-pound title, he will have 10 days to decide what weight he will be campaigning. If he loses or fights to a draw, he will return to his featherweight reign.”
Boxers who pursue world titles in their second pro fight and adding a second weight class by their 7th bout tend to not think too much about the prospect of losing. It happened to Lomachenko in his first crack at a featherweight belt, though coming within a round of upending veteran Orlando Salido before getting it right in his next shot less than four months later versus Gary Russell Jr.
It hasn’t come close to happening since the narrow defeat to Salido – whom many argue should have been disqualified for the number of low blows thrown in their March ’14 clash. Three successful defenses have followed since his vacant title win over Russell Jr., but now fights in a new weight class in pursuit of his dream to collect as many titles as possible.
That very desire is what prompted the climb up the scales, necessitated by his hunger for making history and not the hunger that accompanies any given fighter prior to the pre-fight weigh-in.
“I’ve never had a problem making (featherweight),” Lomachenko (5-1, 3KOs) insists. “Of course it was never easy but it was also never an issue. As far as moving to 130, I grew tired of waiting for the other champions, none of whom wanted to fight me.
“I’m hopeful that with the move to 130 pounds will come better fights, particularly against the other champions so that we can make our dream of (becoming undisputed) champion.”
First up is Martinez (29-2-3, 17KOs), the defending 130-pound titlist from Puerto Rico who attempts his second defense. He won the belt in a 12-round nod over Salido last April, then retained in a hard-fought split decision draw last September.
Lomachenko is favored to come out ahead in their HBO-televised headliner. Should that happen, he and his team will have no choice but to immediately answer the question of what’s next.
“We’ve been told by WBO and Bob (Arum, CEO and founder of Top Rank) when we signed the contract that we have 60 days to make a decision,” explained Egis Klimas, Lomachenko’s manager. “However, we respect that everyone is in a hurry and will do our best to make that decision in 10 days.
“Salido told the media recently that – should he beat Francisco Vargas (this weekend in Carson, Calif.). – he will be flying to New York to see Vasyl fighting. There are talks going on. We believe that if Salido wins – and Vasyl is going to cheer for him – we think that it would be a very good fight for everybody.”
That said, there also exists the possibility of the right opportunity surfacing at featherweight making Lomachenko’s run at super featherweight one and done.
“(We’d love to face) number one contender Oscar Valdez,” Klimas joked, fully aware of the unbeaten two-time Olympian from Mexico currently scheduled to fight on July 23. Should Lomachenko win on June 11 and remain at 130, the featherweight belt he ultimately vacates will be at stake in Valdez’ challenge of Argentina’ Matias Rueda.
However, the belt will remain around Lomachenko’s waist should he remain at featherweight and pursue what could be newfound opportunities that didn’t previously exist due to the politics of the sport.
“I had the chance to talk to Bob Arum after I read in the news of his future plans to possibly do business with Al Haymon,” Klimas noted, referring to the news story first reported by BoxingScene.com in mid-May. “If that door opens, there’s (unbeaten featherweight titlist) Leo Santa Cruz, maybe a rematch with Gary Russell Jr. now that he has a belt.
“The question is if they are willing to step into the ring. I have a feeling that (Lomachenko) will be staying at 130, but we will see what fights can be made after June 11.”
Jake Donovan is the managing editor of BoxingScene.com. Follow his shiny new Twitter account: @JakeNDaBox_v2