Masayoshi Nakatani wasn’t exactly sure what would come of his off-the-canvas knockout win over Felix Verdejo.

Needless to say, a showdown with former three-division titlist Vasiliy Lomachenko (14-2, 10KOs) was as great an opportunity as he could ask for in the absence of a show at the lightweight championship.

“I wasn’t necessarily expecting a big fight like this,” Nakatani confessed to, through translator Nobu Ikushima of Teiken Promotions. “I was ready to accept any fight that (Top Rank) was ready to offer me. They know I will fight anyone, and I am thrilled for the chance to face and beat a great fighter like Vasiliy Lomachenko.”

Nakatani (19-1, 13KOs) had to walk through hell to get to this point. The 31-year-old lightweight contender from Osaka, Japan—who now fights out of Tokyo—survived two early knockdowns in his December 12 slugfest with Verdejo, returning the favor in twice dropping the Puerto Rican contender en route to a ninth-round stoppage in a bout hailed by many outlets as a 2020 Fight of the Year contender.

It came nearly 17 months after Nakatani’s last fight, a 12-round points loss to Brooklyn’s Teofimo Lopez in a July 2019 fight where the 5’11 ½” Nakatani was able to provide fits even in suffering his lone career defeat. Lopez has since claimed the IBF lightweight title in a second-round knockout of Richard Commey in December 2019, then adding the WBA/WBO belts following a 12-round unanimous decision win over Lomachenko last October at MGM Grand Conference Center, where Nakatani would post his career-best win just two months later.

Now comes what is easily the biggest fight of his career, as Lomachenko fights for the first time since the aforementioned loss to the unbeaten Lopez (16-0, 12KOs). The winner of their ESPN+ main event will undoubtedly be groomed for a shot at the lightweight championship.

“This time last year, I wasn’t sure about any of that,” admits Nakatani. “I just knew I had to beat Verdejo to be in (position) for opportunities like this. I just love to fight.

“I don’t turn down any opponent and I was thrilled when they told me I would be facing Lomachenko next. If everything goes well this weekend, I would absolutely love a rematch with Teofimo Lopez. I know I will have earned it by then.”

Jake Donovan is a senior writer for Twitter: @JakeNDaBox