May 30, 2024

At 35, former pound-for-pound king Vasiliy Lomachenko is an older and wiser version than the three-division champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist that boxing fans first came to know. 

Lomachenko (17-2, 11 KOs) is aware of the whispers surrounding his age following a closer-than-expected decision win over unbeaten Jamaine Ortiz last October. And for the first time in his historic pro career, he will enter a fight as the betting underdog this weekend in search of the one honor that has eluded him: a four-belt, undisputed championship. 

“It’s the highest level in the professional boxing,” Lomachenko told “Morning Kombat” on Wednesday. “We don’t know [anything] higher in the professional game. In the Olympics, the goal is the gold medal but in pro boxing, it’s the four belts. That’s why [I’m so motivated].”

Riding a three-fight win streak since his upset loss to Teofimo Lopez Jr. in 2020, Lomachenko welcomes undisputed lightweight king Devin Haney (29-0, 15 KOs) on Saturday in the main event of a pay-per-view showdown (ESPN+ PPV, 10 p.m. ET) from the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. And make no mistake, the topic of whether the Ukranian wizard has enough tricks remaining to slow down the 24-year-old champion remains the center point of conversation. 

Haney, who is fresh off a pair of dominant victories in Australia over Lopez-conqueror George Kambosos Jr. to unify all four belts, has finally received the type of P4P respect that Lomachenko began earning after his pro debut 10 years ago. And Haney has been brash about his want to retire his legendary foe, boasting advantages in size, speed, length and power. 

Asked if the endless questions surrounding whether he has declined with age has motivated him throughout camp, Lomachenko declined to explore it further by saying, “No, no, no, I am motivated by other things.” But he was also quick to remind just how good his last opponent Ortiz (16-1-1) actually is, and how much that fight, with the added challenge of Ortiz having previously prepared him as a sparring partner, went a long way in preparing him for Haney.

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More than anything, however, it’s clear just how much the confluence of events in his personal life — from the fallout of the Lopez loss to the ongoing war between Ukraine and Russia — have changed him. 

Lomachenko was always respectful to his opponents but it was often filtered through the prism of his overwhelming self confidence. It’s a prior demeanor few could blame him for considering how sublime Lomachenko has been as a professional by rising far above his natural weight of 126 pounds to conquer challenges against much bigger opposition. 

But an older and wiser Lomachenko is also a visibly more humble version. He has admitted throughout fight week that he had quietly become something of an egomaniac in the build to fighting Lopez, then a brash and unbeaten foe who built an early lead against a slow-starting Lomachenko before holding off a late rally. 

“Look, after every fight you learn something. Of course, after Lopez fight, I have taken some lessons [that] I think has helped me for the future,” Lomachenko said. “Right now, I don’t think about [legacy] and this is not my goal for right now. Before the Lopez fight, of course I’m thinking about this and what people will say after my career and where I am going to be [ranked historically] but right now, I don’t care because after that fight I changed my mind a bit. Right now, it’s not important for me.”

Although Lomachenko rebounded from the Lopez loss to score a pair of dominant victories over top contenders Masayoshi Nakatani and Richard Commey in 2021, the intense focus upon his boxing career took another backseat to open the new year when war broke out in his native country. Lomachenko pulled out of talks to challenge Kambosos for his former belts in order to join the frontlines in Ukraine and protect both his family and his country. 

“It’s very hard because every day you discuss with your friends, with your family who stay in Ukraine and they are talking about this war,” Lomachenko said. “It’s hard but I just try to do what I can and represent my country from this side. 

“I think [the Ukranian people] are too busy right now for this moment and this match but if any fans from Ukraine see this fight, maybe I give them one hour of change to their emotions.”

Considering the more serious topic of war remains central in his mind, it’s easy to see why Lomachenko hasn’t been all that moved by Haney’s trash talk. Even just days removed from when Haney followed Lomachenko down a hallway on Tuesday after recording joint satellite interviews to accost him about being a “dirty fighter,” which was captured by Top Rank cameras, Lomachenko was too smart to take the bait. 

“You are not the first man who ask me about [the accusation] and I do not understand,” Lomachenko said. “Maybe it’s a part of a plan from his side. Maybe but I don’t know.

“I am not a trash talker, I just believe in the real deal. If you say something, you need to prove [it in the ring]. So, I like the new era but I like the real deal.”

While Lomachenko gave respect to Haney by praising his IQ, distance control and speed, along with mentioning Haney’s victories over Jorge Linares and Joseph Diaz Jr. as examples of his impressive accomplishments at such a young age, his answers related to questions about the fight were brief. This wasn’t a result of any language barrier — Lomachenko’s English is vastly improved — but more about a fighter holding much different priorities than usual entering quite possibly the biggest and most difficult fight of his great career. 

The old Lomachenko lived and breathed the sweet science but even he has changed, which was evident by his response regarding whether he still has goals in boxing that motivate him to keep fighting.

“Yes, in life,” Lomachenko said. “I have goals in life but it will be a different story [than just boxing].”

Just how well the changes in Lomachenko’s life translate into the ring against such a focused and talented foe remains to be seen. One thing is for sure, the old fighter is making sure everyone from critics to his opponent will need to keep guessing.  

“I will have an answer to all of your questions after the fight,” Lomachenko said.

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