Rude Awakening: Vasyl Lomachenko set to face Miguel Marriaga on ESPN

Vasyl Lomachenko (WBO 130) | Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank

“First of all, I want every opponent to be the top, top guys. I don’t want to fight opponents just like my sparring partners. I want a tough opponent. I want to fight one of the best fighters in the division I am in. I want to become the number one pound-for-pound, without any doubts.”

Even though he was dressed in all white at Wednesday afternoon’s press conference formally announcing his next fight, Vasyl Lomachenko wasn’t exactly expecting a christening into the big time but seemingly sported the standard dress code to announce just another opponent.

On August 5, Lomachenko will look to defend his WBO junior lightweight title vs. Miguel Marriaga in the main event of a Top Rank card held at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles, California, televised live on ESPN (10:00 p.m. ET/7 p.m PT).

By way of his manager/ translator, Egis Klimas, Lomachenko told that he fully understood the magnitude of fighting on such a stage. This especially coming off good ratings in ESPN broadcast of the Jeff Horn-Manny Pacquiao fight on July 1, the roll-out of Top Rank’s new deal with the network.

“Yes, I understand. Much more people are going to be seeing and knowing about who is Vasyl Lomachenko,” he said. This claim will be bolstered by Lomachenko’s appearance in a mini-documentary series “Camp Life,” produced by Top Rank.

Who he is is still relatively unclear but when it comes to his performances in the ring, even a novice of the sport can get the sense he’s on a different playing field. Over the last year, Lomachenko has scored a highlight reel knockout of Roman Martinez, convinced Nicholas Walters to end it early on his own accord and impaled Jason Sosa enough to make the latter’s corner do the same. Not only that, the Ukrainian has made it look easy and, after doing much of the same four pounds south, at featherweight, a move up to lightweight seems inevitable. That won’t happen in this fight, however. Instead his opponent is the one moving up in weight.

“His style is not very comfortable for me because he’s always sitting in defense, and I will have to find the keys on how to find him,” Lomachenko said about Marriaga.

Lomachenko and Miguel Marriaga | Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank

Marriaga, 25–2 (21), is a solid featherweight contender moving up in weight for opportunity’s sake. From Cartagena, Colombia, and training out of Mexico City, Marriaga is a durable, tough guy, who, despite Lomachenko’s description, has produced some action fights — including his most recent against WBO featherweight titleholder Oscar Valdez, last April. That was a hard-fought bout for Marriaga and, despite the wide scorecards, the 30-year-old was in that fight until he suffered a 10th round knockdown. It was a solid performance in defeat for Marriaga and was a confirmation that he is indeed a solid fighter who will probably be just as good at 130 pounds. Having never been stopped, it’s fair to say that he is even a live fighter going into the fight with Lomachenko — but that’s also what they said about Martinez, Walters and Sosa.

There wasn’t much talk about Marriaga because there wasn’t much to talk about. Lomachenko hasn’t needed to deal with any style because his brilliant movement and sharp combinations have dictated just about every second of every round in his last three fights at 130 pounds.

“It would be more interesting to fight (Orlando) Salido than Marriaga,” admitted Lomachenko, who feels his chance to avenge his only defeat is slipping away. “He’s on my radar. I would like to fight him but I would like to fight him as early as possible because, the longer we’re gonna go, when I beat him, it’s gonna be ‘I beat an old man,’ so what’s it gonna do for me?”

Lomachenko, 8–1 (6), whose ledger is advanced more than anyone entering his 10th professional fight, said the rematch with Salido has slipped away three different times, for various reasons, and he has given the Mexican a time span of one year from now before he deems the rematch expired. While it wouldn’t be the big fight he’s looking for, it would be an opportunity to right a wrong against a fighter, who always finds himself in exciting fights. Not to mention, other 130-pound titleholders aren’t champing at the bit to fight him, other than a fellow heralded amateur from Cuba two weight classes below him. Guillermo Rigondeaux is a bona fide top guy; however, he’s small, even for a 122-pounder and, coupled with the fact that Lomachenko’s promoter isn’t really all that interested in any fight involving “El Chacal,” as of today, the fight is more fantasy than reality. There’s no doubt that Lomachenko has been frustrated with getting a big fight and, when asked if he’s starting to get bored of all the charades, he responded:

“Of course it bothers me. Because you’re preparing for one fighter, then this fight, for some reason, is not happening. Then you have to redo your training camp, redo your schedule to go fight some different opponent. Of course, yes, it bothers me a lot but it’s not always. Depends on the fighter.”

It’s been three years since Lomachenko was mugged by Salido in a split decision loss. Only his second pro fight, the rematch would be a conclusive chapter to a boxing career that has been unquestioned. Sporting two Olympic gold medals, Lomachenko has already avenged the lone defeat of a 396–1 amateur record but, as he is finding out in the pros, fights aren’t made so easily. Oleksandr Usyk, a close friend and the current WBO cruiserweight titleholder, recently signed up for a tournament that features every top cruiserweight in the game today. Lomachenko would love to do the same.

“Cruiserweight?” Lomachenko joked at first. “Yes, of course I would be very interested in a tournament like that. I think I’m the very first one to start talking about that in public, regarding the tournament. All the top-rated fighters in the tournament always makes for interesting bouts and it’s interesting for fans. So yes, it’s interesting for me.”

The format of a tournament would really help a fighter like Lomachenko and, for the time being, would quiet any discussion of whom can be next but, when it came to thinking of other ways to open up his options, becoming an active titlist in two weight classes was presented to him.

“At one moment, I already was champion at two different weight classes,” said Lomachenko, who indeed held the WBO junior lightweight and featherweight titles for a short amount of time, “but there is some ruling that you have to decide where you’re going to be. After 30 days, or whatever they give you, you have to vacate one of the titles.”

As mentioned earlier, the move up in weight is inevitable and, when asked if there’s a particular fight he’s interested in, Lomachenko named a challenge that would validate his motives.

“Yes, I would like to move up to 135 division and fight Mikey Garcia,” said Lomachenko. Garcia, the current WBC lightweight beltholder, will face Adrien Broner on July 29, on Showtime, at 140 pounds but Lomachenko said he’s putting his money on Mikey to come away as the winner. “We’re close in the weight class. He’s an undefeated fighter, an interesting fighter, a top fighter and I would like to fight him.”

Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank

If that matchup was the fight being announced at the lavish Intercontinental Los Angeles Downtown Hotel, then Lomachenko’s look would truly symbolize the immersion of interest and excitement from fans and media alike. As it turns out, his sharp get-up was one suited for a red carpet, as, later in the day, he would grace one at the ESPYs, taking place that evening at the Staples Center. Perhaps it’s just the start of bigger things to come as he uses a new medium to exhibit himself because what’s going to be seen will be a showcase of one of boxing’s true premier talents.