Vasiliy Lomachenko made an extraordinary choice.
Earlier this year, he was on the cusp of agreeing a major lightweight unification with George Kambosos. It was the game he’d been longing for since losing his title belt in a shocking defeat to Teofimo Lopez.
But when Russia invaded Ukraine, he quit boxing to return to his homeland and support the war effort as best he could.
Sit back and watch Vasiliy Lomachenko’s best knockouts leading up to his clash with Jamaine Ortiz
It was a courageous decision, selfless too, but Lomachenko did not hesitate.
“The decision was made very quickly and was supported by my whole family, because there is no other way. In times like these you have to defend your home, you have to defend your country,” Lomachenko told Sky Sports.
Lomachenko did not know how long the war would last, how to resume his boxing career or what would happen to him. He risked it all.
His promoter, Bob Arum of Top Rank, explained: “At that particular moment when Russia invaded Ukraine, Lomachenko was out of the country. He was training for his next fight in Greece, in a mountain community in Greece. And of course I called. Egis [Klimas, his manager] and I said, ‘Hey, stay there’. But he flew back to Romania because all the airports were closed because of the war in Ukraine at that time and rented a car and drove across the border from Romania to Ukraine to come back.
“He carried the flag of Ukraine in two Olympiads and won gold medals. He is a proud Ukrainian and it didn’t surprise me.”
Vasiliy Lomachenko added vacant WBC belt to his WBA and WBO lightweight titles with win over Luke Campbell
He enlisted in the Territorial Forces. He carried a weapon, but did not have to participate in combat operations himself. The war still hit him directly.
“Yes, we have experienced bombings several times next to our city, very close to our district. Many times we had to go to the basement to find shelter from bombings that happened very often in our area,” he said.
Arum thought: “That says a lot about Ukraine and about the person who is Vasiliy and also Oleksandr [Usyk, who did the same]. What the Ukrainian people mean and how committed they are to preserving their nationality. They have such values.”
Not to mention the danger he put him in, that choice to give up boxing on principle has caused Lomachenko to be compared to Muhammad Ali, who lost the early years of his fighting career protesting the Vietnam War.
Nico Ali Walsh, the grandson of the Greatest, made the comparison himself. “Lomachenko left his career to fight for what he believes in and that’s what my grandfather did. He left his career to fight for what he believed in. You don’t see that anymore. People put their career first, what I understand, I understand. But there’s something so much bigger about leaving everything you love for what you stand for. It’s just powerful,” Ali Walsh told Sky Sports.
“It is absolutely noble and very brave for Lomachenko to have done what he did and so was Usyk. It was not just him, there were many people from Ukraine who left boxing altogether to fight for their country. I just have so much respect for them.”
Highlights from Lomachenko’s fights show why he’s such a stylish boxer
Lomachenko is now able to return to the sport. He will box Jamaine Ortiz at the Madison Square Garden Theater in the early hours of Sunday morning, live on Sky Sports Arena from 1am.
Ali Walsh is on his undercard. He said: “As a boxer I just respect him to the highest degree. But for someone to leave his sport, which he loves, his career, to go and fight for his country, it takes a different kind of person.
“He’s a special person, a special boxer and I really think he’ll show in this next fight because it’s his comeback fight.”
For Lomachenko, he will use this platform and his boxing skills to represent his country.
“It certainly raises awareness and at the same time gives the people in my country the opportunity to be distracted, even for an hour or two, from everything that is happening. Of course, those who have that opportunity. Now, out on the battlefield, will they can’t watch the fight,” he said.
Ortiz is someone who has inside information about Lomachenko. He has seen the great Ukrainian operate in the gym and has sparred with him before. That could pose an additional threat.
“I don’t know, we’ll see,” Lomachenko said. “In his arsenal he has good speed, he has good combinations, he understands movement in the ring.”
But he warned: “At the same time, I was sparring him more than he was me, because he was my sparring partner during practice when I had to spar two or three opponents at once, so he had no experience sparring with me like one on one.
Lomachenko retained his world lightweight title and stopped Anthony Crolla in the fourth round
“He didn’t have 100 percent of me. So I know a lot about him. Probably more about him than he about me.”
A win in this fight would put Lomachenko back on track for his ultimate boxing ambition – the undisputed championship.
Promoter Bob Arum explained that he distanced himself from the Kambosos fight “had opened the door for” [Devin] Haney to win all titles”.
Image: Lomachenko is a unique fighter
“Devin is a very good fighter and he went to Australia and won the fight and got a contract for a rematch. And in talking with Devin and his father, they are willing, as good athletes, to give Lomachenko a chance for those titles to win,” Arum continued.
If he beats Ortiz, Lomachenko will get the fight he wants. “As long as he doesn’t get hurt, God forbid, in the war of aggression going on in his country,” Arum added.
“Vasiliy, I asked if he could stay here after the fight. He said no, he will take a few weeks and go back to Ukraine and hold a gun again if necessary.
“Again, there are certain things in life that are much more important than sports and how much money you can make playing sports.”
Winning this fight would take Lomachenko back to where he wants to be, the top of the lightweight division. “Exactly. That’s how I see it, as a step to the next fight against Devin Haney. But a lot will depend on how our fight will go on October 29,” said the Ukrainian.
“I’m thankful for this opportunity, I’m thankful to God, I’m thankful for fate, the situation for this opportunity to fight, to get back in the ring and to try and achieve one of my most important goals in boxing . .”
Watch Vasiliy Lomachenko vs Jamaine Ortiz, live on Sky Sports Arena at 1am on Sunday morning.