Featherweight Vasyl Lomachenko, the heralded 2008 and 2012 Olympic gold medalist from Ukraine, tied a 39-year-old boxing record by winning a world title in only his third professional fight in 2014. Now he will have a chance to win a world title in a second weight class in only his seventh professional bout.
Lomachenko will move up to junior lightweight and challenge world titleholder Roman "Rocky" Martinez for his belt June 11 in the main event of an HBO-televised card at the Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York after the camps agreed to terms Friday.
Carl Moretti, vice president of Top Rank, Lomachenko's promoter, is in Puerto Rico this weekend for lightweight prospect Felix Verdejo's fight Saturday night, and while he's there, he met Friday with Martinez and Peter Rivera of Puerto Rico Best Boxing Promotions, Martinez's promoter, to work out the details.
"We worked things out, and the paperwork was sent out this evening," Moretti told ESPN.com. "Rocky came up to my room after the Verdejo weigh-in, and it was myself, Rocky, Peter, and we got [Top Rank chairman Bob Arum] on a conference call, and we ironed everything out."
The fight has been in the works for a couple weeks, but it looked like the parties might not make a deal a few days ago, which is when interim titleholder Javier Fortuna emerged as a serious alternative. But eventually, Martinez and Rivera came around.
"Earlier in the week, Rocky didn't agree to the terms, so we didn't know if he was going to, so we had to look for an alternative, and Fortuna was on the list," Moretti said. "I want to thank Fortuna and his promoter, Sampson Lewkowicz, for their professionalism. Perhaps Fortuna can fight the winner of this bout in the future."
Lomachenko (5-1, 3 KOs), a 28-year-old southpaw and one of the greatest amateur boxers in history, made three featherweight title defenses but was unable to land a fight against one of the division's other top names. When the chance to fight for a junior lightweight title was brought to him, he and manager Egis Klimas jumped at it, Moretti said.
"The edict from Lomachenko and Egis is they only want meaningful fights," Moretti said. "In today's world, that is not that easy. He wanted to unify world titles at 126 pounds. If he wins this title at 130, he will want to unify those titles. Lomachenko is looking for the biggest challenge he can get every time out, and if that means fighting in another weight class for a world title, that's what he will do."
The fight with Martinez makes sense for a number of reasons. First, Martinez (29-2-3, 17 KOs), 33, is Puerto Rican, and the fight is headlining a card on the eve of the annual Puerto Rican Day parade weekend in New York, a date when Top Rank typically puts on a New York card heavy with Puerto Rican boxers.
"Egis said whoever it is, Lomachenko just wants to fight for a title at 130. We preferred Rocky because the fight is on the Puerto Rican parade weekend," Moretti said.
Also, when Lomachenko challenged for a featherweight world title in his second professional fight in March 2014, he lost a competitive decision to veteran Orlando Salido, but the title remained vacant because Salido was overweight. By fighting Martinez, Lomachenko has a chance to defeat the fighter who defeated Salido to win his junior lightweight title. Last April, Martinez outpointed Salido to win the belt in an action-packed, fight-of-the-year contender and then fought to a draw with him in another blazing fight in a September rematch.
"Martinez obviously has the home-field advantage with the fight being on the Puerto Rican parade weekend, and he's a veteran with a good right hand," Moretti said. "It's a great step up for Lomachenko, given that Martinez beat Salido and Salido beat Lomachenko. So we'll see where this goes. If Lomachenko wins, it just will add to the list of accomplishments he has and will clearly establish him as the best fighter between 126 and 130 pounds."
If Verdejo (20-0, 14 KOs), the 22-year-old rising Puerto Rican star, defeats Mexico's Jose Luis Rodriguez (17-6-1, 10 KOs) on Saturday in San Juan, he will fight in the Martinez-Lomachenko co-feature. However, it probably won't be against Mexican fringe contender Jose Felix Jr. (33-1-1, 25 KOs), as Top Rank had hoped. Moretti said Felix's purse demands are not even close to the money available. He said Top Rank would begin looking for a new opponent Monday.