Junior lightweight world titleholder Vasyl Lomachenko, a two-time Ukrainian Olympic gold medalist and one of the best fighters in the world pound for pound, has a hard time getting top opponents to step into the ring with him.
Top Rank hoped to line up former two-division titleholder Orlando Salido, who handed Lomachenko a close decision loss in his second fight, for a rematch in Lomachenko's HBO main event on April 8 (10 p.m. ET/PT) at the new MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland. But Salido turned down the fight. Next on the list was world titleholder Jezreel Corrales for a unification fight, but Corrales also rejected an offer.
That left Top Rank to offer the fight to its third choice, Jason Sosa, whom it co-promotes with Russell Peltz. Sosa, a significant underdog, immediately accepted the fight, even though it was for less money than offered to both Salido and Corrales. The fight was formally announced Wednesday.
"They called and offered us the fight, and we accepted," Peltz said on a conference call with boxing reporters. "That's what fighters do."
Lomachenko was happy to finally have an opponent.
"I would like to thank Jason Sosa, who unlike the other champions, agreed to take this fight to determine the best in this weight division, even though everyone knows I am the division's Papi," Lomachenko said. "I moved up to 130 pounds hoping champions in this division were not cowards like those at 126 pounds. It looks like I was wrong. To all the other 'champions' in the 126-pound and 130-pound divisions, I say this to you, 'You are not champions, you are businessmen. Bad businessmen. By avoiding risks, you cheat the boxing fans, and that is bad business.'
"I came to this sport to prove to myself and others that I am this big and loud champion. So, while all of you continue to hide from me, I am going forward to achieve my goals. My next step is on April 8. See you there!"
In Sosa, Lomachenko gets a hard-nosed puncher with a big heart who has been on a good run the past year. After receiving a 10-round majority draw against Nicholas Walters in a December 2015 fight virtually everyone thought Walters won easily, Sosa got a shot at a secondary world title and pulled a big upset. He rallied against Javier Fortuna for an 11th-round knockout in Beijing and then retained the belt by unanimous decision against Stephen Smith in an action-packed fight in Monte Carlo in November.
But Fortuna and Smith are not in the same league as Lomachenko. Sosa, who has three amateur bouts to Lomachenko's nearly 400, knows it.
"We understand that this is the most difficult fight of our career due to the fact that we are fighting the best fighter -- Vasyl Lomachenko -- in the history of amateur boxing," Sosa said. "The beauty of all of this is that I only had three amateur fights and will prove to the world that we are by far the better fighter."
Raul "Chino" Rivas, Sosa's manager and trainer, said, "We know we're the underdog. We like to be the underdog. We know he's the two-time gold medalist and the two-time world champion. We'll do what we do best -- execute the game plan. Let the best man win. Time will tell. We'll see April 8."
Peltz was even more dramatic in playing up Sosa's underdog status.
"I don't know why this fight is happening," Peltz said. "All of the boxing experts tell me Jason Sosa won't win one second of any round, and who am I to quibble with experts? They are probably the same experts who picked Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump.
"Funny things happen when the bell rings. Jason Sosa is a real fighter and real fighters fight. One of the problems in boxing today is that most of the fighters are not real fighters; they are businessmen. That's why guys ask for outrageous money to fight Lomachenko. Jason is cut from a different breed. He wants to find out how great he really is. What kind of fighter wouldn't want this kind of a challenge?"
Because Sosa (20-1-4, 15 KOs), 28, of Camden, New Jersey, had the WBA's secondary belt to Corrales' main title, he was stripped for signing to fight for Lomachenko's WBO version of the title. He wasn't happy about it but he has a significant fight on his hands anyway, which is what he wanted.
"This is boxing so stuff like that happens," Sosa said. "I just have to maintain focus and keep moving on. They stripped me of the title so it was a bittersweet thing for me. It hurt me. I would have loved to unify. I would like to apologize to Lomachenko and his team because I'm sure they wanted to fight for another title. So I will win the WBO title. We want to fight the best, and we believe Lomachenko is the best."
Lomachenko (7-1, 5 KOs), a 28-year-old southpaw, will be making his second title defense. After tying the boxing record by winning a world title in the fewest number of fights, three, Lomachenko gave up his featherweight belt and moved up to junior lightweight in June. He spectacularly knocked out Roman "Rocky" Martinez in the fifth round to win a 130-pound belt -- setting the record for fewest fights needed, seven, to win titles in two weight classes -- and then made his first defense in November, drubbing Walters in a one-sided fight until he quit in the seventh round.
Lomachenko would have liked to unify titles as much as Sosa, but he said he respects Sosa for being the guy willing to fight him when others turned down the opportunity.
"I understand [getting stripped was] not Sosa's decision. It was a WBA political thing," Lomachenko said. "Of course, I would like to unify, but at this point I am still happy to fight one of the best guys in the division and he's the one who took this opportunity because other champions were running like rat from a sinking boat and not getting in the ring. The others are businessmen, not boxers. They are only looking for the money, not the glory."