LAS VEGAS -- Vasiliy Lomachenko didn't officially return to any lightweight throne on Saturday, but he sure looked like a lightweight king.
Lomachenko (15-2, 11 KOs) delivered a masterful performance in a ninth-round TKO of Masayoshi Nakatani (19-2, 13 KOs) on Saturday inside The Theater at Virgin Hotel.
In his first appearance since losing the WBO, IBF and WBA belts to Teofimo Lopez in October, Lomachenko reasserted himself as one of the best 135-pounders in the world.
"I'm happy because I won," Lomachenko said. "All the strategies that we developed with my team [worked]. I reached all my goals. I won, and now I'm back on track."
The finish came at 1 minute, 48 seconds of the ninth, as referee Celestino Ruiz intervened during a prolonged flurry in the middle of the ring.
Nakatani, who survived an earlier knockdown in the fifth, was essentially out on his feet. He attempted to tie Lomachenko up to stop the barrage, but Lomachenko consistently created space and landed at will.
With the victory, Lomachenko earned the right to a potential rematch with Lopez (16-0, 12 KOs), a reward he has made no secret he desperately seeks. Lomachenko lost a unanimous decision to Lopez in October, but said he felt it should have been scored a draw. He has also claimed he was negatively impacted by an injury to his right shoulder.
Lopez's father, Teofimo Sr., was in attendance on Saturday. He approached Lomachenko's corner immediately after the bout and was quickly escorted away by security. Lopez, 23, was scheduled to face George Kambosos Jr. on June 5, but the bout was moved to Aug. 14 after Lopez tested positive for COVID-19. The bout could be postponed further, depending on how Lopez recovers.
"He has a fight in the future with Kambosos, but after [we will fight]," Lomachenko said. "Maybe next year, beginning of the year. December, January, February. I am waiting."
Lomachenko added: "Everybody saw how I won this fight, and everybody is waiting for the rematch [with Lopez], so let's make a rematch."
Later Saturday, Lopez Sr. told ESPN that Lopez's camp is willing to grant Lomachenko a rematch, something Lopez hadn't expressed interest in previously.
"After this performance, I think the public wants to see this fight," Lopez Sr. said. "And I could convince my son to fight him again."
Regardless of the true extent of Lomachenko's injury the first time he fought Lopez, he was undeniably a different fighter in front of a sellout crowd of 2,072 on Saturday. Lomachenko, 33, was aggressive from the opening bell. His defense was impeccable, and he consistently worked to the inside of the much taller and rangier Nakatani.
Really, the only adversity Lomachenko faced came in the first round, when he suffered a cut following an accidental head-butt. The cut continued to bleed throughout the fight, but it did little to slow Lomachenko. His lead left hand caused Nakatani fits, and he seemed unbothered by his opponent's physicality in the clinch.
The knockdown occurred in the final seconds of the fifth round, courtesy of a left hand. Lomachenko landed a short left as Nakatani tried to tie him up and followed that with a lightning-quick right hand from a short distance.
In addition to dominating a worthy opponent, Lomachenko made a statement by finishing Nakatani, something Lopez failed to do when he fought him in July 2019. Lopez won that fight in a convincing decision, although the fight was competitive. Lomachenko said before Saturday that was the main reason he chose Nakatani as an opponent.
"In case there was any doubt, Lomachenko proved he is still one of the very best fighters in the world," Bob Arum, Lomachenko's promoter at Top Rank, said after Saturday's fight. "He is healthy and ready to fight any of the lightweights."