Former lightweight champion Vasiliy Lomachenko returns to the ring for his second fight of 2021, as he faces Richard Commey in the main event of a Top Rank boxing card at New York's Madison Square Garden on Saturday (5:30 p.m. ET, ESPN/ESPN+).
Lomachenko (15-2, 11 KOs), of Ukraine, hoped to have a rematch with Teofimo Lopez, but when that fight didn't materialize, Commey represented a good measuring stick. And with the recent unimpressive performances of the other top lightweights in the past 10 days -- Lopez, Gervonta Davis and Devin Haney -- the stakes of the Lomachenko-Commey fight are even higher than they originally appeared. A victory could put Lomachenko, 33, in position to face undisputed lightweight champion George Kambosos Jr. next year.
Can Lomachenko win? Is he still an elite fighter at 135? And what if he loses?
Mike Coppinger weighs in on the biggest questions ahead of Saturday's fight.
Why is Lomachenko fighting Commey?
Lomachenko was determined to secure a rematch with Lopez for the undisputed lightweight championship, but Lopez never seriously entertained the idea. Commey is Lomachenko's second consecutive former Lopez opponent; Lomachenko stopped Masayoshi Nakatani in June.
Commey, 34, of Ghana, is a durable former champion (the second-round TKO loss against Lopez notwithstanding) who presents a style that should allow Lomachenko to impress. Sure, Lomachenko will have to contend with Commey's size and power, but otherwise, he's a stationary fighter whom Lomachenko should be able to box circles around.
There also weren't too many other options. Top Rank hoped to land the Lopez-Lomachenko rematch before Lopez tested positive for COVID, delaying his fight until the fall. Haney was available, but Top Rank hasn't shown a ton of interest in matching Lomachenko with the 23-year-old.
Is Lomachenko still an elite lightweight?
Vasiliy Lomachenko dominates his fight vs. Masayoshi Nakatani and forces the referee to call the fight in the middle of Round 9.
Not only is Lomachenko still elite, he might be the best of the bunch. Just because Lomachenko lost to Lopez, we can't disregard all the great things he accomplished at lightweight before then. And let's not forget: Lomachenko did fight Lopez with a torn rotator cuff. Excuse or not, that's a debilitating injury. Lomachenko started slow and showed Lopez too much respect during the first half. During the later rounds in that fight, Lomachenko was doing excellent work.
We'll need to see how Lomachenko performs against Commey, but I believe he's still the best fighter competing at 135 pounds.
How does Lopez's loss to Kambosos alter the stakes of this fight?
Teofimo Lopez Jr. puts on a Joe Burrow jersey after defeating Richard Commey at MSG in December, similar to when Lopez sported a Kyler Murray jersey in his win the previous December.
For Lomachenko, the stakes are clear: separate yourself from the pack with a dominant victory and land a fight with Kambosos for the undisputed championship.
Davis failed to impress in his win over Isaac Cruz. Haney looked better in his win over Joseph "JoJo" Diaz Jr., but it was far from a spectacular performance. The door is now firmly open for Lomachenko to win in style and demand the Kambosos bout.
What if Commey defeats Lomachenko?
All three high stakes recent lightweight title fights featured heavy underdogs who exceeded expectations, and that should only serve to motivate Commey. He can punch, and he's a lot stronger than Lomachenko.
If Kambosos could upset the odds to topple Lopez, Diaz could go toe-to-toe against Haney and Cruz could push Davis to the brink, why not Commey? With added fuel on the back of those underdog performances, Commey can't be counted out.
A victory for Commey and he could find himself in the driver's seat for a shot at Kambosos. Both boxers are promoted by Lou DiBella, and Commey would surely be seen as an easier challenge for the Australian.
A second Lomachenko loss in three fights would be devastating for him, and it would mark the end of his lengthy run as one of the top 10 pound-for-pound boxers in the world. Perhaps then he would finally return to 130 pounds, where a bout with Shakur Stevenson could await, though it would lose plenty of luster in the wake of a loss.
Will we ever see a Lopez-Lomachenko rematch?
With Lopez planning to move to 140 pounds, the prospect of a rematch with Lomachenko seems dim.
Lomachenko started his career at 126 pounds and his best weight is at 130 pounds. It's far more likely we see Lomachenko fight Stevenson next year at junior lightweight than Lopez at junior welterweight. It's just difficult to ever see Lomachenko moving up to another weight class.
And even before the loss, Lopez showed no interest in fighting Lomachenko again, repeatedly saying that the Ukrainian didn't deserve a rematch. Maybe the setback against Kambosos will change Lopez's mind now that he's no longer champion and lost the leverage that accompanies it.
But even if Lopez is suddenly interested in running it back with Lomachenko, he would surely need to stick it out at 135 pounds for one more fight. Lopez didn't enlist the services of a nutritionist for the Kambosos bout, a departure from his usual preparation, so maybe with some additional help he could make the lightweight limit one more time.
Which of the prospects on the Lomachenko-Commey undercard is a champion first?
It's a toss-up between Jared Anderson and Keyshawn Davis. Anderson is further along in his development, but winning a heavyweight title seems demonstrably tougher at the moment with Tyson Fury and Oleksandr Usyk holding all four major belts.
For that reason, I'll go with Davis. Fresh off an Olympic silver medal effort in Tokyo, Davis will resume his pro career and make his Top Rank debut at lightweight. Bob Arum's matchmakers usually move fighters slowly (with Lomachenko a big exception), but Davis could be ready to vie for a title by 2023.