Photo credit: Tom Hogan for Golden Boy Promotions
There was a lot of boxing this past weekend, but it was two lightweights who fought on opposite coasts on Saturday night that were the central focus of my attention. One who has seemingly plateaued, and the other who is ascending.
Regardless, significant things are ahead of both of them moving forward.
Vasiliy Lomachenko, coming off a 10 month layoff, had to rally late to defeat the tougher-than-expected Jamaine Ortiz at the Hulu Theater at MSG in New York. The height and reach of Ortiz (who is a former sparring partner) allowed him out-box Lomachenko in the early rounds.
Ortiz, who earned this opportunity by defeating Jamel Herring back in June, was thought to be a respectable comeback foe for Lomachenko, who had been out of action for most of 2022 as he was back in Ukraine supporting his countries war efforts.
Photo Credit: Mikey Williams for Top Rank
But this was no garden variety tune-up bout as Ortiz actually came to win. As 'Duke' once told Apollo Creed about Rocky Balboa: he didn't know it was a damn show, he thought it was a fight.
Ortiz built an early lead in this contest. Coming down the stretch, it just felt as though Lomachenko needed to rally to pull this out. And to his credit, he began to play the role of aggressor and pressed the action. Ortiz who had never been this deep, didn't necessarily drown in the moment, but he didn't do enough swimming to get to shore with a victory.
After 12 hard fought rounds it was Lomachenko winning this tussle by the scorees of 115-113, 116-112 and 117-111. The usually graceful Lomachenko had to grind this one out. Perhaps it was age, maybe it was ring rust, some of it was certainly Ortiz -- whose stock is raised in defeat -- but he certainly looks like a boxer who is no longer untouchable.
But in situations like this, you win tonight, and try and look good in the next one. Bottom line, he had gotten one step closer to his ultimate goal. “I’m happy," said Lomachenko. "I’m happy to come back in the ring and make this a great show," Lomachenko said. "Thank you to my fans for the support. You know what motivated me. Four belts!"
Photo credit: Mikey Williams for Top Rank
Now, he focuses in on the undisputed champion at this division, Devin Haney, who didn't seem too impressed by what he witnessed from ringside.
“I think it wasn’t the best performance, but I know if me and Loma were to fight, we’d see a better version on the night. Congratulations, and hopefully we can get it on," said Haney.
For both boxers this is the fight they need. Haney, despite having all the belts at 135 needs a signature victory to cap off his lightweight run. For Lomachenko, it's been his goal to win all the belts in a single division. For him to defeat a young undefeated foe like Haney, would be a defining moment. And in 2023, he would be an underdog.
"The fight to make in the lightweight division is Haney versus Lomachenko, and we will do everything we can to make the undisputed championship showdown that all fight fans want to see. They are the world’s premier lightweights, and it would be a fantastic battle," stated Bob Arum, who promotes both men.
Meanwhile at the Pechanga Arena in San Diego, Calfornia, William Zepeda simply overwhelmed Joseph Diaz over 12 brisk rounds. Zepeda is a punching machine. He comes out his corner from the very first bell, and chucks leather, and then doesn't relent.
'Camaron' is the very definition of a pressure fighter, who just keeps punching away. Every once in a while he might take a breather, but eventually he goes back to what he does best. Diaz, who is a solid technician, had some moments in-between the constant onslaught, but he was in a bit of a Catch-22 situation. Diaz was never going to out-work Zepeda, and he didn't have enough power to ever dissuade him.
Zepeda won this by the scores of 119-109 (twice) and 118-110. It was an entertaining, one-sided bout.
In his last two outings, Zepeda has gotten much needed seasoning versus Rene Alvarado and now Diaz. It's clear that he is a bona-fide lightweight contender. And beyond that, he is must-see TV. Anytime he fights, I'll be watching.
Photo credit: Tom Hogan for Golden Boy Promotions
Now the question is just where he goes from here? As you look at the ratings, he is sixth in the WBO ratings, and eighth in the WBA rankings. Now, you can be skeptical of the sanctioning body listings all you want (and I don't blame you, for the record) but I mention this because the fact of the matter is that with his suffocating and punishing style, Zepeda is the type of guy that will have to be a mandatory challenger before anyone with a belt will face him.
He is the reason why sanctioning bodies need to exist. Yeah, I said it. Hear me out. Zepeda is one of those guys who will only get a title shot until one of those alphabet groups makes it happen. And should he attain one of those belts, it's at that point that he will be deemed worthy of the risk to face him. Till then, he's the very definition of high risk-low reward to any lightweight of note.
So yeah, say it with me again... belts....matter.
And so does Zepeda at 135.