Vasyl Lomachenko is fighting Devin Haney not only to achieve his dream of becoming the undisputed lightweight champion, but to give his compatriots precious respite from the war in Ukraine.
On Saturday at Las Vegas’ MGM Grand he will challenge the 24-year-old Haney in the toughest fight of his career little over a year after his future as a fighter was threatened by Russia’s invasion of his country.
It was Haney’s victory over George Kambosos Jr in June 2022 that earned him all four lightweight world titles on an occasion that was presented to him when Lomachenko had been in contention for the same fight.
Lomachenko, like his friend and compatriot Oleksandr Usyk, instead resisted the opportunity – and an easier one – to further his already decorated career to instead remain in his home country and contribute towards defending it when they were most under attack.
After, as with Usyk, being encouraged to resume his career the 35-year-old is aware of the wider significance a victory would represent for his country – not least when he is considered the underdog – and he said: “I believe I can give our people one hour – change the situation in their minds with the war, into something positive. Positive emotion.
“I try just thinking about, what’s happening with us – it’s all from god, which helps.
“It’s not going to be easy. It’s not going to be easy. [Haney] has a very high level boxing IQ. He has reach, and his feet are good, so it will be very interesting.
“Me and our team. We understand it and we prepare for this. Of course it’s hard, but we know how we need to do.
“I made a phone call to Vasily, and said, ‘Look, we have an opportunity to go and fight Kambosos,” explained Lomachenko’s manager Egis Klimas. “The answer was, ‘Egis, no, I’m not going. It’s not what’s on my mind right now. I can’t think about my career; I can’t think about boxing. All I can see right now is our country being bombed, people getting killed, and everybody needs me here. I’m sorry’.
“I said, ‘You know this will be your last opportunity [to become an undisputed champion]’, and he said, ‘If it’s meant to be, that’s what’s meant to be; my decision is to stay here’. After that, I realised how strong he is, and how good a human being and man he is. I told him, ‘You’re better than me, for sure’.”
“There are a lot of things more important than the sport of boxing,” said his long-term promoter, Bob Arum.“The Ukrainians are giving better than they’re taking from the Russians, and I salute all of the people in Ukraine, and I salute Vasily Lomachenko for the stand he took, staying behind to defend his country, rather than participate across the globe in Australia in a fight.”
Lomachenko recognises that Saturday’s fight, unlike that he turned down against Kambosos Jr, likely represents his “last chance “ to achieve something he has hoped to since turning professional and that he would consider on a par with winning Olympic gold.
He is already regarded as one of the finest fighters in history, but he said: “Of course [it’s my last chance]. After that I think [Haney] goes up to the next weight classes. If I can’t take this chance all four belts will be vacant, and after that you understand it’s very, very hard to do this again. That’s why [it’s my last chance].
“We can’t compare with [Guillermo] Rigondeaux because it’s two different sizes. Now [Haney’s] in the same situation that I was with Rigondeaux [as the bigger fighter]. Now I’m Rigondeaux and he’s Lomachenko, if you’re talking about size and reach, and of course the weight.
“But if we compare to other ones – Lopez and [Richard] Commey, and other guys [like Jorge] Linares, [Luke] Campbell, it was hard, but I always find a way [to win]. Right now I just focus on this fight and focus on my moves.”