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Lomachenko returns against taller foe Saturday in Las Vegas

Vasiliy Lomachenko went right out and acknowledged it.

At the Ukrainian’s first faceoff with Masayoshi Nakatani, he reached out and playfully pushed Nakatani’s shoulders down, making the already noticeable height and reach discrepancy even more clear.

The 5-foot, 7-inch Lomachenko (14-2, 10 KOs), will take on the 5-foot, 11-inch Nakatani (19-1, 13 KOs), in the main event of a Top Rank boxing card from Virgin Hotels Las Vegas. It will mark the first time Lomachenko, a former pound for pound king, steps back in the ring after he lost his three lightweight world titles to Las Vegan Teofimo Lopez in October.

“He is a tough guy,” Lomachenko said. “He has the height and the reach. I think he is a very good boxer. That’s why he was my choice as an opponent.”

Lomachenko will return at 135 pounds after he was upset by Lopez in their undisputed title fight. In that fight, Lomachenko got off to a slow start, allowing Lopez to win almost all of the early rounds and eventually take a unanimous decision win.

Now, he’s set to return against Nakatani, an awkward, lanky lightweight who gave Lopez problems in their 2019 fight. Nakatani is coming off a come-from-behind knockout of Felix Verdejo in December.

“I don’t think it was the best of Lomachenko for the Lopez fight,” Nakatani said through an interpreter. “So I don’t think it’s something that I can use as a place for study.”

Lomachenko wants the rematch with Lopez, but his focus is on Nakatani, who is a tricky opponent and one of the tallest fighters in the lightweight division. Lomachenko, on the other hand, began his career as a featherweight and is small for the 135-pound division.

In the co-feature, Minnesota’s Rob Brant will meet Janibek Alimkhanuly, of Kazakhstan, in a 10-round middleweight bout. Brant, known to boxing fans for his two firefights against Ryota Murata, will be a significant underdog against Alimkhanuly, a former Olympian who has progressed quickly as a professional.

Brant, known for his elite punch output, said he’s excited to fight in front of fans again, specifically at Virgin Hotels.

“It’s really exciting,” he said. “It adds a certain level of energy to the bout itself when you land a shot and the crowd pops. Especially the venue. The venue’s kind of like a gladiator pit, so it’s definitely going to be very interesting, very fun.”

Contact Jonah Dylan at jdylan@reviewjournal.com. Follow @TheJonahDylan on Twitter.

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