Ukrainian Vasyl Lomachenko may be the darling of the boxing cognoscenti touting him as the next great pound-for-pound sensation, but WBO junior lightweight champion Roman (Rocky) Martinez of Puerto Rico on Thursday said Lomachenko will have to kill him to take his belt Saturday night in the Theater at Madison Square Garden.
Lomachenko (5-1, 3 KOs) is the reigning WBO featherweight champion moving up from 126 to 130 pounds in search of his second world title in only his seventh professional fight after an amateur career in which he went 396-1 and won two Olympic gold medals. He is the favorite even though he will be walking into the lion’s den against Martinez (29-2-2, 17 KOs) on the eve of the Puerto Rican Day parade in New York.
The HBO “Boxing After Dark” card also features a bout between Puerto Rican lightweight Felix Verdejo (21-0, 14 KOs) and Mexican veteran Juan Jose Martinez (25-2, 17 KOs). Verdejo is a fast-rising star many see as next in the line of great Puerto Rican champions such as Miguel Cotto and Felix (Tito) Trinidad.
Martinez said a victory over Lomachenko would be “very important for me. It would change everything.”
An interesting twist is that Martinez and Lomachenko have a common opponent in Orlando Salido, who last Saturday fought to a draw with WBC 130-pound champion Francisco Vargas in a war that is a candidate for fight of the year. Martinez won his title from Salido last year and retained it in a draw against Salido in September. The only loss on Lomachenko’s record came in his second professional fight against Salido, who came in well overweight.
“We both fought Salido, but the results were completely different,” Lomachenko said. “So, it will be interesting.”
Lomachenko is a boxer with an excellent defense in the mold of Floyd Mayweather Jr. Although he was ringside for the Vargas-Salido matchup in the hope of fighting the winner, he said, they would not have landed so many punches against him.
“They would have landed in air,” Lomachenko joked. “I don’t like getting hit.”
Martinez suggested Lomachenko lacks power, and it’s clear he believes his experience and aggressive style will prevail. “He’s going to have a real test,” Martinez said. “He’s going to fight a real fighter. He can see how different it is in a professional fight, but it’s too late for him to change his mind and prepare for this war against me . . . He’s a good fighter, but I know I have the weapons.”