On Saturday in the main event of the Top Rank on ESPN card at The Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden, Vasyl Lomachenko defeated Jose Pedraza by unanimous decision to unify two lightweight world titles. Now, opponents are being considered for his first fight of 2019.
One of those is an old rival who has been craving to get revenge on the Ukrainian.
Felix Verdejo (24-1, 16 KO's), a once-prized prospect hailing from Puerto Rico, according to sources, could land a shot to fight Lomachenko.
Lomachenko (12-1, 9 KO's) beat Verdejo 14-9 in the 2012 Olympics in London. The 30-year-old went on to win his second Olympic gold medal, and both fighters joined Top Rank when they entered the professional ranks.
The 25-year-old Verdejo (25-1, 15 KO's) suffered the first professional defeat of his career in March when he was dropped and stopped by Ines Antonio Lozada Torres in a huge upset. Verdejo returned in November and scored a second-round knockout of Mexican journeyman Yardley Cruz in a scheduled 10-round lightweight contest.
"Lomachenko is our goal in the future," Verdejo said. "It's the fight I want in the future. I want to get rid of this thorn [in my side] and face in the same fashion as when Miguel Cotto fought and beat Mohammed Abdullaev and Kelson Pinto. For that [goal] we are working hard and developing ourselves to get to that point. When I confronted Lomachenko he was already an Olympic champion; he was a man. He had the maturity, he had gone through that stage before, and for me, it was my first big stage," Verdejo said in 2014.
However, things have changed in recent years for Verdejo since he made those comments. Of course, there was the aforementioned loss to Torres, but there were also many lost opportunities, most notably a world title shot against former titlist Terry Flanagan in 2016. The 2014 ESPN prospect of the year was hospitalized after he was involved in a motorcycle accident in his native country. He was treated for head trauma and lacerations to the face, head and his arm.
Verdejo returned to the ring six months after the accident and won a unanimous decision against Oliver Flores, but stayed on the shelf prior to the Torres fight. However, even after all the injuries and a lack of preparation, Bob Arum, Verdejo's promoter at Top Rank, has refused to give up on him.
After the 2012 Olympics, Arum signed three top prospects, – Oscar Valdez, Jose Ramirez, and Verdejo. Out of all the young men, Verdejo was seen as the best fighter.
Now it is up to Verdejo to prove to the world that he still has that craving to fight. And most importantly, he must believe in himself. After all, this is a bout that he has always pushed for.
Lomachenko went the distance for the first time in eight fights on Saturday, but his fight with Pedraza did average a 1.5 metered market rating, making it the second highest-rated boxing match on cable in 2018, behind Crawford vs. Benavidez Jr. on ESPN in October 2018.
Lomachenko is the fastest boxer in history to win three world titles in three different world classes. He accomplished that feat in just 12 fights when he stopped Jorge Linares in the 10th round of a thrilling lightweight title bout in front of 10,429 fans at Madison Square Garden last May.