LOS ANGELES -- Vasyl Lomachenko left Ukraine and moved stateside several years ago because he dreamed of fighting for big money in the world's most popular boxing venues.
After headlining at Madison Square Garden, in Macau and in several spots around Las Vegas, Lomachenko is going Hollywood on Friday night.
Lomachenko (12-1, 9 KOs) risks his two lightweight world titles at Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles when he takes on Britain's Anthony Crolla.
Crolla (34-6-3, 13 KOs) is a big underdog against the masterful Lomachenko, whose technique and athleticism have propelled him from two Olympic gold medals to the short list of the world's greatest pound-for-pound fighters.
Lomachenko trains outside Los Angeles, and he has already fought in the LA area twice. But he has never appeared in this fight-loving city's most prominent indoor arena, and the mere idea of headlining in such a cavernous venue would have been improbable just a few years ago.
"It's a very exciting place," Lomachenko said. "After my first (LA) fight at Microsoft Theater, I looked across the street and thought, 'Wow, maybe someday I can get into Staples Center.'"
Less than two years after that LA debut in the smaller Microsoft venue, Lomachenko has moved across the street for a title defense he is expected to win with style — and not just because he's wearing an outlandish robe worth a reported $200,000 into the ring.
Any opponent under 140 pounds would be an underdog against Lomachenko, but the lack of a theoretically worthy opponent doesn't interest the champion. Until a bona fide challenger to his dominance emerges at 130 or 135 pounds, he will keep racking up wins.
"I don't care," Lomachenko said with a smirk. "In my fights, I just want to show off my skills. My opponent, whoever. I just want to enjoy it and to put on a good and interesting fight."
Lomachenko's next fight was supposed to be a title unification bout with Ghana's Richard Commey, who holds one of the two remaining lightweight belts that Lomachenko covets. But Commey emerged from his bout Feb. 2 with an injured right hand, and Lomachenko elected to stay active by entertaining his mandatory challenger for the WBA crown.
While Crolla is widely respected for his toughness and resilience, Lomachenko sometimes seems to be competing in a different sport. His footwork alone inspires rhapsodic appreciation from veteran fight watchers, and his hand speed is similarly peerless.
Crolla has watched Lomachenko's bouts with admiration, but he has been fighting for too long to be intimidated.
"He's the best fighter in the sport, and I'm grateful for this chance," Crolla said. "Even the best fighter in boxing is beatable. Nobody is bigger than the game, so I go into this fight knowing I've got a chance and a strategy to beat him."
Crolla is making his U.S. debut, but the Manchester native is likely to have every British athlete's contingent of vociferous stateside fans. Crolla has another advantage, according to Lomachenko.
"He's very good, and he's in a comfortable position because he has nothing to lose," Lomachenko said.
The Staples Center card also includes Mexican star Gilberto "Zurdo" Ramirez making his light heavyweight debut against Tommy Karpency in the co-main event, along with veteran brawler Mike Alvarado facing unbeaten Arnold Barboza Jr.
Lomachenko isn't looking beyond Crolla to other fights, partly because no big fight looms. He wants Commey's belt, but the biggest money would come from a showdown with former American lightweight champion Mikey Garcia.
But even if Garcia could get over his antipathy toward Top Rank boss Bob Arum — his former promoter and Lomachenko's current promoter — Lomachenko and Garcia probably can't find a common weight. Lomachenko says he is too small for 140 pounds, and Garcia could struggle to get back down to 135 after fighting at welterweight — and getting thrashed by Errol Spence Jr. — last month in Texas.
Until money creates the motivation to solve this dilemma, Lomachenko will go on showcasing himself to the world against the best opponents he can find. Crolla is worthy, and Lomachenko is taking him seriously.
"I get nervous a little before a fight, but when I step in the ring, I'm in my place," Lomachenko said. "I start to enjoy it right away. A couple of rounds, and then I find my moment."
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