ONE can imagine Vasiliy Lomachenko watching his old rival Teófimo López lose the world lightweight championship to George Kambosos Jnr last month. He must have felt disappointment when the man who took his title away, the man he was eager to fight again, was beaten by someone else. It’s unlikely he felt any pride that López’s disregard for Kambosos was the polar opposite of his approach 13 months ago when he exhibited laser focus to beat Loma, and become king.

He will also have kept an eye on the progress of Devin Haney and Gervonta Davis last weekend. Though both won, neither looked unstoppable. Lomachenko will surely feel confident he has the beating of all his lightweight rivals.

But he has some work to do. There was a temptation to write him off following that close but inarguable 12-round defeat to López in October 2020. Though he didn’t display the typical traits of a fighter in sharp decline – poor reflexes, slow feet, inaccurate aim – there was certainly an air of disinterest surrounding him. One that suggested, after a life in boxing winning medals, championships and belts galore, he might be about to embrace a more peaceful existence. But the fighting wizard’s return in June this year, a nine-round beatdown of the decent Masayoshi Nakatani, underlined that the 33-year-old’s thirst for violence remains.

This weekend, in a contest that was no doubt originally designed to catch López’s eye, Lomachenko – rated number two at lightweight behind López and champion Kambosos – takes on Richard Commey, the highest ranked fighter (sixth) in the lightweight class who was available. The 34-year-old Ghanaian was beaten in two rounds by López in 2019 and Lomachenko will surely not do better than that. But he certainly needs to win this bout at Madison Square Garden, and win convincingly, to retain momentum.

Commey, 30-3 (27), has been a contender at 135lbs for much of the past seven years. In 2016, he was unfortunate to lose split decisions over 12 rounds to Robert Easter Jnr and Denis Shafikov in consecutive bouts. Stoppage victories over Isa Chaniev and Raymundo Beltrán saw him win and retain the IBF belt before he found López in fearsome form the following year. In his only subsequent outing, in February this year, Commey was too good for Jackson Marinez, showcasing his significant power with a knockout in round six. Rough, tough and awkward, with no shortage of bloody-mindedness, the African is a horrible proposition for all but the very best.

Like Loma against Nakatini but on a smaller scale, Commey proved against Marinez he has plenty left. After easing into the bout over the first two rounds, Commey – who is based in the nearby Bronx – fought with the calculating aggression he is known for. Rangy and difficult to stop once in full flow, Commey finished Marinez with a perfectly placed right hand to the jaw.

If Commey is allowed to find his feet in this bout, he can make something of a nuisance of himself. But unless Lomachenko has gotten old overnight, is again disinterested or injured, it’s frankly very difficult to make a case for the upset.

“It is always special when I fight at the Garden, where so many great moments of my career have taken place,” said Lomachenko. “I expect the best version of Commey. I will be prepared for whatever he brings.”

Commey, particularly with his right hand, is one of the biggest punchers in the division. He knows his way round a boxing ring and has better skills than he’s given credit for. But as we all know, Lomachenko’s gifts are on a different level.

The more that Commey comes forward, the more opportunities he will create for Lomachenko. Expect Commey to do just that. This will be the 1/8 favourite’s fifth appearance inside Madison Square Garden. All four of his previous opponents – Román Martinez, Guillermo Rigondeaux, Jorge Linares and José Pedraza – were beaten handily and this one looks sure to go the same way (well, presuming this isn’t the latest in a long line of 2021 upsets). Loma may lack the one-punch firepower to score a clean knockout but he has the precision and wisdom to slowly grind his opponent down. The pick is a stoppage in the second half of the bout.

With López likely to move up in weight, that rematch may have gone forever. But with Haney, Davis and Kambosos to aim at, Lomachenko will have opportunities to add new layers to his legend in 2022.

The last time an American heavyweight known as “Big Baby” was due to fight at MSG he didn’t even make it as far as the opening bell, when the notorious Jarrell Miller was slung out of his challenge to Anthony Joshua due to multiple drug test failures. On the Loma-Commey undercard, another “Big Baby” – Jared Anderson – will hopefully leave a better impression in the Big Apple.

Toledo’s Anderson, 10-0 (10), is a promising 22-year-old who won several national titles in the amateur ranks. He takes on Montreal-based Ukrainian Oleksandr Teslenko, whose 17-1 (13) record is noteworthy for the one loss on it. In 2019, he was stopped in five rounds by Shawndell Terell Winters who, the following year, was beaten in the fifth by Joseph Parker and inside two by Alen Babic. If the ageing Winters can halt Teslenko, expect Anderson to post a very similar result.

The Verdict Commey is a good opponent for Lomachenko in more ways than one.