Vasiliy Lomachenko only has one way to define victory Friday night as he defends his two lightweight world-title belts in the main event of a Staples Center card: win the fight.
Lomachenko’s opponent, England’s Anthony Crolla, certainly wants to have his hand raised, too, but as the 18-to-1 underdog strides toward the ring, that, by itself, also has a triumphant feel.
More than four years ago, Crolla, 32, was savagely attacked after confronting two men who’d traipsed into his yard after allegedly burglarizing a neighbor’s residence. He got his hands on one of the suspects, but the other lifted a slab of concrete and slammed it atop Crolla’s head, fracturing the fighter’s skull and causing a fall that broke his ankle.
“It was a worrisome time when it happened — about much more than my career — but I’m good now. I’ve been good for a while, and I feel it’s made me a lot stronger,” Crolla said.
Crolla remarkably recovered well enough 11 months after the incident to win the World Boxing Assn. lightweight belt that Ukraine’s Lomachenko (12-1, nine knockouts) now wears along with the World Boxing Organization version of the 135-pound title.
The belt was lost in back-to-back defeats in England against Jorge Linares, but Crolla didn’t yield from that adversity, either, claiming three consecutive victories to reemerge as Lomachenko’s top-ranked mandatory WBA contender.
And when a unification bout with International Boxing Federation champion Richard Commey fell through due to a Commey hand injury, Crolla got the fight.
“I believe everything happens for a reason, and that if you work hard, you will get great rewards … that’s what’s happened with me,” Crolla (34-6-3, 13 knockouts) said. “I know I’m not the most talented fighter out there, but I’ve worked hard to make the best of what I’ve been given and I’m always looking to improve.”
Heart isn’t expected to be enough to conquer Ventura County trained Lomachenko, 31, a two-time Olympic boxing gold medalist who fought for a world title in his second pro bout and stands as the fastest to ever become a three-division world champion.
“While there’s no doubt he’s a very unique fighter with God-given talent, I’ve worked very hard and given myself the best possible chance to cause this upset,” Crolla said. “There’s little expectations for me, but I have my own expectation. I can walk into that ring with a smile on my face, knowing I’m prepared and knowing I’ve earned my ticket here.”
Lomachenko promoter Bob Arum told the Los Angeles Times his fighter has two options as he eyes a return bout by September: pursue a third belt against Commey, or fight World Boxing Council mandatory contender Luke Campbell in the United Kingdom if Oxnard’s Mikey Garcia decides next week to vacate that belt.
Mexico’s Gilberto Ramirez (39-0, 25 KOs) similarly could be headed to England should he win his light-heavyweight debut bout against Pennsylvania’s Tommy Karpency (29-6-1, 18 KOs) in the co-main event.
Ramirez, who still reigns as the WBO super-middleweight world champion, is being pointed to a 168-pound title-unification against England’s Callum Smith, who should win a June 1 title defense in New York to set up the showdown.
“I’d love to make that fight. It’s the best fight that could be made in that division,” Smith promoter Eddie Hearn said.
Ramirez has been busy, proposing to his girlfriend in a practice boxing ring last week as they await the early May birth of their child and anticipate a wedding date by the end of the year.
“I use it as a motivation. It’s not a distraction. I’m happy and very focused. One day I woke up and said, ‘OK, I’m going to ask her to marry me,’” Ramirez said. “And at 168 and 175 pounds, now, I want all the biggest challenges.”
The card also includes a super-lightweight meeting between South El Monte’s Arnold Barboza Jr. (20-0, seven KOs) and veteran Mike Alvarado (40-4, 28 KOs).
Arum said the Barboza-Alvarado winner will be strongly considered for a fight next against WBC champion Jose Ramirez of Fresno.
Main Event: Vasiliy Lomachenko, Ukraine, vs. Anthony Crolla, England, for Lomachenko’s WBA and WBO lightweight belts
When: Friday. First bell 5 p.m.; co-main event begins at 8
Where: Staples Center
Television: ESPN Plus (subscription streaming)