Vasiliy Lomachenko gets shot at latest goal: unified champion

Pound-for-pound king Vasiliy Lomachenko has done so much in his brief but brilliant professional boxing career, including tying the record for fewest fights needed to win a world title (3) and setting the record for fewest fights needed to win titles in two divisions (7) and three divisions (12).

Now lightweight world champion Lomachenko, a former featherweight and junior lightweight titlist, will have the opportunity to do something else on his bucket list -- unify titles.

Lomachenko and fellow 135-pound titleholder Jose "Sniper" Pedraza will square off to unify their belts in the main event of a Top Rank Boxing on ESPN card on Dec. 8 (ESPN and ESPN Deportes, 9 p.m. ET) at the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden, Top Rank made official on Tuesday.

Initially, the fight, which Pedraza earned his way into by outpointing Raymundo Beltran to take his title by unanimous decision on Aug. 25 in Beltran's home region of Glendale, Arizona, was going to headline an ESPN+ card on Dec. 1 at The Forum in Inglewood, California. However, ESPN and Top Rank executives decided they would rather have the fight air in the prime slot immediately following the Heisman Trophy presentation, also in New York.

"I am ready to fight an excellent opponent like Jose Pedraza," Lomachenko said. "My goal has always been to unify the titles, and Pedraza is standing in my way. There is something special about fighting in New York City and at Madison Square Garden. The fans in New York City are true boxing fans, and I can't wait to put on another spectacular performance for them."

Lomachenko-Pedraza is scheduled for the same time slot and weekend on which Lomachenko once dazzled in a junior lightweight title defense against junior featherweight titlist Guillermo Rigondeaux, who was moving up in weight and couldn't take the heat. Rigondeaux meekly quit on his stool after six one-sided rounds on Dec. 9.

"Currently ranked as the top pound-for-pound fighter in the sport, Lomachenko is who fans want to watch," said ESPN's Burke Magnus, executive vice president of programming and scheduling. "His historic victory last year on this night was a tremendous success, and we look forward to showcasing the world's best once again."

The fight will be Lomachenko's fourth at the famed venue, including his third at the Hulu Theater. On May 12, Lomachenko, a southpaw, moved up to the lightweight division and knocked out Jorge Linares in the 10th round to win the lightweight title in the Madison Square Garden main arena. However, with the Knicks playing the Brooklyn Nets at home on Dec. 8, the main arena was not available and Lomachenko will fight again in the Hulu Theater.

Lomachenko (11-1, 9 KOs), the 30-year-old two-time Olympic gold medalist from Ukraine, suffered a torn labrum when he dislocated his right shoulder and then popped it back into place during the second round of the victory over Linares. The fight with Pedraza will be Lomachenko's first since the injury and subsequent surgery.

Pedraza (25-1, 12 KOs), 29, of Puerto Rico, lost his junior lightweight world title by seventh-round knockout to Gervonta Davis in January 2017 and did not fight again for 14 months, after he had become a promotional free agent and signed with Top Rank.

Since signing with Top Rank, Pedraza has won three fights in a row: a tune-up eight-rounder against Jose Luis Rodriguez in March; a much tougher test against Antonio Moran, whom he outpointed over 10 grueling rounds in June; and the decision over Beltran, whom he knocked down in the 11th round, to win a lightweight world title in August.

When Pedraza held a world title at junior lightweight, he made two successful defenses, but a unification fight eluded him, so he is thrilled to have one at lightweight.

"I am grateful to have this opportunity, since I didn't get the chance to unify titles when I was champion in the junior lightweight division," Pedraza said. "In this division, I will achieve my goal, and I will do it against one of the best boxers in the world. There will be a surprise on Dec. 8."

Top Rank chairman Bob Arum, who routinely gushes over Lomachenko's skills, said he thinks Pedraza's style could be an issue for him.

"Boxing fans are excited that Vasiliy Lomachenko will be back in action on Dec. 8. He knows that in WBO champion Jose Pedraza, he faces a tough opponent with a style that may give him a lot of trouble," Arum said.

Although the undercard of the three-hour broadcast has not been announced, junior featherweight world titleholder Isaac Dogboe (20-0, 14 KOs), 23, the electrifying fighter from Ghana, will make his second title defense against an opponent to be named in the co-feature. He won his 122-pound belt by 11th-round knockout of Jessie Magdaleno in a candidate for fight of the year on April 28 in Philadelphia and made his first defense by first-round knockout of Hidenori Otake on the Pedraza-Beltran undercard.

Also slated for the broadcast is blue-chip lightweight prospect Teofimo Lopez Jr. (10-0, 8 KOs), 21, of Las Vegas, who was a 2016 Olympian representing his parents' home country of Honduras. He likely will face battle-tested Mason Menard (33-3, 24 KOs), 29, of Rayne, Louisiana, in a 10-rounder.

Lopez scored his most significant victory on July 14 when he easily destroyed William Silva in the sixth round. Lopez injured his right hand in the fight and is coming off surgery to repair the injury.