Rude awakening (Part two): Miguel Marriaga challenges Vasyl Lomachenko tonight
The little amount of attention he received all week reflected the chances fans are giving Miguel Marriaga tonight. Live on ESPN (10:00 p.m. ET / 7 p.m. PT) from the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles, California, the Colombian is moving up in weight to challenge the WBO junior lightweight titleholder Vasyl Lomachenko. Over the course of fight week, Marriaga spoke with UCNLive.com before he takes on his biggest challenge to date.
“I feel a little bit stronger because I don’t have to cut that much weight,” said Marriaga at Wednesday’s media workout. “Anyway, we have to be very careful because Vasyl Lomachenko is a skillful fighter.”
Marriaga, 25-2 (21), is coming off an April loss to WBO featherweight beltholder Oscar Valdez, in which, after suffering a 10th round knockdown, the competitive fight was seemingly tilted away from him and the wide scores unanimously sealed his fate. The 30-year-old dragged his feet, while in tears, when leaving the StubHub Center that night, not angry at the scores that may have reflected his chances against the house fighter but in concession, after failing to win a world title in his second try. There was a silver lining, however, as Marriaga maintained he was content with his effort and went so far to say he symbolically won in the loss.
“Yes. I’m going to bring the fight to him,” said Marriaga when asked if he needed a KO to beat Lomachenko and when reminded of the emotional moment he experienced that evening, with this writer, as he awaited his ride back to the hotel.
“The same way I did with Valdez. We’re very prepared. We have everything against us and I’m gonna go out to get the win.”
Physically, Marriaga looked to be in strong shape leading up to Friday’s weigh-in, when he officially checked in at 129.8 pounds (Lomachenko weighed 130 pounds). His claim of feeling stronger was easy to believe, once seeing the bulging veins on his forearms, realized for the first time by this writer, Marriaga’s hands are much bigger than your average featherweight. His spirit seemed great, greeting everyone willing to talk to him with a smile and, in the final press conference the following day, nothing would keep him from straying into negativity, no matter how hard it tried to rear its ugly head.
Bob Arum, founder and CEO of Top Rank (and Lomachenko’s promoter), praised the two-time Olympic gold medalist from Ukraine and, by mentioning his fighter in the same sentence with Muhammad Ali, the expectations were as high as the Intercontinental Los Angeles Downtown – L.A.’s newest and tallest building, where the presser took place. Arum said Lomachenko is the best fighter he’s seen since Ali, who he also promoted, and rarely was there a discussion about the match-up at hand, rather just talk of potential fights and who can test Lomachenko. While he doesn’t know English, Marriaga sat there quietly, speaking only when spoken and translated to, but there was no language necessary when seeing the WBO present a “Super” champion status that came with a shiny new belt.
“It wasn’t disrespecting me or anything. It’s an honor for (Lomachenko). It doesn’t distract me,” said Marriaga about that moment and, when it came to the comparisons to Ali, he replied, “They can say all they want but he still has to face me Saturday night.”
Despite suffering to decision losses, Marriaga gained a reputation of being a durable and capable contender at featherweight but facing such a challenge in his debut at 130 pounds has conjured remarkable odds against him. 20-1 is the line for Marriaga as the underdog and Lomachenko is a 40-1 favorite. In essence, it’s a showcase bout for Lomachenko, who is fighting on ESPN for the first time, after having been featured on premium cable networks (HBO and Showtime) or a pay-per-view undercard.
“I feel strong and confident. My resistance and power can overcome in the fight,” Marriaga said during the final conversation, leading up to tonight. You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone outside of Colombia picking or wanting Marriaga to pull off the upset and, quite frankly, should his ambition come true, it’d be a disastrous situation for the promoter of this showcase. Then again, for fighters like Marriaga, their best efforts can sometimes be good enough, even though they become heartbroken from defeat after the fact. Should Marriaga somehow win tonight, he’ll be just as humble as he is in defeat. When asked who he would be if he beats the man compared to Ali, Marriaga stated:
“It’ll be a big win for my country, for Mexico, which is like my second home. It’ll mean the world to me. It will mean everything.”