OXNARD — Vasyl Lomachenko, the super-featherweight champion from Ukraine, is trying his best. A semi-circle of writers is firing questions. He responds in English.
When Lomachenko runs into a snag, there is Egis Klimas, his manager, to prompt him in Russian. Then he finishes the sentence.
“I told him when we started that he had to learn English,” Klimas said. “He is very bright-minded. He has something most fighters don’t have. He explains things so well that it’s hard to translate, no matter how good the translator is. No matter how hard I try, I’m using my emotions instead of using his.”
Lomachenko lives here fulltime, so the words are coming by osmosis. But Canelo Alvarez doesn’t speak English in public. Neither did Julio Cesar Chavez Sr.
Lomachenko likes to be confronted with puzzles. An English idiom challenges him, unlike most boxers.
He might find competition Saturday in Madison Square Garden, from Cuba’s Guillermo Rigondeaux, a fight telecast on ESPN. Both are two-time Olympic gold medalists, and Rigondeaux is 17-0 as a pro.
Rigondeaux also is 37, and his lust for self-preservation and disdain for actual punching makes him the George Snoreman of modern boxing. Doctors use Rigondeaux tapes to diagnose apnea in their patients.
“I don’t like watching him,” Lomachenko said. “I don’t have the time to watch him. But I need to think more in this fight. He waits, waits, waits…it’s a special style. I have to find the key. The first half of the fight will be a mission, to see what we can do.”
Rigondeaux is jumping eight pounds, or two weight classes, to take on Lomachenko at 130. He never has come into a pro ring heavier than 122.
“You know why he wants this fight?” Lomachenko said suddenly, with no help from Klimas. “Because his career is finished and he wants the money. This will be the biggest draw in his career.”
Rigondeaux’s punch is rare but substantial. He knocked out Luis Flores in the first round in June. Well, maybe a little beyond the first round. The Nevada commission reversed the knockout and declared it no contest.
Before, Rigondeaux finished James Dickens by breaking his jaw in Round 2. He also can get hit, as he proved by falling twice against Hisashi Amagasa, but he came back to win in Round 11.
“If he wants to win this fight he will have to come forward, but he can’t,” Lomachenko said. “He trains every time to counter-punch.
“I want to have great fights but it depends on your…