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A top Ukrainian boxer is choosing his country over an upcoming title fight

Vasiliy Lomachenko exits the arena after winning the WBA, WBO, WBC Lightweight World Title contest in 2019 in London.
Richard Heathcote
Getty Images
Vasiliy Lomachenko exits the arena after winning the WBA, WBO, WBC Lightweight World Title contest in 2019 in London.

A top Ukrainian boxer has turned down a title match abroad in order to remain with his family and defend his country.

Two-time Olympic gold medalist Vasiliy Lomachenko agreed to a deal last month to fight Australia's George Kambosos Jr. — who holds the sport's major lightweight titles and is widely recognized as the undisputed lightweight champion — in Melbourne on June 5. But Russia's invasion of Ukraine has changed his plans.

Lomachenko, 34, joined a territorial defense battalion in Ukraine last month and flew from Greece to his home outside of Odesa to be with his family. Kambosos' promoter, Lou DiBella, told ESPN on Monday that Lomachenko has chosen to stay in Ukraine rather than leave the country for training camp.

DiBella told BoxingScene.com that Egis Klimas, Lomachenko's manager, told him the news on Monday.

"We commend him. We think the fight he's fighting is much bigger than boxing," DiBella said. "And our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family, and with the Ukrainian people. What they're going through, obviously, is far more significant than any boxing match."

Ukraine's martial law requires men between the ages of 18 and 60 to stay in the country, but ESPN reports that "efforts were being made to allow elite athletes to depart."

DiBella said he and Bob Arum, Lomachenko's promoter, had been holding out hope that Lomachenko might decide to remain in the fight but were not surprised by his decision.

"We had an inkling the other day, when the [Ukrainian] government had said it was OK [for Lomachenko to fight], but we didn't hear an affirmative response [from Lomachenko], we had a sense that this was likely," he told Boxing Scene.

Kambosos said in a tweet that he respects Lomachenko's decision and is praying for him and Ukraine. He is now set to face off against American boxer Devin Haney instead.

"Please stay safe and once I wipe the floor with Devin, we will make this fight between two real champions," he added.

Ukraine is home to many top fighters, as ESPN notes. The mayor of Kyiv, Vitali Klitschko, is a Hall of Fame boxer who has said he plans to take up arms to defend against Russian forces. And his brother, fellow Hall of Famer and former heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko, enlisted in Ukraine's reserve army earlier this month.

This story originally appeared on the Morning Edition live blog.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Rachel Treisman (she/her) is a writer and editor for the Morning Edition live blog, which she helped launch in early 2021.