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Vasiliy Lomachenko relishes chance for 135-pound unification

NEW YORK -- Pound-for-pound king Vasiliy Lomachenko was tired of talking about the surgically repaired labrum in his right shoulder, but the lightweight world champion never seems to tire of discussing his quest to unify world titles.

Lomachenko has won world titles in three weight classes -- featherweight, junior lightweight and lightweight -- but a unification fight eluded him until now.

"It's the next step for my dream, for my goal. After this fight I think my dreams come a little bit closer to me," Lomachenko said Thursday at the final prefight news conference ahead of his 135-pound unification fight with Jose Pedraza.

They will meet in the high-stakes main event of a Top Rank Boxing on ESPN tripleheader Saturday (9 p.m. ET, with the full undercard streaming on ESPN+ beginning at 6 p.m. ET) at the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden.

Lomachenko did allow for one surgery-related comment, believing that the time off following the injury in his 10th-round knockout of Jorge Linares to win the title in the Garden's main arena May 12 was good for him.

"I had a rest and now I'm hungry to get back in the ring. I'm ready for Saturday," Lomachenko said. "This [Madison Square Garden] is a historical place so for me it's a big honor to fight here. I love this place."

The fight will be his fourth at the famed arena, but Pedraza figures to have heavy support also from New York's sizable Puerto Rican community.

"Me [unifying] the titles on Saturday would mean a lot to [Puerto Rico]," Pedraza said through an interpreter. "It would be the first Christmas after what happened with Hurricane Maria. Definitely, me winning on Saturday would bring a lot of joy and blessings to the island."

Lomachenko (11-1, 9 KOs), 30, the two-time Olympic gold medalist from Ukraine, and Pedraza (25-1, 12 KOs), 29, will both be making their first defense.

Lomachenko survived a knockdown in the sixth round to rally to knock out Linares, who has won world titles in three divisions.

Pedraza, a former junior lightweight titlist, traveled to Raymundo Beltran's home region of Glendale, Arizona, to challenge him for his belt Aug. 25. Pedraza knocked Beltran down in the 11th round and won a unanimous decision to seal the deal on landing the unification showdown with the heavily favored Lomachenko.

"Since the moment I signed to fight Beltran, I knew that the winner was going to fight Lomachenko, so mentally I've been preparing, staying positive, staying focused, and also physically, I'm well prepared," Pedraza said. "Lomachenko is a great fighter, a complete fighter, and I know that I will have to be at my best. I am prepared to put on a good fight."

In the co-feature, Isaac "Royal Storm" Dogboe will defend his junior featherweight world title for the second time when he faces mandatory challenger Emanuel Navarrete, and said he hopes to finish a big year with a fourth knockout in his fourth fight of 2018.

Dogboe (20-0, 14 KOs), 24, born in Ghana and raised in England, won an interim title by knocking out Cesar Juarez in January before winning the full title by knocking out Jessie Magdaleno in a riveting fight in April. He made his first defense by first-round knockout of Hidenori Otake on the Pedraza-Beltran undercard, and now he is aiming to finish off Navarrete.

"We couldn't have asked for a better 2018. Before entering into 2018, my uncle said to me, 'All you have to do is dance into 2018. Be happy.' And that's exactly what we did," Dogboe said at Thursday's news conference. "It's been a blessing. Three knockouts out of three fights, and this will be four knockouts out of four fights in 2018.

"Emanuel Navarrete is also one of Mexico's finest fighters, as tough as they come. He reminds me of Israel Vazquez and Juan Manuel Marquez. These are great, great legendary fighters. When he talks about the fighting spirit of the Mexicans, you know he's going to come and fight."

Navarrete (25-1, 22 KOs), 23, will be fighting outside of Mexico for the first time but did not seem unnerved by the big stage.

"What better way to become a world champion than to do it on a stage like Madison Square Garden," he said. "Maybe people don't know me, but I've had a great career in my country and I'm focused on taking advantage of this opportunity and bringing the title home to Mexico."

The opener is a 10-round fight between hotshot lightweight prospect and 2016 Olympian Teofimo Lopez Jr. (10-0, 8 KOs), 21, of Las Vegas, and Mason Menard (34-3, 24 KOs), 30, of Rayne, Louisiana, who most view as his toughest opponent so far.

"It's my fourth time [fighting at Madison Square Garden]. Like always, I am here to put on a show and [make this] the takeover. That's what I've always said, and come Saturday night, we're here to take over the show. 2019, I will become world champion.

"I know Mason Menard. He's going to definitely come out there and fight, bring the fight. But they all try the same thing, and it's not going to work. No matter what they do, no matter what they try, they're in there with a real one."