Ukrainian boxer Vasiliy Lomachenko, who quit the sport to defend his country, makes his return on Saturday

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Ukrainian boxer Vasiliy Lomachenko will return to fighting Saturday night after he put his dreams of becoming an undisputed champion on hold earlier this year to defend his country. 

Lomachenko’s returning bout, and one he hopes will propel him closer to a lightweight championship, will take place in the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden against unbeaten Jamaine Ortiz (16-0-1, 8 KO). 

Lomachenko (16-2, 11 KOs) was in Greece preparing for a fight when Russian forces invaded Ukraine and the invasion moved him so deeply he went back to Ukraine and joined a territorial defense battalion.

Vasiliy Lomachenko, of Ukraine, celebrates after defeating Masayoshi Nakatani, of Japan,  during a lightweight bout Saturday, June 26, 2021, in Las Vegas. 

Vasiliy Lomachenko, of Ukraine, celebrates after defeating Masayoshi Nakatani, of Japan,  during a lightweight bout Saturday, June 26, 2021, in Las Vegas. 
(AP Photo/John Locher)

He later told his advisers he would not take that fight.

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“I couldn’t understand anything about what’s happening militarily but inside you, you have a feeling of what you need to do,” Lomachenko said through an interpreter.

“When this was happening, when this started, nobody really knew anything about anything,” he added. “And when you really have no understanding about what’s going on, every normal person, every normal citizen would go and defend his country and that’s what the majority of men do in our country.”

The two-time Olympic gold medalist said he did not participate in “military operations, but [other] certain tasks,” including enforcement of a curfew.

“For example, a suburban area in the outskirts of the city that we needed to go out and do some reconnaissance, make sure that no alien people, no one unknown is basically located in that area,” he added.

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NEW YORK, NEW YORK - DECEMBER 11: Vasiliy Lomachenko (black trunks) trades punches with Richard Commey (blue trunks) at Madison Square Garden on December 11, 2021 in New York, New York. 

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – DECEMBER 11: Vasiliy Lomachenko (black trunks) trades punches with Richard Commey (blue trunks) at Madison Square Garden on December 11, 2021 in New York, New York. 
(Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

One of Ukraine’s greatest athletes, Lomachenko compiled a 396-1 record as an amateur. 

As a professional, Lomachenko won a title in his third fight and was once a champion in three weight classes.

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NEW YORK, NEW YORK - DECEMBER 11: Vasiliy Lomachenko, right, knocks-down Richard Commey, center, during their fight for the WBO intercontinental lightweight championship at Madison Square Garden on December 11, 2021 in New York City. 

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – DECEMBER 11: Vasiliy Lomachenko, right, knocks-down Richard Commey, center, during their fight for the WBO intercontinental lightweight championship at Madison Square Garden on December 11, 2021 in New York City. 
(Mikey Williams/Top Rank Inc via Getty Images)

His fight on Saturday will be streamed on ESPN+.

Win or lose, Lomachenko’s next plan is to help his family return to Ukraine, who have been staying with him in California. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.  

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