By Keith Idec
NEW YORK – Jorge Linares and his team admit Vasiliy Lomachenko will be the best opponent Linares has faced in a pro career that spans 15-plus years.
They’re just as certain Lomachenko will be faced with the type of opponent he hasn’t seen when they fight for Linares’ WBA lightweight title Saturday night at Madison Square Garden (ESPN; 8 p.m. ET).
Ukraine’s Lomachenko, 30, will move up from 130 pounds to 135 to challenge Linares for his title.
The two-division champion still is consistently listed as a 14-1 favorite over Linares as their 12-round main event nears.
“Come Saturday night, yes, everybody says, ‘Jorge has not fought a fighter like Vasiliy Lomachenko,’ ” Robert Diaz, Golden Boy Promotions’ matchmaker, said during a press conference Thursday. “This is his biggest challenge, his best opponent. That’s correct. But Lomachenko has not fought a fighter like Jorge Linares. That’s why this fight is special and this is a fight nobody wants to miss. It’s gonna be a great night and the fans will win.”
The 32-year-old Linares (44-3, 27 KOs) will take a 13-fight winning streak into his battle against Lomachenko (10-1, 8 KOs), who has made four straight opponents quit between rounds.
Venezuela’s Linares hasn’t lost since Mexico’s Sergio Thompson stopped him in the second round of their March 2012 bout in Cancun. Another Mexican, Antonio DeMarco, had stopped Linares in the 11th round of his previous fight, five months earlier in Los Angeles.
Linares has lost three times by technical knockout, but Diaz believes those experiences have helped make him the more complete champion he is today.
“When we first started talking about this fight,” Diaz said, “it had all the makings of what he wanted. ‘I want the best fight out there. Go get me the best fight.’ That’s the best fight out there. You guys have said it unanimously. We believe it. There’s no confusion here. We know [Lomachenko] is one of the best fighters in the world. What gives me the confidence in Jorge Linares is he’s been through hell and back.
“He’s been at the highest plateau of boxing, a three-division world champion, and he’s been to the bottom. He didn’t like it. That’s where all the hard work that he put in in the last 13 fights – going to the UK, against some of the best boxing fans in the world, where we had maybe three fans on our side, maybe there was one flag from Venezuela. And he gained those fans, who are now his fans. That’s what gets you through these fights. He’s been through hell and back.”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.