By Cliff Rold
Lightweight titlist Jorge Linares hasn’t lost in so long he may have forgotten what it feels like. Saturday night on ESPN (8 PM EST), he faces the man with the best chance to make him remember since the last time he came up short.
Vasyl Lomachenko is in the race for the toughest first dozen fights of any career. A win would make that matter more. Even in this watered down accomplishment era, titles in three weight classes that fast isn’t easy. Lomachenko’s lone loss to Orlando Salido, in his second fight if one discounts his fights in the World Series of Boxing, was to one of the toughest veterans around his weights and came over four years ago now.
One could draw similarities with flyweight great Fidel LaBarba’s first dozen bouts. Like LaBarba, Lomachenko was an Olympic gold medalist (Lomachenko did it more than once). The matchmaking is also similar with LaBarba facing a young Jimmy McLarnin, Newsboy Brown, and Hall of Fame flyweight Frankie Genaro inside his first year.
Even Lomachenko hasn’t accelerated that fast but wins over undefeated Gary Russell, Nicholas Walters, and Guillermo Rigondeaux is damn fine enough. A win over Linares would make the rewards of a daring career path even better.
Let’s get into it.
Stats and Stakes
Title: Ring/WBA lightweight (2016-Present, 3 defenses)
Previous Titles: WBC featherweight (2007-08, 1 Defense); WBA super featherweight (2008-09, 1 Defense); WBC lightweight (2014-15, 2 Defenses)
Weight: 134 ½ lbs.
Hails from: Barinas, Venezuela
Record: 44-3, 27 KO, 3 KOBY?
Press Rankings: #1 (ESPN, Boxing Monthly, BoxRec), #2 (TBRB)
Record in Major Title Fights: 11-2, 7 KO, 2 KOBY
Last Five Opponents: 133-17-10 (.863)
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: Oscar Larios TKO10; Juan Carlos Salgado TKO by 1; Jesus Chavez RTD4; Antonio DeMarco TKO by 11; Anthony Crolla UD12, UD12
Title: WBO super featherweight (2016-Present, 4 Defenses)
Previous Titles: WBO featherweight (2014-16, 3 Defenses)
Weight: 134 ½ lbs.
Hails from: Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi, Ukraine
Record: 10-1, 8 KO (16-1, 8 KO including World Series of Boxing Contests)?
Press Rankings: At 130 - #1 (TBRB, ESPN, Ring, Boxing Monthly, BoxRec)
Record in Major Title Fights: 9-1, 7 KO
Last Five Opponents: 117-5-8 (.931)
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: Orlando Salido L12; Gary Russell Jr. MD12; Roman Martinez KO5; Nicholas Walters RTD7; Jason Sosa RTD9 (secondary WBA titlist); Guillermo Rigondeuax RTD6
The Case for Linares: The character it took for Linares to get all the way back to a fight this big can’t be understated. His three knockouts losses from 2009-12 would have marked the serious end for most. Instead, a combination of careful reconstruction and a gut check along the way against Kevin Mitchell has Linares on a 13-fight winning streak. Nothing in that streak compares to this. Linares, always an aesthetically pleasing offensive fighter, will need to find a way to consistently get to Lomachenko before the fluid Ukrainian starts to work in combination. Linares is a little taller, and his arms are a little longer, so his chances improve if he can keep the fight at the range he’s most comfortable with. Only one of Linares’ three losses is to a southpaw and Lomachenko is the third leftie he’s seen in a row so that shouldn’t be an issue in itself. Linares has to be prepared to go the distance, not just physically but mentally. Lomachenko has shown an excellent beard to date and Linares hasn’t scored a stoppage in his last four fights.
The Case for Lomachenko: Lomachenko is the sort of fighter who seems to get better every time out. That makes sense. His ambitious approach to the paid game has meant a learning curve as he adjusts from the points system at amateur to the more impactful approach paying fans prefer. Four straight foes, some in part from sheer frustration, have retired early against Lomachenko. Not only does he land plenty; Lomachenko is tough to catch clean if at all and can feint and slide around foes with rare class. Lomachenko’s footwork is both nimble and balanced and he’ll be well served if he uses it to stifle Linares’ attempts to establish a jab. A Linares forced to find another way to lead will make it easier for Lomachenko to counter in multiple.
The Pick: Lomachenko is a solid favorite here and it’s easy to understand why. In a fight between two talented guys, Lomachenko seems to just be a little bit better at too many things. Linares has improved his defense over the years but Lomachenko’s is still superior. Both men have excellent footwork; Lomachenko’s might be the best of any active fighter in the sport. Both have good hand speed but…and so on. The size difference is negligible. Both men won their first belts at featherweight and Lomachenko won Olympic gold as a lightweight (a few pounds south of the professional limit). Linares is going to have his moments but there won’t be enough of them to hold on to his title. The pick is Lomachenko, via late stoppage or decision, to add a title in his third weight class.
Additional Weekend Picks:
Jr. middleweight: Jaime Munguia KO Sadam Ali
Jr. featherweight: Rey Vargas Dec. Azat Hovhannisyan
Rold Picks 2018: 14-7
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]