By Keith Idec
NEW YORK – It took Vasiliy Lomachenko longer than he might’ve expected, but he eventually overwhelmed Jorge Linares on Saturday night.
Locked in a highly competitive, tense tactical battle with Linares, the heavily favored Lomachenko quickly uncorked a 10-punch combination to the head and finished Linares with a vicious left hook to the liver in the 10th round Saturday night at Madison Square Garden. That brutal body blow left Linares on one knee.
When he eventually reached his feet, referee Ricky Gonzalez determined he couldn’t continue at 2:08 of the 10th round.
By stopping Linares, Lomachenko – who’s generally regarded as one of the best boxers, pound-for-pound, in the sport – captured the WBA world lightweight title, became a champion in a third weight class and snapped Linares’ 13-fight winning streak. Lomachenko previously won the WBO featherweight title and the WBO super featherweight championship.
“I prepared for the last few rounds,” Lomachenko said, “and my father [Anatoly] told me, ‘You need to go to the body.’ … Linares is a great champion, and the fight was good for the fans and everybody.”
Before scoring his eighth straight knockout, Lomachenko (11-1, 9 KOs) had to get off the canvas late in the sixth round.
“It was a great fight,” said Lomachenko, who was knocked down for the first time as a pro. “That right hand, it was a great punch. It happens.”
Had the fight gone the distance, the decision seemingly could’ve gone either way.
Lomachenko was ahead on the scorecard of judge Steve Weisfeld (86-84) through nine rounds, but he was behind 86-84 on judge Robin Taylor’s card. The third judge, Julie Lederman, had it even when the fight was stopped (85-85).
“He didn’t surprise me as I thought he was going to surprise me,” Linares said. “The fight was getting interesting. It was very close, but he did surprise me with that body shot. I wanted to continue. I wanted to keep working, but the ref stopped the fight.”
Venezuela’s Linares (44-4, 27 KOs) lost by technical knockout for the fourth time in his 15-year pro career.
Lomachenko was consistently listed as a 14-1 favorite Saturday, but Linares gave the two-time Olympic gold medalist his toughest fight since Mexican veteran Orlando Salido defeated him by split decision in his second pro fight four years ago.
Lomachenko weighed in at 134½ pounds Friday for his lightweight debut. Linares weighed in at 134½ pounds, too, but the former champion was believed to be at least 10 pounds heavier than Lomachenko by the time their bout began.
Before Lomachenko finished him, Linares’ right hand backed Lomachenko into the ropes early in the 10th round. Linares waved Lomachenko forward after Lomachenko connected with a straight left hand.
Linares’ stiff jab knocked Lomachenko off balance with just under two minutes remaining in the ninth round.
Linares and Lomachenko trade power punches in the first minute of the eighth round. Lomachenko landed a right hook and then his straight left hand later in the eighth, but Linares fired back with hard shots of his own.
Linares landed a right hand that stopped Lomachenko from moving forward with just under 40 seconds left in the eighth.
After suffering a flash knockdown during the sixth round, Lomachenko seemed to fight the seventh round on steady legs. Each fighter had his moments in those competitive three minutes.
Lomachenko’s precision and speed were on display during the sixth round, until Linares drilled him with a straight right hand that sent Lomachenko to the seat of his trunks with just under 30 seconds left in it.
A surprised Lomachenko got right to his feet, but he made sure to move away from Linares until the bell sounded. Lomachenko shook his head confidently as he came back to his corner, as if to assure thousands of Ukrainian fans in the building that he was OK.
Gonzalez warned Linares for a debatable low blow about 40 seconds into the sixth round.
Lomachenko landed a left uppercut just before the halfway point of the fifth round. Linares quickly came back by connecting with a left hook.
Gonzalez warned Linares for a low blow a little later in the fifth. Just before the fifth round ended, Lomachenko hit Linares with several power punches.
By then, Linares’ nose was bleeding.
Linares landed a left to Lomachenko’s body about 45 seconds into the fourth round. Lomachenko came back with a left to Linares’ body soon thereafter.
Lomachenko’s right hook connected later in the fourth. A few seconds later, Linares hit Lomachenko to the back of his head, which caused the crowd to boo and drew a warning from Gonzalez.
Linares’ straight right hand landed flush with approximately 30 seconds to go in the fourth. Lomachenko took it well and fired punches back at Linares.
Lomachenko hit Linares with a right hook when there was about 1:10 to go in the third round. A little less than a minute later, Lomachenko caught Linares with a two-punch combination.
Lomachenko landed a short left hand inside and quickly moved out of Linares’ range with just under a minute to go in the second round. Lomachenko connected with a quick combination to Linares’ head about 10 seconds before the second round ended.
Both boxers were tactical throughout the first round, when Linares was the aggressor and each tried to establish his jab.
Lomachenko, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, still holds the WBO super featherweight title. The WBO has given him 10 days from Saturday night to decide whether he’ll move back down to 130 pounds for a fifth title defense or remain at lightweight to defend his WBA 135-pound championship in his next fight.
The 30-year-old Lomachenko had won his previous four fights by technical knockout because either his opponents didn’t want to come out of their corners or their trainers wouldn’t allow it at various points in those fights. Those four victories over previously undefeated Nicholas Walters, Jason Sosa, Miguel Marriaga and then-unbeaten Guillermo Rigondeaux came in fights contested at the super featherweight limit of 130 pounds.
Lomachenko moved up to 135 pounds to challenge Linares because he couldn’t secure title unification fights at 130 pounds.
The 32-year-old Linares lost by technical knockout for the fourth time in a pro career that began in December 2002.
Antonio DeMarco and Sergio Thompson stopped him in back-to-back bouts in October 2011 and March 2012. Linares previously lost by first-round technical knockout to Juan Carlos Salgado in October 2009.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.