By Keith Idec
NEW YORK – Like most boxing observers, Freddie Roach favors Vasyl Lomachenko over Jorge Linares.
But Roach, Linares former trainer, was impressed enough by what he saw from the WBA lightweight champion six weeks ago to think he has a chance to upset Lomachenko when they meet May 12 at Madison Square Garden. Ukraine’s Lomachenko (10-1, 8 KOs) will move up from the super featherweight division (130 pounds) to challenge Venezuela’s Linares (44-3, 27 KOs) in a 12-round, 135-pound title fight ESPN will televise.
Linares’ size advantage is something worth considering, according to Roach.
Lomachenko, 30, began his career as a featherweight (126 pounds) four years ago. Linares, 32, has been a lightweight for 7½ years.
“That could be a big, big factor in the fight, of course,” Roach told BoxingScene.com before a press conference Thursday for the Amir Imam-Jose Ramirez fight in The Theater at Madison Square Garden (ESPN). “Lomachenko is moving up in weight classes and guys are bigger and bigger punchers. He did lose once already [to Orlando Salido] and he hasn’t fought a similar style yet [to the way Linares fights]. But his opponent this time is not a pressure guy, either, and he’s a really hard guy to out-box. He’s a very clever, clever boxer.”
Roach, who trains Ramirez, also prepared Filipino southpaw Mercito Gesta for his shot at Linares on January 27 at The Forum in Inglewood, California. The International Boxing Hall of Fame trainer expected Gesta (31-2-2, 17 KOs) to perform better against Linares, who won a 12-round bout HBO broadcast by wide distances on all three scorecards (118-110, 118-110, 117-111).
Roach walked away from that fight impressed by Linares, who has won 13 straight fights since suffering back-to-back technical knockout defeats to Antonio DeMarco and Sergio Thompson in October 2011 and November 2012.
“I thought Gesta let him get away with too much,” Roach said, “and didn’t put the pressure on him that I wanted him to. But that’s how things go.”
Lomachenko will attempt to win a world title in a third weight class against Linares, who has opened as a 5-1 underdog.
“Linares is a solid fighter,” Roach said. “He still has some fight left in him. It should be an interesting fight. Obviously, you’ve gotta like Lomachenko in the fight, though. He is one of the best up-and-coming guys now, and the other guy might be getting too old.”
Though just 2½ years younger than Linares, Lomachenko has taken anywhere near as much punishment as Linares has absorbed during a 47-fight, 15-year pro career.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.