By Tris Dixon
WE have seen brawlers, maulers and warriors. We have seen artists, showboaters and fancy dans. We have seen talkers, gimmicks and fake grudges. But we have never seen anyone quite like Vasyl Lomachenko.
The little genius from the Ukraine added a world title in a third weight class in just his 12th fight with a 10th round stoppage of Jorge Linares in a spell-binding battle in New York’s Madison Square Garden.
How far Lomachenko can continue to rise, as a comparative novice with a burgeoning Hall of Fame resume, remains to be seen. He turned 30 in February and may still have a few more tricks up his blue and yellow sleeves.
Against Linares, Lomachenko deployed a tight defence early on, taking away the relevance of the champion’s longer limbs.
The smaller man’s snug guard was hard for the Venezuelan to penetrate. Yet the honourable and defiant legend was organised in his attacks and his greater size and strength allowed him to absorb the shots that did come his way.
The champion’s bodywork in round two invoked just a shrug of the shoulders from Lomachenko, with the Ukrainian marvel finding his customary extraordinary angles with both his feet and upperbody. Those movements of his defy the textbooks.
He was operating like a defensive master with the attacking prowess of a hungry lion.
You had the feeling after three rounds that Linares was having to box out of his skin to stay with his challenger, to try and keep the 30-year-old from over-running him.
Lomachenko’s symphony of working the body and switching his attack upstairs was designed to sap his opponent’s power, weaken his legs and, gradually, break him down.
As the fight progressed, it was easy to focus on what Lomachenko was doing right, but Linares was not doing much wrong.
It was elite stuff.
It was hard, too.
Jorge bled from the nose in round five, was warned to keep his shots up and then found himself under rapid fire in the closing moments of the session during which it seemed the writing was scrawled on the wall.
He had defiant spots of success, earning rounds with his mid-ring governance. There was a quick volley of rapier shots in round six and then a right hand that seated Lomachenko later in the session. But the Ukrainian’s brief loss to gravity – and Linares’s punch that buckled the champion’s rear leg, causing it to collapse – didn’t change the overall trajectory of the contest.
It just reiterated to Lomachenko that he could not work his way in on straight lines and that Linares commanded his full concentration and respect.
The knockdown was brief, but it did have an effect on the Ukrainian phenomenon. His protective right hand had slipped an inch away from where it needed to be to shield him, but in fights of this calibre, with two top-drawer exponents, that is all it takes. An inch, a second, one shot…
Linares’s promoter Oscar De La Hoya leapt to his feet in celebration but with 15 seconds remaining in the round there was not enough time to capitalise.
The fight was not a rout, nor was it a procession. It was elite boxing, a violent poetry.
It is not often the case where a technical and tactical contest is engrossing and entertaining, but this was.
There will come a point when Lomachenko, should he continue in his desire to drive up through the weights, meets someone who can nail him with a right hand that prompts him to stay down for 10 seconds or more.
The Linares shot clearly took the wind out of his sails and gave him plenty to think about. But, insanely, when you’re a 12-fight pro novice you’re still learning – even if in those fights you’ve won three world titles and fought seven world champions.
Linares was sliced open by the left eye in round eight, speared by a blue and yellow blur that came round the corner of his gloves.
Yet the Venezuelan was rattling off eye-catching salvos in round nine, started the tenth with a determined zest and while the wound was not impeding him, his optics were swelling shut. Then, with little more than a minute remaining in round 10, a short uppercut flicked the dimmer switch and Linares’s batteries drained. He froze, retreated, absorbed a breath-taking, crunching short left into his side, winced and dropped to one knee in the blink of an eye, surely considering the avalanche he would face when he stood back up, should he be able to draw another breath in time.
He had a conversation with himself, slowly returned to his feet but in unison with referee Michael Ortega, deemed there had been enough blood and enough punishment.
For the victor, talk of tantalising fights with Mikey Garcia and Gervonta Davis swirled.
This game is more than 120 years old and we have seen an awful lot, but we have never seen anything like this. As the pro and amateur games merge through operations like the WBS it is likely that fighters follow quick paths as the transitioning period will be briefer, but this is not something that will be replicated often and not in the near future, either.
Two Olympic gold medals, three world professional titles, every bout a world title contest since his second fight, Lomachenko’s audaciously cavalier attitude to the pro sport has been as refreshing as the clinics he has hosted in between the ropes.
He has not been a pro for long, less than four full years, but enjoy him while he is here because, with so little left to prove, he may be gone as fast as he has arrived.