By Michael Rosenthal
Vasyl Lomachenko: Lomachenko is human after all but you wouldn’t know it by the manner in which he emerged victorious on Saturday in New York City.
“Hi-Tech” was forced to go low tech, relying as much on hard work as his remarkable skill to beat his first truly worthy adversary (apologies to the oversized, dirty Orlando Salido). Then-WBA lightweight titleholder Jorge Linares matched ability and wits with Lomachenko for nine-plus rounds, even putting the Ukrainian wizard down for the first time in his career.
The fight was even on the cards after nine rounds, an almost thinkable reality given Lomachenko’s utter dominance over previous opponents. Then, in an instant, he turned a stiff, give-and-take challenge into a spectacular victory.
A single left to the body of Linares put him down and hurt him badly in the 10th round, leaving him unable to continue.
The victory gave Lomachenko (11-1, 9 knockouts) major belts in three divisions in a span of only 12 fights. That breaks the record of Jeff Fenech, who won titles in three divisions in 20 fights, as reported by ESPN.com.
What are we to make of Lomachenko’s performance?
Well, I’ll tell you a secret: He was human all along. We’ve all seen the best fighters – even great ones – pushed to the limit by other elite fighters many times; it was bound to happen to Lomachenko. When it did, he persevered and ultimately passed the test with flying colors.
The emphatic ending was a strong statement, as if to say, “You can push me but I’ll find a way to destroy you.”
And you have to give the gifted Linares credit. The “beautiful boxer,” as I call him, was at his quick, athletic best. He also had a gargantuan 14-pound weight advantage on the day of the fight, if reports are to be believed. That had to help him.
In the end, Lomachenko at once looked beatable and formidable. He didn’t dominate but he boxed extremely well and finished the show as the great ones often do – in a dramatic, unforgettable moment that reminds everyone how good he is.
Lomachenko said afterward that opponents might be more likely to face him after Saturday – “I just made easier the job of my promoter,” he said – but the odds remain that a meeting with the world’s best fighter won’t end well.
Jorge Linares: Linares (44-4, 27 KOs) ended up in this category only because he came close to doing something spectacular but fell short.
I have long thought that Linares is an exceptional boxer, one who could compete with the best in the business. He proved that on Saturday, fighting on roughly even terms with the VERY best in the business.
He obviously was devastated when referee Ricky Gonzalez stopped the fight after he stood up on shaky legs. He had to be thinking at that moment, “Damn. Things were going so well.”
Indeed, they were. Those of us at ringside – and I’m sure the millions watching on TV – were stunned to see Linares push Lomachenko so hard. The knockdown was positively jaw-dropping, as we’d never seen Lomachenko that vulnerable.
In a way, the knockout was unfortunate for the fans. It would’ve been fascinating to see the final two-plus rounds play out. As we know after seeing the scores, if the fight would’ve gone the distance, the last 6 minutes, 52 seconds would’ve decided the outcome.
Alas, Lomachenko had other ideas, which prevented the final-rounds drama and gave Linares his fourth loss.
Linares has overcome disappointments in the past. He bounced back from a first-round knockout loss against Juan Carlos Salgado, which cost him his second of four titles in 2009. He came back from back-to-back knockout losses in 2011 and 2012 to win 13 straight fights and set up his showdown with Lomachenko.
He’ll bounce back from this setback with his reputation and marketability at its highest level even though he’s 32.
Make no mistake: Rarely has a fighter gained so much in defeat as Linares did against Lomachenko on Saturday. He left no doubt whatsoever that he’s one of best fighters in the world. He should be proud of himself.
The biggest winners were really the fans who watched Lomachenko-Linares. Rarely do you see a fight contested at such a high level of skill that also produces such riveting action. Madison Square Garden, the site of the fight, buzzed from beginning to end in part because of the fast-paced drama and in part because it seemed half the fans were enthusiastic Ukrainians cheering wildly for their man. Terrific fight. It could end up as the Fight of the Year. … The scores after nine rounds were as follows: Julie Lederman 85-85, Robin Taylor 86-84 for Linares and Steve Weisfeld 86-84 for Lomachenko. I had it 87-83 for Lomachenko, although at least two rounds were very close. I could see an 85-85 card – five rounds to four for Lomachenko when the knockdown is factored in – but not Taylor’s score; I feel strongly that Linares didn’t win five rounds. … Lomachenko is scheduled to fight next on August 25 in at the Forum in Inglewood, California. The probable opponent is tough WBO 135-pound titleholder Ray Beltran. Manny Pacquiao’s former sparring partner is a good, experienced boxer with power in his punches but he’s no where near the level of Lomachenko. Beltran’s only hope would be to hurt Lomachenko and stop him. Hard to imagine. … Jaime Munguia (29-0, 25 KOs) had a good reason to thank the Nevada State Athletic Commission in retrospect for not allowing him to fight middleweight champ Gennady Golovkin. The commission’s decision, based on his perceived thin resume, allowed the 21-year-old Mexican slugger to challenge WBO junior middleweight titleholder Sadam Ali (26-2, 14 KOs) on Saturday in upstate New York. The result was Golovkin-like, as Munguia put Ali down four times en route to a knockout victory at 1:02 of the fourth round. The fight with the bigger, better Golovkin would’ve been a good opportunity but probably would’ve been a disaster for Munguia, who has neither the size nor the experience to compete with Triple-G. Instead, he remains unbeaten, owns his first major belt and is instantly a major player at 154 pounds. Sometimes fate works in a fighter’s favor. … Ali made a nice comeback from his knockout loss to Jessie Vargas in 2016 by beating Miguel Cotto to win his title last December. This setback – four knockdowns, the stoppage – will be difficult to put behind him. We’ll see whether Ali has the mental toughness to battle back again. …
Carlos Adames (14-0, 11 KOs) and Alejandro Barrera (29-5, 18 KOs) gave us a good show on the Lomachenko-Linares card, as Adames emerged with a unanimous decision in a hard-fought contest. Adames, a strong, aggressive attacker, seemed on the verge of taking out Barrera more than once but the rugged Mexican not only survived but made Adames pay for his aggression on a number of occasions. I look forward to seeing Adames fight again. The same with Barrera, whose record of 1-3 in his last four fights is misleading. He was stopped by Earl Spence, after which he took time off, and lost competitive decisions to Keandre Gibson and Adames. … WBC junior featherweight titleholder Rey Vargas (32-0, 22 KOs) is on a nice run. The Mexican easily outpointed determined Azat Hovhannisyan (14-3, 11 KOs) on the Munguia-Ali card, his third consecutive one-sided defense of the title he won in February of last year. It will be interesting to see how Vargas does against a next-level opponent. … Lomachenko received his 2017 Fighter of the Year award at the Boxing Writers Association of America banquet on Friday night in Manhattan. I wonder whether he might end up as the Fighter of the Decade. Floyd Mayweather has to be the leading candidate for that honor at the moment, as he dominated all-comers this decade. Lomachenko, who turned pro in 2013, now has impressive victories over Gary Russell Jr., Nicholas Walters, Guillermo Rigondeaux and Linares to go with his loss to Salido in his second pro fight, which catches the eye. If he fights and beats Mikey Garcia (which is not a given in either respect) and two or three other top-tier opponents before the end of the decade, one could argue that he would deserve the honor. … I was the 2018 recipient of the BWAA’s Nat Fleischer Award for excellence in boxing journalism over a career. I’m grateful for my years in this wonderful sport and I’m grateful for the colleagues who honored me in such a way.
Michael Rosenthal is the 2018 recipient of the Boxing Writers Association of America’s Nat Fleischer Award for excellence in boxing journalism. He has covered boxing for almost three decades.