Well it appears to be official that one of the most talked-about emerging stars and top pound-for-pound fighters in boxing is going to get a chance to win a title in a third weight division in just his 12th fight as a pro; truly amazing. Of course I’m talking about WBO junior lightweight title holder Vasyl Lomachenko 10-1 (8) who challenges WBA lightweight titlist Jorge Linares 44-3 (27) this coming May 12 at New York’s Madison Square Garden.
Lomachenko is really a special talent and the high praise he gets may soon be warranted. Well, it’s actually more than high praise. I’ve read where some have said he’s already an all-time great and compares favorably alongside Willie Pep and Roberto Duran. Although I’m not there yet, I must admit that every time I see Lomachenko fight he adds another building block to help further endorse this opinion. And if he beats Linares, as I expect him to do, the train to the International Boxing Hall of Fame will pick up a little more head wind.
What makes Lomachenko so special is he has a fighting style along with great athleticism and a high boxing IQ that allows him to match up with most styles. He also has the best footwork in boxing and can pivot on a dime while standing in front of his opponents and make them miss, forcing them to punch from their blind side, leaving them open to his counters and flurries. And unlike most flashy boxers with great speed, instead of making you have to look for him, he comes to you and presents a target that appears to be right there – and most fighters will let their hands go when the target is that inviting.
However, things go south in a hurry once they miss him enough times so that they can no longer sell themselves that he was more lucky than good. And once he senses they’re second guessing themselves, he puts more pressure on them and soon they pay for their misses. Once they’ve become embarrassed from missing and getting countered, they stop punching and that’s when he really tantalizes them with his quick hands and unconventional punching angles. This has led his last four opponents to throw in the towel because being laughed at and humiliated hurts more than being knocked out or beaten up. And if you didn’t know, world class fighters fear being embarrassed more than being overwhelmed and beaten up physically.
I don’t expect the 32-year old Linares to be outclassed as badly as every other Lomachenko opponent aside from Orlando Salido, who defeated him in Vasyl’s second pro fight. Linares has good tools and isn’t going into a gun fight with a knife. My question is whether he can adapt enough to do the things necessary to give himself a chance. Does he have enough strength and punch to make Lomachenko uncomfortable doing what he does best or do things he doesn’t want to? If Linares could put enough hurt on him with a few shots, Vasyl won’t be as free flowing with the thought in his head being that one good one from the other guy could get him in trouble.
Also, will Linares be pro-active or reactive? If the latter, he has no chance. Linares must try to incorporate some of the Salido formula even though Lomachenko has improved dramatically since that fight. And forget about trying to out-slick him, you must bully him, and that’s not Linares’ style or mindset. Jorge is more of a counter puncher; the problem is you can’t wait on this guy. You must be first and go to the body hard before you work up top and sometimes it’ll require muscling him with your upper core and shoulders, and once you have him positioned to where there’s only one side to escape, you punch where he’ll be instead of where he is. But it’s imperative to make contact with some part of his body even if it’s not the intended target……much easier said than done against Lomachenko, who although not a big puncher, has more ring applicable strength than he’s credited for.
In addition to needing to fight the perfect fight, Linares has two liabilities, aside from his susceptibility to being cut, that could be stumbling blocks and they are his speed and his predictability. Jorge has better than average speed, but he’s clearly slower of both hand and foot than Lomachenko. He must accept that he’s going to be second all night long and keep trying to force Vasyl to the ropes. As for his predictability, yes, Jorge can throw every punch in the book with good form and leverage, but he isn’t too imaginative offensively and to be most effective he has to have his legs set because he isn’t terribly effective when he’s a little off kilt. And if we know anything for sure about Lomachenko it’s that he’s mastered taking away his opponent’s balance.
If Lomachenko beats Linares convincingly, the accolades will mount. I get how impressive it will be if he picks up a third title in just 12 pro fights, but Lomachenko isn’t the average 12-fight pro. Having almost four hundred amateur fights and competing in two Olympics is as near to a pro as one can get. In fact, during his amateur days he was not only sparring and working with pros but he was probably putting more time in than most pros. If he were so green, then why in his second pro bout was he almost a 5-1 favorite over Orlando Salido who entered their fight 41-12-2? Perhaps those in the know really did grasp how valuable all those amateur fights against international competition were when coupled with Vasyl’s off the chart ability, because it’s not as if Salido was a soft touch (and interestingly, although it’s never brought up, Orlando has gone 2-2-2 since beating Lomachenko).
Vasyl Lomachenko has been great for boxing. He’s probably brought some new boxing fans into the sport. However, as great as he’s been, there’s much about him we don’t know such as how he reacts to adversity, what kind of a punch he takes, and whether he’s vulnerable to any particular style. At this point, anything stated as a fact pertaining to those questions is just a guess. My guess is that if he’s vulnerable to any style it’s versus a fighter who is rugged and willing to rough him up, which isn’t how Linares goes about his business in the ring.
Eventually Vasyl Lomachenko will be tested and only then will we know how truly great he is. It’s possible he could be even better than his most ardent supporters think. If he defeats Linares, the biggest fighter he will have fought with world class skill, will that be enough? I don’t think so.
Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com
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