It may be hard for the casual fan or boxing writer to understand, but professional fighters would rather be knocked out than embarrassed. Getting KO’d is a byproduct of boxing at the highest level and there are only a handful of all-time greats who were never stopped. However, being embarrassed and demoralized is something else altogether. And in 11 professional bouts Vasyl Lomachenko has basically toyed with all but maybe two of his mostly world class opponents as if he were the alley cat and they were the church mouse. He humiliated his last four opponents so much so that either they or someone in their corner ended what was becoming a charade.
Lomachenko 10-1 (8) compiled a 396-1 record as an amateur and won two Olympic gold medals. He made his pro debut a little over four-and-a-half years ago and after just seven fights he was a two-weight division titlist. And if he defeats Jorge Linares 44-3 (27) this weekend at Madison Square Garden he’ll have won a third title in a third different division. And if he jogs past Linares it’s a big deal. In spite of being slightly past his peak, Linares has won 13 consecutive fights dating to October of 2012 and seven of those were lightweight title bouts. Including WBC lightweight champ Mikey Garcia, Linares is the second or third best fighter at 135, so if he can’t lay a glove on Lomachenko that’s off the chart.
Jorge Linares is an action fighter and has never shied away from a good fight, but that mindset isn’t conducive to blunting Lomachenko, simply because that’s not how he rolls. Vasyl approaches his bouts with the sole purpose of out-boxing and frustrating his opponents. He gets as much pleasure from making his opponents awkwardly miss and then laughing at them as he counters and scores. That is what he feeds off and the more frustrated he senses his opponent becoming, the more pronounced his feints and gyrations become.
What makes the southpaw Lomachenko difficult to attack is his unorthodox style. Compounding the problem, he’s an intuitive fighter with an uncanny sense of anticipation. I’ve seen a few fighter breakdowns of him and typically those who constructed the tape over-thought it, and that’s something Vasyl doesn’t do in the ring – he never over thinks. He’s an instinctive fighter who grasps how vulnerable an opponent can be rendered if they’re forced to reach and lunge and miss the target. He’s combined unorthodox looks and half feints beautifully and then processes his opponent’s predicament and works off of that.
To repeat what I’ve written before, “What makes him 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.”
For a structured or conventional boxer, Lomachenko’s style is a nightmare because it breaks all the rules. For Linares, the key to winning is one simple thing. It isn’t foot placement or applying imaginary boxing lore because that only works in theory. The key for Linares is “being proactive instead of reactive – not waiting and then trying to react to what Lomachenko does or attempts to do because it’ll be too late by then.” Instead, Jorge must occupy Lomachenko and go first, preferably to the body, thus disrupting him…much like Orlando Salido did in Lomachenko’s second pro bout when Vasyl incurred his only defeat.
Salido is the only opponent who has really implemented the rough and tumble style against Lomachenko. Sure, Vasyl has improved since then, but that doesn’t change what he’s stylistically vulnerable to. Lomachenko is at his best when he isn’t pressured. Allowing him to fight at his leisure and pick his spots is ring suicide. Controlled aggression is imperative when fighting him because if you don’t give him something he must address, he will take it to you and end up controlling the terms of the fight.
Orlando Salido couldn’t care less how he looked when he fought Lomachenko; all that mattered to him was getting the job done, which he did. In an odd way Salido may have provided the only blueprint on how to fight Lomachenko, but if the fighter challenging him isn’t built for that style or that’s not who he is, it’s a tall task to execute. Linares is an elegant fighter and shouldn’t worry about being embarrassed. It’s not going to feel natural to him to put a lot of pressure on his opponent and occasionally be left standing there staring at empty space, but that’s what he’ll need to do. Pressure, going to the body and timing will be the keys for Jorge if he hopes to have any success.
Fighting Vasyl Lomachenko with his remarkable stamina is tough enough without taking into consideration a looming out-of-the-ring issue that I haven’t seen addressed anywhere. Oh, you’re no doubt tired of hearing me talk about it, but no sophisticated boxing observer would attempt to deny it…..and that is that Linares has no shot to win a decision based on Vasyl’s flashy style and the business side of boxing.
Lomachenko is new and different. New is always a plus but when you add different to it, boxing fans marvel at what seems foreign to them, and the way Lomachenko has taken the boxing world by storm, the legend grows with every victory, so much so that he’s captured the attention of a few prominent MMA fighters and commentators. So if anyone thinks the boxing establishment is going to let that slip away on a close decision – versus an opponent who is 32 years old who has been stopped and has struggled to get big fights his entire career…..forget it. In order for Linares to get a decision over Lomachenko, he’d have to beat him beyond recognition and I don’t think he has the speed or style to pull that off.
Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com
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