NEW YORK – The early-shift bellman at the Row NYC Hotel, an avid boxing fan, was raving over what he’d seen the previous night on ESPN from a very slick, highly skilled, tremendously entertaining southpaw from a distant land. Vasiliy Lomachenko, he informed a departing guest whose luggage identified him as a fellow fight buff, was eerily reminiscent of another very slick, highly skilled, tremendously entertaining southpaw from a distant land who had captured the bellman’s heart years earlier.
“That Lomachenko guy is a lot like (Manny) Pacquiao,” the bellman opined, still pumped from the kind of rush that comes from having witnessed a competitive, two-way clash involving elite practitioners of the pugilistic arts. “He and Pacquiao are both lefthanders, they make those quick, subtle pivots, they throw punches in bunches, they always want to get their man out of there. Fighters like that are the reason I love the sport.”
The parallels between Lomachenko, the Ukrainian wunderkind, and Pacquiao, the Fab Filipino who at 39 is edging ever closer to retirement from the ring, are many and obvious. Both have made boxing history; Pacquiao as the first and to date only fighter to have won world championships in eight weight classes, from flyweight to welterweight, and Loma (11-1, 9 KOs) as the fastest fighter to win world titles in three weight classes, his 10th round stoppage on Saturday night of WBA lightweight champion Jorge Linares (44-4, 27 KOs) coming in just his 12th professional bout.
But if the 30-year-old Lomachenko has any notions of continuing to add to his collection of weight-class belts, he might soon discover the perils of taking the elevator up to higher-poundage divisions where merely good titlists, if they enjoy a significant enough size advantage, can at least neutralize the two-time Olympic gold medalist and evolving legend’s presumed superiority in talent. As a noted football coach once observed, “Good and big beats good and little.” More often than not, anyway.
While it was widely acknowledged that Linares, a Venezuelan who came in on a 13-bout winning streak over six years, including seven world title bouts, might pose the most difficult test yet encountered by Lomachenko, few boxing insiders outside of Linares’ home country or inner circle actually expected him to, you know, win. But there the underdog champion was after nine rounds, not only hanging tough but, at least on the official scorecards, with more than an outside chance to pull an upset against a man viewed by many as the best pound-for-pound fighter on the planet and who had received the Sugar Ray Robinson Award as 2017’s Fighter of the Year just the night before at the Boxing Writers Association of America’s Awards Dinner. Thanks in no small part by the knockdown of a surprised Lomachenko he registered in the sixth round, Linares led 86-84 on judge Robin Taylor’s card, trailed by the same margin on Steve Weisfeld’s and was knotted at 85 on Julie Lederman’s. A strong finishing kick and he could have sent a pro-Loma crowd of 10,429 in Madison Square Garden home surprised and disappointed.
But Lomachenko, whose level of domination had caused his previous four victims to run up the white flag of surrender rather than to remain on the wrong end of beatdowns, had to be just as aware that victory on this night was not ensured. His perceptive father-trainer, Anatoly Lomachenko, had told him to go to the body more, a strategy that proved right on the money in the decisive 10th round as Loma put together a lovely five-punch combination capped by a wide left to the liver that sent Linares crashing to the canvas in obvious distress. Although Linares stumbled to his feet a tick before the count of 10, referee Ricky Gonzalez saw he was in no shape to continue and waved a halt to the proceedings after an elapsed time of 2 minutes, 8 seconds.
“He has very good body work,” Linares said of Lomachenko’s more focused later-round targeting of the mid-section. “His punches to the body surprised me. The first one I took well, but the second one he caught me and surprised me.”
While Team Linares complained that Gonzalez’s decision to award Lomachenko a TKO was premature, and that an immediate rematch might be in order — a reasonable request considering the bout that had just taken place could well wind up as a Fight of the Year candidate — speculation shifted to the new 135-pound titlist turning his attention to a possible Aug. 25 unification showdown in Los Angeles against the winner of the July 28 unification matchup of WBC lightweight ruler Mikey Garcia (38-0, 30 KOs) and IBF champ Robert Easter Jr. (21-0, 14 KOs).
Lomachenko’s promoter, Top Rank founder Bob Arum, confirmed that Lomachenko probably will fight somebody on Aug. 25, and preferably another lightweight champion as he intends to remain at 135 pounds for a while and to fully unify the division.
“I’m always interested in unifying a title,” Lomachenko, who speaks English but haltingly, said in Russian, his words translated by his manager, Egis Klimas. “That is why I came to this weight class. That’s what I will be looking for.”
With any luck, the next lightweight who swaps punches with Lomachenko won’t actually be a welterweight, or even a junior middleweight, come fight night. Not only was Linares taller (5-8 to 5-7) and with a longer reach (69 inches to 65½) but he appeared to be visibly heavier. Although both fighters came in at 134.6 pounds at Friday’s weigh-in, there was a report that Lomachenko had rehydrated only up to 138 pounds while Linares had ballooned to 152.
“I don’t know where that 152 came from, but he’s probably, like, 141 right now,” said Linares’ translator Robert Diaz, seemingly indignant at any suggestion that he was that much larger than Lomachenko. “He never weighed 152. That’s a mistake.”
Arum also feigned indignation at the supposed weight disparity, saying, “What kind of stupid question is that?” to the media member who raised an issue that seemed evident to just about everybody.
That would be the same Bob Arum who, two days earlier, had told another reporter that Lomachenko “doesn’t put on unnecessary weight because that slows him down” and that “Linares probably will go in at 150, 155, something like that, so Loma is giving away a lot of weight.”
For his part, Lomachenko did not seem worried in the least that he might now be seen as “also human being” instead of as a once-in-a-generation force of nature against whom mere mortals have no chance of conquering.
Asked if being knocked down and pressed most of the way by Linares might prove beneficial to him in a way, Lomachenko said, “That is what I told Carl Moretti (a Top Rank vice president) in the ring. I said, `Right now it’s going to be much easier for you to get opponents for me.’”
In the other televised bout, rising welterweight prospect Carlos Adames (14-0, 11 KOs), of the Dominican Republic, did little to harm his stock with a 10-round unanimous decision over Mexico’s Alejandro Barrera (27-5, 17 KOs). Other undercard fights of interest saw featherweight Michael “Mick” Conlan (7-0, 5 KOs), a 2016 Olympic bronze medalist for Ireland, score an eight-round unanimous decision over Spain’s Ibon Larrinaga (10-2, 2 KOs); 2016 U.S. Olympian Mikaela Mayer (5-0, 3 KOs) beat Baby Nansen (6-3-1) of New Zealand on a six-round decision in a female lightweight bout; Brooklyn-born lightweight Teofimo Lopez (9-0, 7 KOs) starch Brazil’s Vitor Freitas (13-2, 7 KOs) in one round, and Marine Corps veteran Jamel Herring (17-2, 9 KOs) stop Mexico’s Juan Pablo Sanchez (29-16, 14 KOs) in the fifth round of a scheduled eight-round lightweight tiff.
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