Record: 10-1 (8 KO) ... Streak: W9 ... Last 5: 5-0 ... Last 10: 9-1 ... Stance: Southpaw ... Height/Reach: 5’7” / 65½” ... Age: 30
Two golds at the World Amateur Championships at different weights. Two Olympic gold medals at different weights. Now world titles at two different weights as a professional. And Vasyl Lomachenko, at 30, is maybe just getting started.
Lomachenko has created such buzz in boxing from his amateur days into his pro debut in 2013 that it’s hard to compare him to anyone else who’s come into the sport recently. He has the pedigree of pedigrees from his unpaid days, going an absurd 396-1 as an amateur fighter. When he turned professional, he fought a competent fighter, Jose Ramirez, who was 25-3, right out of the gate. He knocked him out in four rounds.
There is the one professional blemish, which people who insist on continuing to doubt the hype harp on endlessly. Lomachenko lost to Orlando Salido in March 2014, when Lomachenko targeted the WBO featherweight title in his second pro fight. It was a split decision. Salido missed weight. Referee Laurence Cole did Lomachenko no favors. “Excuses,” those same doubters might think. Nah — it happened. And Lomachenko learned from it. Learned that the pro game was more forgiving of a clever scrapper, a sometimes dirty fighter like Salido. Learned that you have to roll with it.
Over the second half of that fight, Lomachenko made some adjustments and nearly came out winning the thing. I scored it for Salido, for the record, so I’m not making the argument that Loma should have won the fight. It went the way it did.
And Lomachenko became a much better fighter than he already was, because he got that experience. It was surely unpleasant for him to lose, but we certainly found out one thing for sure: a loss does not ruin this man’s confidence. He took it and bounced back.
In fact, he bounced back so well that he fought for that same title, now vacant, in fight number three as a professional. He fought Gary Russell Jr, who may currently be the top featherweight in the sport these four years later. He beat Gary Russell Jr.
Since then, it’s been all about who will actually get in the ring with Lomachenko. Chonlatarn Piriyapinyo, Gamalier Rodriguez, and Romulo Koasicha tried their hand. All lost convincing, two were knocked out. In fact, Chonlatarn is the last man to go the distance with Lomachenko, and he was dropped and lost every round.
The run Loma’s been on since 2016 has been scary. He knocked out Rocky Martinez when he moved up to 130 to find better opponents willing to fight him. He made Nicholas Walters quit in seven. He made Jason Sosa quit in nine. He made Miguel Marriaga quit in seven. And his much-hyped showdown with fellow amateur legend and unbeaten pro Guillermo Rigondeaux was no different; Rigo quit in six and was seriously outgunned. (To be fair, Rigondeaux jumped two weight classes to make it happen, but his skills are such that everyone expected more than six rounds of one-way action.)
Who can beat Lomachenko? Hell, who can compete? Who can simply go the distance? Who won’t quit?
Loma has moved up again, searching for an opponent. He’s found one more than willing to get in the ring.
Record: 44-3 (27 KO) ... Streak: W13 ... Last 5: 5-0 ... Last 10: 10-0 ... Stance: Orthodox ... Height/Reach: 5’8” / 69” ... Age: 32
Jorge Linares was described by the late, great Emmanuel Steward as a “beautiful boxer.” That has always stuck with me. In truth, there’s nothing particularly flashy about Linares, not much really jumps off the screen about him unless you know what to look for, and listen, I’ve never been pretentious about this, I’m no genius, and I’m certainly no Emmanuel Steward.
So it took the likes of Steward and others to really help me understand Linares and why he’s so good, why he’s able to flow effortlessly around the ring while winning, seemingly, mostly on having great fundamentals. Because to my rube eye, that’s how it came off — this guy is winning with the basics.
And maybe he is! The basics are often abandoned by fighters who have more stylish ambitions, who want to “look good.” Linares looks good without trying. Is he a Lomachenko? No, he’s not. Lomachenko is really, I think, in a class of his own as a stylish fighter who also has beyond great fundamentals, a rare case where someone can mix it up like that without losing anything from either side.
Linares is just a hell of a good fighter. Maybe he’s not great. But I think that, at 32, he’s finally going to get a chance to prove whether he’s great or simply borderline on Saturday against Lomachenko.
Linares has won 44 fights as a professional, bounced back well from three tough defeats, and won world titles at 126 and 135, plus the WBA “world” title at 130, which you can count, and pretty much everyone does when listening his accolades. (In fact, the belt he has now is the WBA “world” title at 135, though he did hold the WBC belt at 135, too.)
What Linares lacks in his career is a big, signature win. His biggest victories have come on the road in the UK, where he became a killer import with wins over Kevin Mitchell and Anthony Crolla, twice, then beat former the UK’s Luke Campbell in California last September.
Lomachenko is a chance for Linares to not only confirm his excellence, but to reach a new level in his career, one that through all 44 of his wins he hasn’t really approached. He’s beaten good fighters, but never a great one.
Matchup Grade: A. It doesn’t really get a lot better than this in boxing right now. We’ve got the top super featherweight moving up to face the No. 2 lightweight. (I’m not going to say I think Linares is the top lightweight, even if it would make for a better story. That’s Mikey Garcia, since Mikey’s staying at 135 for now.) If Lomachenko impresses the way he’s done against others in this matchup, it says a lot. If Linares can so much as make this competitive, it says plenty. I don’t really know what I expect. It seems dismissive to expect Loma to dominate again, but he really might. He’s that good. And it seems crazy to think Linares might beat him, but he really might — he’s got the talent and Lomachenko is giving up some size. Hopefully, it’s a fight worth the hype.