Shock & Awe.
As fight week drew to its inexorable conclusion and the prospect of seeing WBA and Lineal lightweight champion Jorge Linares across the ring from Vasyl Lomachenko it dawned on me that many spoke of Loma’s victory as if it was a foregone conclusion - to that point on social media most of the hashtags read #LomaLinares seemingly giving short shrift to a boxer who has clearly been the best Lightweight in the world for some time now and a veteran with three times the fights Lomachenko has and you know - the World Champion.
Jorge Linares came in to the ring as the heavy underdog according to the Vegas odds and was being written off by most believing that Loma would toy with him until he felt like finishing the rugged Venezuelan or that worse yet, Linares would add his name to the list of fighters who fell to No Mas Chenko and would quit after dealing with the Ukrainian for a hand full of rounds.
For me, I was nervous all week and grew more nervous the day of the fight. I found myself pacing and playing multiple scenarios over in my head. My jaw was sore from clenching my teeth. This was the first fight I honestly was not utterly convinced Loma could win.
I crawled out of my hovel and joined Jason Scalzo who runs the Boxing Is Love program for us here at BOXRAW having just arrived back from a successful maiden voyage to Liberia to bring his dream and that of the Save More Kids organization to a reality. I was met by some of his friends from the local boxing gym they all train at. Not one of them shared my concern. They all anticipated an abrupt end to Linares’ run as Lightweight champion.
I never wanted to be so wrong in my life!
The bell for round one sounded - and I paused in space - disbelieving what I was actually seeing.
This was happening!
Loma and Linares met in centre ring jockeying for position, Loma level changed and feinted testing the champion. Loma looked a bit stiff and the size difference between the two was stunning. The massive back of Jorge Linares rippled - he looked every bit the Lion, every bit as intimidating as I had conceived of him in my mind.
Linares pushed forward, jabbing, the two men came into close contact toward the end of round one and Linares was clearly the stronger man, Loma fought to break free. It’s not as though Loma cannot fight on the inside or grapple - Loma studied Judo, freestyle wrestling and Russian Sambo throughout his youth and adolescence - Loma needs to be free, in constant motion to apply pressure in a boxing ring, however.
Round 2 was shocking from the perspective that Loma already appeared to have collected enough data to calculate range. His movement was more fluid. Linares would need to be first in this fight to be effective however he was several beats slower than Loma who was able to unleash 3-4 punch combinations; double jab-left straight to the body - lead uppercut! Loma has progressed rapidly because he had continued to develop and refine a ruthless pro-style, here in the early rounds it was his amateur boxing pedigree that shown through, his ability to score with accurate shots; touch-touch - move - touch - touch… enough sting on everything to frustrate Linares who also found tracking the beautiful pivots and footwork of the Ukrainian nearly impossible. Linares did stand his ground and landed some hard right-hand counters of his own partially blocked by Loma’s high guard. Tellingly Loma landed a right hook to Linares’ body that would foreshadow things to come.
Linares though an unwilling dance partner fell into a trap of allowing Loma to lead, one humorous incident in round three occurred as Linares struggled to track Loma the two became entangled and Loma evading his opponent had held Linares around the waist spinning him in a 360, one of many reasons the two men gave the 10,000 plus in Madison Square Garden reason to stand and cheer!
Through four rounds it appears Loma is in complete control, launching his attack from mid-range with a straight left to the body pivoting to his right and landing a left uppercut-right hook. Linares did catch Loma with one straight right hand that buckled his legs ever so slightly but Loma otherwise seemed in complete control to this point.
Round five was an escalation by Loma, a master class of pressuring footwork - Linares was the bigger man however as former champ Timothy Bradley opined Linares was sacrificing his height and reach advantage to Loma who continued to bully him. A blistering combination by Loma put the exclamation point on a dominant round and as the two men stalked off to their corners the frustration was etched on Linares’ face.
Why Do We Fall?
By the sixth round, I had Loma up four rounds. Linares was still very much in the fight but it was clearly slipping well away from him. Loma was breaking him with the unrelenting pressure continuing to land in combination and always circling to the right to safety, changing levels presenting a constantly moving target. Linares did land a brief shoeshine combination on Loma who walked right through it - meanwhile, Linares’ left eye was swollen and the cut prone fighter would not benefit from wearing any more damage on his face in the heretofore one-sided match.
Then the unthinkable - Loma followed Linares straight in and was caught with a picture perfect right straight that decked the phenom!
Loma bounced up before referee Ricky Gonzalez even started his eight counts. Again, even in ultimately losing the round 10-8 Loma showed the calmness of a veteran. He took the eight count and road out the remaining 25 seconds returning to his corner to regroup with chief second - his father Anatoly.
Linares was far more effective in the seventh round then at any point in the fight thus far, he landed several hard combinations, however, was unable to truly apply the pressure he would need to take advantage of the momentum shift following the knockdown. Nevertheless a solid round in the bank for Linares. With the knockdown and now a 10-9 round the gap was closing between the two fighters.
In round eight not much separated the two fighters they each fought to land their jabs and follow up power shots. Loma was taking a slight edge down to his unceasing pressure, neither man was targeting the body any longer - both were head hunting. Late in the round, the swelling over Linares’ left eye finally gave way to a cut and a trickle of blood… Loma caught a second wind - increasing the pressure even further he targeted the cut mercilessly. Veteran cutman Rudy Hernadez would have his work cut out for him before round nine to close Linares’ delicate skin.
Urgency filled the corner of Linares and that same urgency afflicted Jorge Linares himself who was able to shut down Loma in the ninth round. Linares controlled the middle distance was Loma likes to be and made it uncomfortable for the Ukrainian to linger there. Linares unloaded a furious combination while Loma hardly landed a thing.
At the break I had the fight level; 85-85, judge Julie Lederman also had the fight level and the two remaining judges had each fighter up on their respective cards by two points.
Anatoly instructed his son to target Linares body again where he had success in the first half of the fight, the straight left to the body and right hook were particularly effective.
Linares exploded out of his corner to begin round ten - round ten for all intents and purposes was a tactical fist fight. Both men let their hands go, Linares’ footwork also seemed to catch up to Loma’s and pivoted beautifully to his right letting sharp 1-2s fly… Linares relaxed for a moment and Loma crept inside. Loma started a torrid combination that he began with an overhand left above the temple of Linares and a sneaky left uppercut that froze Linares in his tracks - instinctively Linares shelled up in a high guard and Loma was able to take an angle blasting a picture-perfect left hook to the liver of the champion!
Linares crumbled to the canvas and the ref began the count in Spanish…
Linares barely rose to his feet at nine-and-a-half as Ricky Gonzalez waved the fight off having reached 10 and with that Vasyl Lomachenko was victorious.
Seems obvious that Loma has cemented now his place as the #1 pound for pound best boxer in the sport. This was a courageous performance not unlike Anthony Joshua who climbed off the canvas ironically in the sixth round also to become champion.
Madison Square Garden erupted, they were witnessing a historic moment, a special fighter and a brilliant fight.
These two men gave us arguably the best fight this year and one of the best lightweight fights in years - historically speaking that is no mean feat.
The two men never entered into an insipid twitter beef, parents would not be embarrassed by foul language and insults during the build up. The two men conducted themselves as gentleman warriors.
For Jason Scalzo and myself in a dinky bar in Nowhere South Carolina, we were overawed. As ecstatic as we both were I still had the presence of mind to observe the room. Throughout the ten rounds, people cheered and clapped oohed and awed with every punch both men landed - especially Lomachenko… it bears mention that this fight took place in the middle of the NBA playoffs and also opposing the beginning of the main card for UFC 224, yet all eyes were on the screen for the two men in the squared circle as the house audio system delivered the cheers of the MSG crowd and ringside commentary.
Jason Scalzo correctly observed that the fight delivered on every level - the action is seen in the ring lived up to the expectations that came with two of the worlds best pound for pound fighters facing each other fearlessly.
Linares vs Lomachenko for the WBA Lightweight and Lineal world title is everything boxing should aspire to be.
And Vasyl Lomachenko is a star. Period.