This Saturday the 12th of May the #1 pound for pound fighter in the world Vasyl Lomachenko will face Jorge Linares. Without a doubt the most dangerous fight of his career since his one and only loss. Loma has ridden the lightning all the way to the top of the boxing world, he has all the accolades and next level skills. Meanwhile, Linares has been toiling for years in comparative obscurity. It’s the tale of two fighters and two very different paths to this fight.
Jorge Linares is a fascinating fighter - one of the more fascinating fighters in pro boxing thanks to the circuitous route he’s taken to world and lineal titles and mentions among the current top pound for pound best fighters in the world. Undoubtedly, if you don’t have Linares in your top 10 I bet you struggled to leave him off.
In any case, Linares’ unconventional story began in Barinas, Venezuela, at the foothills of the Andes mountains 33 years ago this coming August. Linares is a born fighter. He tore into the amateur ranks within Venezuela compiling a record of 89-5. By 17 he clamoured to turn pro, he would have been forced to wait until age 18 in Venezuela, so upon advice from fellow Venezuelan WBA president Gilberto Mendoza Linares booked a one way trip to Japan turning pro immediately.
He hooked up with the renowned Teiken Boxing Club in Tokyo, the 90 plus-year-old institution of the sweet science has produced and or managed fighters like Edwin Valero, Roman Gonzalez, Shinsuke Yamanaka, Takashi Miura and many more. There Linares came under the tutelage of Sendai Tanaka. The two were a natural fit. Tanaka had himself been a world traveller during his own short pro career stopping in Mexico and Argentina. Tanaka had become fluent in Spanish and over the years had gained a considerable recognition for his sage counsel in the corner. Famously Tanaka formulated the strategy for Marco Antonio Barrera that broke Prince Naseem Hamed that night in Vegas.
So with a team in place Linares turned pro on 15 December 2002 with a 1st round KO at the Prefectural Gymnasium in Osaka. From there on Linares attempted to mature as a boxer and assimilated into the traditional society of Japan. Linares was with Tanaka for nearly a decade and fought primarily in Japan.
Linares suffered his first defeat against teak tough journeyman Juan Carlos Salgado by TKO in just 73 seconds of round one. Linares was passive in defence and caught with a monster overhand right that dropped him like he’d been shot. After taking the standing eight count Salgado did what you should in that situation and jumped on the still dazed Linares forcing the stoppage. Linares was now 27-1.
He rebounded however with four wins, two by knockout. Yet, it was apparently time for a change. Linares left Japan and headed west for Los Angeles, California and the famed Wild Card boxing gym, home of Manny Pacquiao and Freddie Roach.
The relationship started out well enough with a 7th round KO for Linares over Adrian Verdugo. Things quickly soured as Linares was stopped in his next two fights against Sergio Thompson and Antonio DeMarco.
Barbs and insults were traded back and forth. Freddie questioned Linares’ work ethic and heart called him a quitter in the ring - that was the reason he lost to DeMarco & Thompson. Linares took Freddie to task for his inattention, saying he focused on Manny exclusively.
Regardless, by 2012 Linares was shit canned by many boxing fans and media. His Career seemed Dead On Arrival.
It was recommended that Linares change direction again this time bringing on sought after Cuban trainer Ismael Salas. Since the pairing Linares has won two versions of the lightweight title and rattled off 12 straight wins over the last six years. He holds the WBA and Lineal lightweight championships and is feared and respected for his hand speed, fluidity and grit - in spite of what Freddie Roach says.
Linares grew tremendously under the guidance of Salas who brought fundamental balance and improved the defence to one of the most offensively creative boxers in the sport.
When he’s switched on as he was against Anthony Crolla in back to back fights Linares has never looked better.
However, there are several knocks on Linares. He often retreats into his shell as he did early in his career when pressured, bending at the waist, balling up moving straight back. His tissue paper skin cuts easily - he was an absolute bloody mess in his loss to DeMarco and bleeds profusely even in many of the fights he wins! Finally when he seems uninterested in fights like against Luke Campbell and most recently against Mercito Gesta where he faced down Freddie Roach in the opposing corner he looks less impressive and allows fighters back in when he should have won those contests comfortably.
All that said, Linares is a beast, at Lightweight! He will have a three-and-a-half inch reach advantage and will be closer to the size Salido was when Loma first tasted defeat.
Linares has been there and done it. He’s toiled behind the scenes labouring in his craft to get better with each outing. He’s picked up titles and hard-fought wins all without much fanfare. He’s travelled the globe and studied under truly great trainers and no doubt learned even from the losses and broken relationships.
Linares is that Old Lion, patrolling his territory for upstarts and unlike Loma’s last four opponents and contrary to what Freddie Roach says, there is no quit in Jorge Linares.
According to folklore the great blues musician Robert Johnson met with Satan himself at a crossroads in Mississippi - once there Johnson bargained with the Devil that in exchange for his very soul he would be gifted the skills to become the greatest and most successful blues artist of all time.
Johnson’s life and death are mostly a subject of mystery lacking incredible scholarship.
The mythos surrounding Vasyl Lomachenko has similarly grown with each fight and each victory.
Watching Loma at work in the ring one would be forgiven for believing that the young man made a similar Devil’s Bargain.
Brutal and beautiful - like a spinning guillotine he danced and whirled around his opponent chopping them with accurate hard punches and unrelenting pressure, first with his feet overwhelming his opponent claiming space and taking attacking angles - then with punches unleashed from every direction - straight to the solar plexus - hooks to the jaw and temple - he’s in range - then back out…
Loma is perpetual motion.
He has the dynamism of Canizales.
The elusiveness of Pep.
The pressure and precision chaos of Duran.
And he’s only getting better.
Loma has made his last four opponents quit on the stool either on the advice of their corner by their own admission - uttering the words: No Mas.
They all said to themselves That won’t be me, I’ll never quit…
Will Jorge Linares become the 5th man to quit?
The Art of War
If you know the enemy and know yourself you need not fear the results of a hundred battles.
Loma knows the results of several hundred battles since he has clocked nearly 400 amateur bouts culminating in back to back Olympic Gold Medals. Now eleven fights into his pro career it’s no wonder he’s unphased entering the ring against anyone, from Orlando Salido to El Chacal. The same it should follow against Jorge Linares.
However, Loma is parachuting onto the 10th floor.
Linares has fought as a full-fledged lightweight for nearly 10 years. Linares will enjoy more than an inch in height and 3 ½” in reach. He will be the bigger man probably by as much as 8-10 pounds on the night. One knock against Loma remains that he does not seem to have true punching power, however few in and around this weight class possess it either.
However, with greater than a 70% finish rate, a rate that has improved as Loma has polished a professional, ruthless style the volume of punches even their objective power is secondary to the accuracy and timing with which he throws them.
Can Linares weather the storm that’s coming? To do so he’ll have to be first. He will also need to make it ugly as Salido did and target the body relentlessly. The only way to slow down a fighter like Loma who mentally as much as physically will exhaust opponents is to destroy the gas tank that makes it possible. By targeting Loma’s body he can make every deep inhalation feel like breathing in molten shards of glass.
This strategy will be a two-edged sword for Linares for two major reasons.
One, he will be open to Loma’s high amplitude attack as he wades in. Linares cuts easily and detests being pressured. If Loma pushes him back, lets his hands go or presents an evasive target Linares will wind up following Loma and will lose that game in embarrassing fashion.
To fight this type of fight - ugly - close and blood for blood will be to play well against type for Linares who likes the fight at mid and long range. He likes to counter and prefers a slower controlled pace, then again everyone looks slow compared to the type of offence that Loma brings.
Ismael Salas remade Jorge Linares into a much more fundamentally sound, tactical and defensively responsible fighter. Unfortunately, that is not the style best suited to defeat Vasyl Lomachenko. Interestingly, Salas will be absent this Saturday. In fact for much of Linares’ camp Salas has been MIA. Instead, Salas posted up in David Haye’s camp ahead of his rematch with Tony Bellew in which Haye was handily defeated. Speculation swirled that there was a rift between Linares and Salas who have been together for over six years. Linares arguably has better upside than Haye considering Linares has World titles, is younger and Lomachenko is widely considered the best fighter in the world, defeating him straps a jet pack to your backside.
Linares would only say that a scheduling conflict arose with the timing of the Haye rematch which was rescheduled after the cancellation in December. We can all only wait to see if Salas’ absence in camp and corner will be a factor against the meticulous preparation of Team Loma
With the victory over Linares, this Saturday at Madison Square Garden Lomachenko will set another record for the fastest fighter to become a three weight world champion. We are truly witnessing something special here and living through history.
Linares will lose but will acquit himself better than Lomachenko’s last four opponents combined! It will be a tactical battle early but Loma’s pressure will wear on Linares as it does everyone else and ultimately Lomachenko should win a wide points decision - 8 rounds to 4 or 9 rounds to three - there or thereabouts.
Linares will not quit though. He’s too good, too skilled and too damned tough, this old lion will age before our eyes, however. The years of hard fights and drudgery will once again show on his face with welts and cuts - sweat will mix with blood and the other man’s hand will be raised in victory.
Linares is a very good fighter and not unlike Lomachenko in his athleticism talent and timing - Vasyl Lomachenko is just better.
After all only a lion can kill another lion...