NEW YORK -- Vasyl Lomachenko faced adversity for the first time in his career, a sixth-round knockdown on a Jorge Linares straight right hand, but the two-time Olympic gold medalist rose to his feet, and stopped Linares in the 10th round with a beautiful left hand to the liver to win his third world title in as many weight classes Saturday at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
Lomachenko (11-1, 9 KO’s), 30, a Ukraine native fighting out of Oxnard, California, has now forced his last five opponents to halt their efforts before the distance : Guillermo Rigondeaux, Miguel Marriaga, Jason Sosa, and Nicholas Walters Moreover, before his sixth-round stoppage of Rigondeaux last December, Lomachenko said prior to the fight that he should be nicknamed “No Mas Chenko” if he was able to stop Rigondeaux.
Lomachenko did just that, and he has continued to break down his opponents both mentally and physically.
But this fight was not like every other bout. Lomachenko was sent to the floor for the first time in his professional career in the sixth-round by a counter straight right hand from Linares. Although he extended his unbeaten record, this is a lesson Lomachenko will remember for a long time.
“It was a great fight,” Lomachenko said. “That right hand [from Linares], it was a great punch. It happens,” Lomachenko said. “I prepared for the last few rounds, and my father [and trainer Anatoly] told me, ‘You need to go to the body.’ Linares is a great champion, and the fight was good for the fans and everybody.”
Predictions for the fight were all across the board, spanning from a blowout on points for Lomachenko, a stoppage victory, or a close win on points.
It ended up a potential Fight of the Year candidate, with a multitude of close rounds, and even a few surprises.
Linares kicked off the action with a jab to the body and Lomachenko came back with a short right hand. The first round was very close with most ringside observers split on who won the round.
The second round was another close one, but it appeared Lomachenko landed the more effective punches, including a left to the body, and a straight left to the head.
“He didn’t surprise me as I thought he was going to surprise me,” said Linares. “The fight was getting interesting. It was very close, but he did surprise me with that body shot. I wanted to continue. I wanted to keep working, but the ref stopped the fight.”
Lomachenko, a former duel Olympic gold medalist in 2008 and 2012, started to pick Linares apart in the third round with solid lefts and rights to the body, and an uppercut.
Linares (44-4, 27 KO’s), 32, a Venezuela native based in Tokyo, landed a few low blows and rabbit punches out of frustration, but was warned on multiple occasions by referee Ricky Gonzalez.
But Linares, a good boxer with solid fundamentals, did something that no fighter had ever done. He dropped Lomachenko with a counter right hand that he put all of his might in as the crowd of 10,429 rose to their feet.
Suddenly the cheers of “Loma! Loma!” were a little faint.
But Lomachenko regained his footing in the eighth round and began tagging Linares consistently with his right hand, but also landed an uppercut, and drew blood from Linares, who was bleeding around his left eye.
Linares has notoriously been cut many times throughout his career, but his cutman this evening was none other than Rudy Hernandez, whose fighters have not lost a bout due to a cut for the last five years.
Linares had another moment in the ninth round when he momentarily knocked Lomachenko off balance with a left hand. He also found the target with a left and a right, but was unable to follow up.
It seemed that Linares had given Lomachenko all that he had and had nothing else left in the tank, as a brutal left to the liver ended his chances.
However, Top Rank chairman Bob Arum, who promotes Lomachenko, praised both fighters at the post-fight news conference.
"I thought the fight showed Linares is a helluva fighter, and Loma just stayed in there and knocked him out with a body shot," Arum said. "He established himself as a great fighter. He has a fighting heart.”
Linares, a southpaw, thought the fight was stopped prematurely, but still credited Lomachenko for getting the win.
Said Linares: “The knockout punch was perfectly landed.”
According to CompuBox punch statistics, Lomachenko landed 213 of 627 punches (34 percent) and Martirosyan and Linares connected on 207 of 739 (28 percent).
At the time of the stoppage, the judges had the bout a majority draw. Lomachenko was ahead 86-84 on judge Steve Weisfeld's scorecard, while Linares was up by the same score on Robin Taylor's card, and Julie Lederman had the fight even.
Arum said Lomachenko will return on another Top Rank Boxing on ESPN main event on Aug. 25 at The Forum in Inglewood, California, which raises a lot of questions.
WBC lightweight champion Mikey Garcia is from the Golden State. Lomachenko could fight someone in the Los Angeles area to open himself up to the fanbase, which could add even more prestige and intrigue to a fight with Garcia, who is reportedly facing IBF lightweight world titleholder Robert Easter on July 28 in LA.
“I am always interested in unifying a title,” Lomachenko told FightNights.com. “That’s why I came to this weight class, [to fight Garcia] and that’s [the fight] I will be looking forward to.”
But Lomachenko won’t be facing Garcia right away. Raymundo Beltran (35-7-1, 21 KO’s), who won a vacant world title in February is “the obvious opponent” according to Arum.