Legacies on the line: Lomachenko vs Linares preview
Luke G. Williams
BM online's pound for pound number one Vasyl Lomachenko faces the highly experienced and accomplished Jorge Linares this Saturday night in a tantalising lightweight clash...
In the space of just eleven professional fights, Ukrainian sensation Vasyl Lomachenko has torn up the boxing rule book, fighting for a world title in just his second pro fight (a controversial loss to Orlando Salido) and winning one in his third start (against the accomplished Gary Russell Jr).
Since then the two-time Olympic gold medallist has also swept aside fighters of the calibre of Nicholas Walters and Guillermo Rigondeaux while barely raising a sweat, his 'Matrix'-style footwork and 'matador feints' leaving both men demoralised to the extent that they quit on their stools. Indeed, Lomachenko has now forced four opponents in a row to 'quit', earning him the amusing sobriquet 'NoMasChenko'.
On Saturday night, Lomachenko faces the biggest challenge of his career so far when he moves up 5lbs from the super-feather division, where BM ranks him first, to take on lightweight divisional king Jorge Linares, regarded by many, including The Ring magazine, to be the lineal champion of the 135lbs class.
The showdown at New York City's legendary venue Madison Square Garden thus offers Lomachenko the opportunity - for the first time - to secure a lineal title, having been unable to do so at either feather or super feather. As such, it is a contest which marks a significant step in his quest to build a legacy which places him among the top rung of talent from boxing history.
For Linares too, this is a potentially defining fight, after years in which his silky skills have been under-appreciated, during which he has often had to display his talents 'on the road' in a peripatetic career which has taken in locales as far flung and contrasting as Japan, Mexico, Panama and England.
Already 30 years of age, time is not necessarily on Lomachenko's side in his desire to prove his greatness, particularly as he is a fighter who relies on speed and reflexes. Against the well-schooled 32-year-old Venezuelan Linares, the Ukrainian also faces a significant size disadvantage, with marked, although not necessarily debilitating, deficits in both height and reach.
However, it is the differential in size that is most significant - like Lomachenko, Linares may have begun his professional career at featherweight, and has even fought as a super bantam, but he turned pro at only 17 and has campaigned at 135lbs since 2010. In contrast, Lomachenko could probably still make featherweight with ease, and now finds himself fighting for the first time in a new weight class against a high quality veteran of 47 ring combats.
Linares possesses speed that is arguably the equal of Lomachenko's, and on his day is a superb counter-puncher who throws excellent combinations. Defensively, however, he is somewhat suspect, and his chin is not the most solid around, with all three of his reverses having come via stoppage.
Question marks also remain about Linares' ability to best truly world-class foes, with his career lacking - up until now - a truly defining victory. Indeed, his triumphs against Anthony Crolla (twice) and Oscar Larios are arguably his best victories to date, while he was forced to engage in tough struggles with Brits Luke Campbell and Kevin Mitchell.
Having said that, Linares is full of confidence, having not lost since 2012, and has assured fans and the media that "I have my plan" to upset the Ukrainian. If Linares can use his greater weight and length to hurt Loma early on, then it is possible to foresee him being able to pick up points with his jab, while smothering Loma in the clinches with his superior strength, in order to force an upset victory on the cards.
However, it's a big 'if'.
Lomachenko has, apparently, only ever been floored once, in the amateurs in 2007, and it seems unlikely that Linares will be able to land cleanly or consistently enough to force a stoppage.
A more likely outcome is that Lomachenko's mobility and ability to find unusual angles will succeed in finding significant holes in Linares' defence by the third or fourth round of the fight, which he will be able to increasingly exploit as the contest develops.
It will most likely take longer for Lomachenko to become dominant than he took against Walters and Rigondeaux, but I expect him to win clearly via the scorecards, or even by late stoppage if Linares' tendency to cut up around the face once again surfaces.