He had to survive a shocking sixth-round knockdown to do it, but Vasiliy Lomachenko showed boxing fans why he belongs at or near the top of the mythical pound-for-pound rankings as he scored a technical knockout over Jorge Linares at 2:08 of the 10th round to win the WBA lightweight championship Saturday night at Madison Square Garden. Lomachenko won his third world title in just his 12th professional fight, a record.
The two-time Olympic gold medalist from the Ukraine dominated much of the fight with speed that produced lightning combinations and a now-you-see-him, now-you-don’t defense. But he got careless in the sixth when Linares dropped him with a lead right hand.
Lomachenko quickly regained control. In the 10th, he caught Linares early with a sharp left to the chin that stopped him in his tracks. Three punches later, a vicious right to the body sent Linares down.
He got to his feet, but doubled over as if unable to shake the pain. Referee Ricky Gonzalez waved it over.
“The fight was getting interesting,” Linares said. “It was very close. But he surprised me with the body shot. I wanted to keep working, but the ref stopped the fight.”
To the surprise of many in the partisan crowd of 10,429, the judges had it an even fight. Steve Weisfeld had Lomachenko up 86-84; Robin Taylor favored Linares by the same score, and Julie Lederman had it even. Lomachenko was leading 87-83 on Newsday’s card.
Lomachenko said it’s not his job to comment on scores or the stoppage, but he gently suggested the end was appropriate.
“If the ref decides to stop it, it might be the right decision,” Lomachenko said. “You need to stand up for a couple of seconds and show you are able to continue.”
Lomachenko was moving up to the 135-pound class to challenge a champion who came in with a 13-fight winning streak, including seven title defenses. Lomachenko’s previous four opponents, including Guillermo Rigondeaux, quit on their stools, but Linares was a much different story because of his size advantage as a natural lightweight.
“It was a great fight,” Lomachenko said. “That right hand was a great punch . . . I prepared for the last few rounds, and my father [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.”
The pace in the early going was tepid as the two fighters sampled each other’s wares. Lomachenko threw at a higher rate, but Linares went to the body and showed that his size mattered in the clinches.
Lomachenko put sharp combinations of two, three, four punches together in the third and fourth rounds. Linares’ frustration with trying to connect became evident when they clinched in the fourth and he hit Lomachenko behind the head, drawing a warning from Gonzalez. As if to exact revenge, Lomachenko ended the fifth round with a brilliant combination of five or six head shots.
In the sixth, Lomachenko got too cocky near the end of the round. He walked toward Linares, who had his hands down. Linares then launched a short, sweet lead right hand to the chin of Lomachenko, who landed on the seat of his pants. He was up quickly, but it was a dramatic turn.
“I relaxed a little bit,” Lomachenko admitted. “I thought I did what I needed to do, but I was wrong and he caught me.”
Lesson learned for Lomachenko. Linares grew bolder over the next three rounds, but as close as the judges’ scores might have been, the ending was utterly decisive.
Asked if he was pushing for the knockout, Lomachenko said, “I wasn’t planning to do that, but I was looking for a punch. I’m glad I found it.”