Vasiliy Lomachenko dares once again to challenge himself with title fight vs. Jorge Linares
NEW YORK — Vasiliy Lomachenko is carving out quite the legacy, and he’s only getting started.
The two-time Olympic gold medalist is one of the best amateur fighters of all time, and he’s well on his way to making history in the pros, too. Well, more history, that is.
Even though he failed to top Orlando Salido to become the first fighter ever to win a title in his second pro bout, he became the second boxer to win a title in his third when he scored a wide points victory over Gary Russell Jr.
When he scored a spectacular knockout of Roman Martinez in 2016, Lomachenko (10-1, 8 knockouts) became the first two-division champion in just six pro fights. After claiming titles at 126 pounds and 130, the 30-year-old Ukrainian sets out to accomplish an even bigger challenge.
He meets RING lightweight champion Jorge Linares on Saturday at Madison Square Garden (8 p.m. ET, ESPN), and a victory would mark his greatest professional accomplishment to date. Not only would a win create more history for Lomachenko (quickest to become a three-division titleholder), it would prove his vast gifts aren’t limited by weight class.
After all, Linares is certainly the most athletically gifted and biggest fighter he will have ever faced.
“I want the big challenges, I want the big names and I want to win, win, win,” Lomachenko said Thursday with (manager Egis Klimas translating) at MSG shortly before the final news conference for his 135-pound championship fight. “Life is very short so I don’t want to waste my time with tune-up fights. I want the best fights. Out of my short boxing career, I want to do the best I can; the most I can.”
He’s already packed in plenty of accomplishments into his four-and-a-half-years in the paid ranks. Russell remains one of the best talents in the sport, and Lomachenko made him look ordinary. Nicholas Walters was bigger and ostensibly stronger than Loma, but he toyed with the Jamaican and made him quit out of frustration.
In fact, Lomachenko has forced his last four foes to surrender and earned the sobriquet “No-Mas-Chenko” along the way. None were more impressive than his complete undressing of Guillermo Rigondeaux in December, a fellow pound-for-pound entrant who also won earned two Olympic gold medals.
That performance came before a few thousand at the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden, but on Saturday, Lomachenko makes his debut in the main room before what promises to be a far larger audience of about 10,000.
His star continues to grow, and does the aura of invincibility surrounding him. And he as continues to prove his greatness — he’s now THE RING’s No. 3 pound-for-pound fighter but ranked No. 1 by many other outlets — he continues to test himself.
Linares (44-3, 27 KOs) was once a rising star with his uncanny blend of speed and athleticism, but his chin — and paper machete face — let him down. After two consecutive stoppage defeats — and three in seven fights — Linares was disregarded as a bust.
He managed to reel off 13 consecutive victories since that second-round stoppage loss to Sergio Thompson in March 2012 in Cancun, and now finds himself on the cusp of the pound-for-pound list himself; recognition that’s eluded him his entire career.
Linares has competed at 135 pounds since 2013. He’s a big, strong lightweight who will carry a substantial size advantage on Saturday. Sure, he’ll only have one in height and another three-and-a-half in reach on Lomachenko, but he’ll carry a much bigger frame into the fight.
“It’s my first time fighting at 135, I don’t know how I’m going to feel at 135,” Lomachenko said. “My weight is 130 pounds, I feel real good at 130.”
But 130 is gone for now. He’s stepping up against the division’s top dog in his just his first fight at the new weight. An unthinkable challenge for most, but Lomachenko wouldn’t have it any other way.
Mike Coppinger is the Senior Writer for RingTV.com. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeCoppinger