NEW YORK — Pound-for-pound king and junior lightweight world champion Vasiliy Lomachenko entered the Madison Square Garden ring on Saturday night aiming to carve out yet another piece of boxing history. Now history is his once again.
Lomachenko survived a sixth-round knockdown and a very tough fight to score a 10th-round technical knockout of Jorge Linares on a body shot to take the lightweight world championship before 10,429 in the main event of the Top Rank Boxing on ESPN card.
With the victory, Lomachenko shattered the all-time boxing record for fewest fights needed to win a world title in three weight divisions, accomplishing that in just his 12th fight.
Lomachenko broke the record held by Australian legend Jeff Fenech, a Hall of Famer who won world titles at bantamweight and junior featherweight before winning a belt at featherweight in his 20th fight in 1988.
This was just another slice of history for Lomachenko, whose entire focus when he turned pro after winning Olympic gold medals for Ukraine in 2008 and 2012 was to make as much history as quickly as he could. He is widely considered the best amateur of all time — 396-1 — and he is convincingly making his case as the best of his time in the pro ranks.
In his third pro fight, Lomachenko toyed with Gary Russell Jr. to win a decision and featherweight world title, which allowed him to tie the record for fewest fights needed to claim a world title.
In his seventh fight, Lomachenko moved up to junior lightweight and scored a massive, fifth-round knockout of Roman “Rocky” Martinez to take his belt and set the record for fewest fights needed to win a world title in two weight classes.
Now Lomachenko (11-1, 9 KOs), who made all four of his 130-pound title challengers — Nicholas Walters, Jason Sosa, Miguel Marriaga and Guillermo Rigondeaux — quit, moved up to 135 pounds and seized the title from Linares (44-4, 27 KOs), considered the No. 1 lightweight in the world going into the fight.
“It was a great fight. That right hand [that knocked me down], it was a great punch. It happens,” Lomachenko said. “I prepared for the last few rounds, and my father [and trainer Anatoly Lomachenko] told me, ‘You need to go to the body.’
“Linares is a great champion, and the fight was good for the fans and everybody.”
Said Linares: “The knockout punch was perfectly landed.”
Top Rank chairman Bob Arum, who promotes Lomachenko, gave credit to both fighters.
“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, who has also won world titles at featherweight and junior lightweight, towered over the smaller Lomachenko and got his jab going in the opening round. He landed a couple of right hands to give Lomachenko something to think about. It had been a long time since an opponent had been remotely competitive against him in even a single round.
In the second round, Linares, 32, a Venezuela native fighting out of Las Vegas, landed a hard body shot and an uppercut, but Lomachenko immediately responded with a left hand that got the crowd excited as it began to chant “Loma! Loma! Loma!” He closed with a good flurry to force Linares back.
Lomachenko’s advantage in hand speed was evident in the third round as he peppered Linares with quick punches on the inside and then spun away before he could fire back.
By the fourth round, Linares’ right eye began to swell. He has had issues with cuts and swelling in the past, and there is a lot of scar tissue over his eye.
Linares, who was making the fourth defense of his second lightweight title reign, got a warning for a low blow from referee Ricky Gonzalez in the fifth round, and then Lomachenko rocked him with a left hook seconds before the bell. Linares took a second warning for a low blow in the sixth round.
Lomachenko, a 30-year-old southpaw, appeared to be winning yet another round in the sixth when Linares landed a clean straight right hand down the middle that knocked him to his rear end, but the round was coming to an end, and he could not get off another punch. It was the first time Lomachenko had ever been knocked down.
“At first I thought it was a slip, but when I saw it again [on the replay], he got hit right on the kisser,” Arum said. “I knew he was going to get up, but it was a legitimate good shot he got hit with.”
Linares didn’t go right after Lomachenko in the seventh to see if he had shaken off the knockdown, but he looked like he recovered quickly and got back into a groove of firing punches and stepping to the side to get out of the way of Linares’ return shots.
They continued to battle back and forth even as Linares’ face continued to look worse and worse. Lomachenko rocked him with an uppercut midway through the 10th round, but he continued to come at Lomachenko, who made him pay dearly.
Later in the 10th round, Lomachenko unleashed a series of punches that sent Linares backward toward the ropes before a left hand to the body dropped him to a knee. He beat the count, but Gonzalez didn’t like how he looked and stopped the fight at 2 minutes, 8 seconds, setting off a wild celebration in the arena from the pro-Lomachenko crowd.
“He didn’t surprise me as I thought he was going to surprise me,” Linares said. “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.”
At the time of the stoppage, Lomachenko was up 86-84 on judge Steve Weisfeld’s scorecard, Linares was up by the same score on Robin Taylor’s card, and Julie Lederman had it 85-85.
The fight was made thanks to the desire of both fighters to face each other and the cooperation between Lomachenko promoter Top Rank and Linares’ co-promoter, Oscar De La Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions. They’ve had a bitter rivalry for years but managed to come together to give fans the best fight that could be made in the division.
“Oscar said congratulations, great fight, and it was good to work with you,” Arum said.
According to CompuBox punch statistics, Lomachenko landed 213 of 627 punches (34 percent), and Linares stayed right with him, landing 207 of 739 blows (28 percent).
Arum said Lomachenko will return to headline another Top Rank Boxing on ESPN card on Aug. 25 at The Forum in Inglewood, California. Before Saturday’s fight, Lomachenko said he would remain at lightweight and give up his junior lightweight world title. If he sticks to his plan, he probably will face Raymundo Beltran in a lightweight world title unification fight. Beltran (35-7-1, 21 KOs) won a vacant title in February.
“Beltran is the obvious opponent,” Arum said.
Lomachenko will be a big favorite against Beltran, as he has been against all of his opponents. But while his talent has never been questioned, one question lingered: What would happen when Lomachenko faced adversity? He answered in resounding fashion by getting off the deck to win against the best opponent he had ever faced.
“We always knew what a great talent he is, but he showed he’s a real fighter against the best guy he ever fought, a much bigger guy who knows how to fight, who was not going to quit and who was going to go out on his shield,” Arum said. “Loma stood up to him and showed what he has deep down in his guts.”