Just when it looked as if the fight wouldn’t happen, Vasyl Lomachenko vs. Jorge Linares is now a done deal. The man considered by many to be the #1 pound-for-pound boxer in the world has his next opponent.
ESPN confirms that Ukrainian phenom Vasyl Lomachenko (10-1, 8 KOs) is moving up from junior lightweight (130 lbs) to lightweight (135 lbs) to take on WBA champion Jorge Linares (44-3, 27 KOs). The fight will take place at New York’s Madison Square Garden on Saturday, May 12th. ESPN will televise the card as part of Top Rank Boxing’s deal with the network.
Lomachenko fought three times in 2017, forcing corner stoppage TKOs against Jason Sosa and Miguel Marriaga, then he dominated fellow two-time Olympic gold medalist Guillermo Rigondeaux last December, as the Cuban quit at the end of round 6. Having won major titles at featherweight and junior lightweight, this will be Lomachenko’s lightweight debut, as he continues to beef up his resume.
Linares is the consensus #1 lightweight in the world who is currently riding a 13-fight winning streak. The 32-year-old Venezuelan won the WBA title from Anthony Crolla in 2016, then dominated him in the immediate rematch, which was also in Crolla’s hometown of Manchester, England. Linares scraped past Luke Campbell by split decision last September before earning a decision over the heavy underdog Mercito Gesta in January. While not to the extent of Lomachenko, Linares is widely praised for his technical, aesthetically pleasing boxing abilities, and now he gets the major fight that’s historically eluded him.
It’s a rarity to see rival promoters like Top Rank and Golden Boy actually join forces and get this job done, but the fight still nearly failed to materialize.
Golden Boy was supportive of Lomachenko vs. Linares, but wasn’t interested in having Linares fight on May 12th, as they were running their own show on HBO, which includes the replay broadcast of the Canelo Alvarez vs. Gennady Golovkin rematch. In effect, they didn’t want to counterprogram against themselves. Bob Arum was unwilling to budge on that particular date, as ESPN doesn’t have many prime Saturday slots available during the NBA playoffs. Oscar De La Hoya suggested to either move the date, have Lomachenko fight on HBO (completely defeating the purpose of Top Rank’s ESPN deal), or scrap the bout entirely.
Just when it looked as if the fight was dead, and with it would go Linares’ $1 million payday, the two promoters worked on a compromise, which ESPN helped make happen. Lomachenko vs. Linares will have an 8 PM ET start time, ending at around 10 PM ET, while HBO’s broadcast of the Golden Boy card, would commence shortly thereafter. ESPN needed to move off an SEC women’s softball game to accommodate all parties involved, and it looks as if they’ve done just that. So instead of the usual disappointment that comes with fantasizing about boxing matches, we get a happy resolution.
The other plus side of the early start time is that the main event should end before the UFC 224 pay-per-view main card, so this conflict also benefits any MMA fans who want to catch Lomachenko’s fight before the UFC PPV begins.