Vasiliy Lomachenko knocked out any doubts that he is pound-for-pound No. 1

Boxing


The opening bell: All hail Lomachenko

Even before he scored his biggest win Saturday night at Madison Square Garden in New York, many viewed Vasiliy Lomachenko as the pound-for-pound king.

Now there should be no doubt, not after seeing him stop the skillful, experienced and much bigger Jorge Linares to take the lightweight world title.

Lomachenko was pushed but responded like a champion is supposed to. He got off the deck, after being knocked down by a clean right hand to the chin in the sixth round, and came storming back.

Ultimately, his superb hand speed, ring intelligence and pinpoint punching did the job as he put together a tremendous flurry of shots from all angles before landing a perfect left hand to the liver in the 10th round. It dropped former three-division titlist Linares, who showed heart to beat the count but was in bad shape and could not stand upright, causing referee Ricky Gonzalez to halt the bout at 2 minutes, 8 seconds.

Lomachenko (11-1, 9 KOs), 30, the brilliant two-time Olympic gold medalist from Ukraine, added yet another record to his resume by winning a world title in a third weight class in just his 12th fight. It was the fewest fights needed to do so by far — the previous record was 20, set by Jeff Fenech in 1988. Lomachenko also is tied for the record for fewest fights needed to win a title (three) and owns the record outright for fewest needed to win titles in two divisions (seven).

And he has done it against quality opponents. No cherry picking here. Look at his resume since turning pro in a scheduled 10-rounder: Gary Russell Jr., Rocky Martinez, Nicholas Walters, Jason Sosa, Miguel Marriaga, Guillermo Rigondeaux and Linares. He has 12 pro fights!

His lone loss was a debatable split decision that went to two-division titlist Orlando Salido, who was overweight and fouled Lomachenko with low blows repeatedly. It was only the Ukrainian’s second pro bout, and it was for a featherweight world title.

A couple of months ago I mentioned on Twitter that Lomachenko was so good he would have absolutely given the junior lightweight (and I also believe lightweight) version of Floyd Mayweather a serious fight. Many mocked and belittled me. That’s fine. I have very thick skin. But I strongly believe it. It’s no knock on Mayweather whatsoever. He’s an all-time great fighter, but his second fight was a four-rounder against 1-1 Reggie Sanders, who’s not exactly Salido. Mayweather didn’t face a real opponent until his 18th fight, when he dismantled Genaro Hernandez to win a junior lightweight title.

Top Rank promotes Lomachenko and promoted Mayweather for most of his career. It had no issue matching Lomachenko with Linares, a very tough opponent, which is what he wants. But never a trillion years would it have put Mayweather in with a fighter like Russell in his third fight.

I would have loved to see Lomachenko and Mayweather fight at 130 or 135 pounds. I’m not saying Lomachenko would win, but make no mistake: It would be highly competitive, and if Lomachenko had his hand raised, it would come as no surprise.

Lomachenko looking human for brief periods against the Las Vegas-based Venezuelan Linares (44-4, 27 KOs), 32, actually might be a good thing.

“Right now, it’s going to be much easier to get opponents for me because they see I’m also human being,” he said after the fight. “I just made easier job for my promoter.”

It just might not make it easier to make the biggest fight now looming: one against fellow titlist Mikey Garcia.

“Mikey Garcia is a worse negotiation than [President Donald] Trump is gonna have with the North Koreans,” Top Rank’s Bob Arum, who promotes Lomachenko and used to promote Garcia, said at Saturday’s post-fight press conference. “Because of the way [Garcia] negotiates — ‘Oh, I’m loyal to [Showtime Sports president Stephen] Espinoza and I’m loyal to Showtime.’ I admire loyalty. If he’s loyal to Showtime and they’ve been good to him, let him be loyal to Showtime. Just don’t bother me.”

Breakout performance: Jamie Munguia

Mexican junior middleweight Jamie Munguia (29-0, 25 KOs), 21, one of boxing’s best prospects, burst onto the world scene Saturday in Verona, New York, when he easily demolished Sadam Ali (26-2, 14 KOs), 29, of Brooklyn, New York, to take his world title in extremely impressive fashion in the HBO main event.

Ali is a natural welterweight but he moved up in December when offered the chance to challenge then-titlist Miguel Cotto and pulled the upset, winning a decision and sending the future Hall of Famer into retirement. Ali was supposed to make his first defense against mandatory challenger and former titlist Liam Smith, but a severe skin infection forced Smith to withdraw. Munguia got the late call just a couple of weeks after the Nevada State Athletic Commission had let it be known it would not sanction him to replace the suspended Canelo Alvarez as unified middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin’s May 5 opponent because of his inexperience and smaller size.

In retrospect, Munguia is thrilled with Nevada’s decision because he now has a world title after steamrolling Ali. The much bigger Munguia doled a beating, as he dropped Ali twice in the first round, again in the second round and again in the fourth round. Following the fourth knockdown, referee Gary Rosato waved off the fight at 1:02 of the fourth round.

“This victory is something huge for me,” Munguia said. “This is a dream come true. Every fighter dreams of this. I want to thank the Nevada commission for making this opportunity possible as they didn’t allow me to fight Gennady Golovkin. I want to show that I am ready to fight at the highest level and with the best fighters.”

The next step: Ali has a rematch clause, but it would be shocking if he exercised it. So I’d expect Munguia back in the ring later this summer as he continues to build up his name against a solid but not top-level challenger.

Prospect watch

Las Vegas lightweight Devin Haney (19-0, 13 KOs) is only 19 years old but mature beyond his years in the ring. He took a major step up in competition against the experienced Mason Menard (33-3, 24 KOs), 29, of Rayne, Louisiana, in a fight many thought might be too much, too soon. But Haney dazzled in the “ShoBox” main event on Friday night in Philadelphia. He utterly dominated Menard in a surprisingly one-sided beatdown. Haney established his jab immediately, landed all kinds of shots and took very little in return thanks to his excellent lateral movement. After the ninth round, Menard’s corner had seen enough and threw in the towel.

“The plan was to go in there and work off the jab,” Haney said. “If the knockout came, I would take it, but I just went in there, put on a boxing clinic. I was relaxed and did my job. I’m definitely the next superstar. There’s only bigger and better things from here on out.”

The next step: Haney showed that he’s ready for another step up, so ideally we’ll see him in another “ShoBox” main event against a better-caliber opponent. Sky is the limit for this kid.

Fights you may have missed

Saturday at Verona, New York

Junior featherweight Rey Vargas (32-0, 22 KOs) W12 Azat Hovhannisyan (14-3, 11 KOs), retains a world title, scores: 118-110, 117-111, 116-112.

In the Sadam Ali-Jaime Munguia HBO co-feature, Vargas, 27, of Mexico, retained his title for the third time in a brawl with Hovhannisyan, 29, a Los Angeles-based Armenian. Vargas towered over the relentless Hovhannisyan, who rocked Vargas in the exciting first round. It was a fan-friendly fight throughout, but Vargas used his long arms to keep Hovhannisyan at bay enough to grind out the decision. Vargas had to deal with a bloody cut over his left eye from an accidental head butt in the eighth round and another one that opened a cut over his right eye in the 12th round.

Friday at Las Vegas

Junior middleweight Tony Harrison (27-2, 21 KOs) W10 Ishe Smith (29-10, 12 KOs), scores: 97-92 96-93 Harrison, 95-94 Smith.

Former world title challenger Harrison, 27, of Detroit, won his third fight in a row as he claimed a well-deserved split decision over former junior middleweight titlist Smith, 39, of Las Vegas. The win in the Premier Boxing Champions main event on Bounce TV keeps alive Harrison’s hopes of another title shot. Harrison, younger, quicker and more powerful, didn’t get the knockout he predicted but got credit for a knockdown in the third round when he buckled Smith and referee Tony Weeks ruled that he touched the canvas (even though TV replays showed that neither his knee nor glove had). But Harrison hurt Smith late in the sixth round and again in the eighth of what should have been a convincing unanimous decision, as Smith dropped his second decision in a row.

Cruiserweight Andrew Tabiti (16-0, 13 KOs) KO6 Lateef Kayode (21-3, 16 KOs).

Tabiti, 28, of Las Vegas, continued to emerge as a contender to watch — and perhaps America’s No. 1 cruiserweight — by drilling long-in-the-tooth Kayode, 35. The Nigeria native fighting out of Los Angeles lost his third fight in a row (two by knockout). It was a slow-paced affair with several clinches until Tabiti violently ended it. He put Kayode away at 1:08 of the sixth round with a booming right uppercut that dropped him to his knees, where he remained for the count.



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