By John J. Raspanti
There are different measures of talent. Belting out a karaoke tune (in key) is one. Singing an aria takes it several levels up.
Sports is loaded with athletes with varying degrees of talent.
Many (this writer included) consider Sugar Ray Robinson the greatest fighter who ever lived. Why? Because Robinson could do it all. He could box or slug. His hands were like lightening. His feet were quick. He could figure out an opponent in minutes.
This Saturday night at the hallowed Madison Square Garden in New York, NY, two boxers loaded with natural talent will meet to see who’s got more of the right stuff.
Vasyl Lomachenko fought 397 times as an amateur, losing once. He won Olympic gold in the featherweight and lightweight division. He turned professional four years ago—winning a world title in his third professional fight. He captured his second championship belt in 2016 by scoring a highlight-reel knockout over Roman Martinez.
When Lomachenko met Nicholas “The Ax Man” Walters 18 months ago, some picked the heavy-handed Walters (21 knockouts in 26 fights) to defeat him. It certainly seemed possible. Walters was a world champion, and undefeated. He held a knockout victory of former "Fighter of the Year," Nonito Donaire.
The tension was palpable when the fight began. After two rounds, the balloon of anticipation burst. Lomachenko toyed with Walters. He popped him with punches that the befuddled Walters never saw coming. Walters quit after seven rounds, his boxer’s bravado stolen from him like a thief in the night. He hasn’t fought since.
Lomachencko’s next big challenge was fellow gold medalist, Guillermo Rigondeaux, of Cuba. Rigondeaux had dominated all 17 of his opponents. He was considered a boring fighter—mostly because his fights weren’t competitive. With Rigondeaux, it was all about technique, until he met Lomachenko. Their fight wasn’t close. Lomachenko took over in the opening round. Rigondeaux searched for answers, but eventually decided to exit halfway through the fight. The win over Rigondeaux marked the fourth time in a row a fighter has quit against Lomachenko.
"I got frustrated at the ending of the Rigondeaux fight,” Lomachenko (10-1, 8 KOs) told The Guardian a few weeks ago.” I didn’t get an opportunity to finish what I had started and that’s hard.”
Jorge Linares has said there’s no way in the world he’ll quit against Lomachenko this Saturday. The native of Venezuela has won 13 successive fights since being stopped in back-to-back bouts in 2012. He’ll be the bigger man in the ring with a reach advantage of four inches.
Lomachenko has likely never faced the kind of skill set that Linares possesses. He’s blessed with blazing speed and athletic ability. He can also punch a little, scoring 27 knockouts in his 44 victories. Linares is a sharp shooter, who uses distance to control bouts.
Linares picked up his first world title in 2007. He’s won three more since, the latest in the lightweight division, when he traveled to London two years ago and defeated hometown hero, Anthony Crolla.
He was last seen in the ring this past January, boxing circles around Mercito Gesta. He also holds an impressive victory over British champion, Luke Campbell.
Linares feels his preparation is the key to defeating Lomachenko.
"Everyday we have put in a little bit more strategy to knock off and defeat Vasyl Lomachenko,” Linares told Ryan Burton of www.boxingscene.com. “He is very good, fast and precise. He has a lot of good qualities but there isn’t such a thing as a perfect boxer. Like I always say, ’if someone else already beat him, why don’t I beat him this time?”
It’s smart of Linares to remind himself that Lomachenko has lost a fight. Orlando Salido pulled off the feat a few years ago. Lomachenko learned a lot about the tricks of the pro game in that bout. He’s a better fighter now.
For his part, Lomachenko is very aware of Linares’ boxing prowess.
"He’s on the very top level and he’s the kind of fighter I really want to face if I expect to put my name in the history of boxing,” Lomachenko said.
I like this fight a lot. Kudos to Top Rank and Golden Boy for getting a deal done.
Two top athletes matching skill and wits. I expect a competitive opening half, with Linares stealing a few rounds with rapid- fire combinations, but as the fight progresses, look for Lomachenko to win by a late stoppage or unanimous decision.
The cream eventually rises to the top.