By John J. Raspanti
The sight was an eye-opener. The perennial number one ranked pound-for-pound fighter, on the canvas. The stunned look on his face said it all.
And why not.
Vasyl Lomachenko 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 defending WBA lightweight champion Jorge Linares last May, a third world title looked pretty certain.
I said pretty certain because Linares is a very good fighter. Linares entered the ring against Lomachenko having won 13 consecutive fights. Overall, he’s prevailed in 44 of 47 fights, with 28 knockouts. He can be scary good at times-blessed with blazing speed and athletic ability.
The fight was competitive from the opening bell. Speed was of the essence. Lomachenko (12-1, 10 KOS) probed and moved and went to the body. Linares, with an advantage in reach, kept popping his jab. Lomachenko,30, got a little bolder as the fight went on.
His use of angles was confusing Linares, but the defending champion battled back. Lomachenko appeared to stun him with two solid lefts at the bell ending round five. Linares connected with a right, but Lomachenko stepped back with a left,- while Linares let his hands go in close.
A big right floored Lomachenko for the first time in his professional career. Lomachenko got up and fought intelligently. His father and trainer told him to go to the body. Lomachenko, like the good son he is, did as he was told.
In round 10, Lomachenko was working upstairs and down. Linares motioned to bring it on. Lomachenko obliged.
A blazing combination to the head, punctuated by a left hook to the liver sent Linares to the canvas. The three-time champion pulled himself up at nine. He bent at the waist, which prompted referee Ricky Gonzalez to wave off the contest.
The ending was stunning and dramatic. Lomachenko had captured his third world title.
It was later revealed that that the two-time Olympic gold medalist, had suffered a labral tear of his right shoulder in the second round. Surgery on the shoulder postponed a possible fight in August.
Lomachenko returns this Saturday night against the two-division titleholder Jose Pedraza at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Pedraza broke a lot of hearts last August when he defeated hometown hero, and all-around nice guy, Ray Beltran in Glendale, Ca. Beltran was a slight favorite going into the match, but Pedraza clipped him with shots all night long. The decision in his favor was never in question.
Pedraza has lost only one fight in his career when he was brutalized by Gervonta Davis last year losing his super-featherweight strap. He looked sharp against Beltran, but will be facing a totally different talent in Lomachenko.
The only question mark hovering over Lomachenko is the surgically-repaired shoulder. There might be some rust, but look for Lomachenko to stop Pedraza before round 10.