Sunday, May 13, 2018

Opinions and Observations: Lomachenko-Linares

The truly great separate themselves in boxing by producing moments of brilliance. Whether strategic, tactical, technical or physical, the elite fighters have an extra attribute that mere mortals are unable to conjure. It's a form of genius that's improvisational, with only those who reside in the upper echelon willing to attempt, let alone execute.

In the 10th round of Saturday's thrilling fight between Vasiliy Lomachenko and Jorge Linares, Lomachenko dropped a perfect rear-hand left hook in the middle of a combination that ended the match. Lomachenko curled the shot just under Linares's outstretched right arm and the punch landed squarely on his liver. Linares beat the count, but was in no condition to continue. 

Going back to basics for a second, so few fighters even throw a rear hook. It's a shot that can be easily countered. Many trainers ban that punch from young fighters' repertoires because it can leave them so vulnerable to incoming fire. But the rear hook isn't a proscribed punch in boxing rules. If a fighter can throw it and get away with it, then so be it; but a boxer should use it at his own peril.

During that combination in the 10th, Lomachenko peppered Linares with all sorts of nasty stuff to the head – right hooks, right uppercuts, straight lefts. Linares kept raising his guard higher and higher attempting to fend off Lomachenko's attack. It was at that moment where Lomachenko threw the rear hook – a shot that he hadn't thrown at any point earlier in the fight – and Linares had no defense for it. 

Courtesy of Mikey Williams/Top Rank

Lomachenko needed to summon that moment of brilliance, because he was in a dogfight. Going into the 10th round, the scores were even. Linares was up two on one card, down two on another and tied on the third (I had Linares up two). In the sixth round, Linares knocked down Lomachenko with a perfect counter right hand – the first time Lomachenko had been dropped in the pros. And at various points in the fight, Linares was able to use his reach and accurate punching to land jabs and right hands with surprising frequency. 

For all of Lomachenko's supreme gifts, and they are supreme, he was getting hit a lot. Clearly Linares's physical attributes, technical skills and smart game plan played a role in this, but there was also a degree of vanity in Lomachenko's performance. He fought like he didn't believe that Linares could hurt him. But after Vasiliy threw a lazy jab in the sixth, Linares countered with that pinpoint right which sent Lomachenko to the canvas. It was a wakeup call for Lomachenko; even the greats can get burned by making a mistake. 

Lomachenko beat a terrific version of Linares. In Linares's recent lightweight title defenses, he combined moments of sublime offense with periods of apathy. He would dominate for three rounds and then let a lesser talent back into the fight. He seemed to lack the drive to put together a consistent performance. But Saturday's Linares was switched on. Starting off brightly in the first two rounds with crisp punching and purposeful movement, he immediately indicated to Lomachenko that he wasn't intimidated; he believed that he could win. 

And after Lomachenko put together excellent rounds in the third, fourth and fifth, Linares didn't fold or succumb to Vasiliy's relentless pressure. He steadied himself and landed that fantastic counter right in the sixth, which buoyed he spirits. He followed that up with a terrific seventh round. 

Much was made prior to the fight that Linares wouldn't be working with his regular trainer, Ismael Salas, who had a pre-existing arrangement to train David Haye for his rematch against Tony Bellew. Linares and Salas had forged a winning partnership and Linares had frequently credited his trainer for his recent revival in the lightweight division. However, Rudy Hernandez and the rest of Linares's team ably filled Salas's void. Hernandez’s corner instructions were excellent: keep punches short, don't over-commit and work off of the jab whenever possible. And Hernandez kept emphasizing the jab, even when Lomachenko was having periods of sustained success. It's often difficult for an orthodox fighter to jab effectively against a southpaw, let alone one as athletically gifted as Lomachenko is, but Hernandez was committed to the shot.  

The jab kept Lomachenko from coming in as much as he would have liked. Sure, he had periods of success at close range, but he didn't have a consistent presence there; Linares's jab and outside punching played a significant role in that. 

Linares followed a solid game plan. His desire was there. He was fighting in the upper bounds of his abilities, but when the dust settled, he faced a talent who simply could do more than he could. Linares is a dynamic offensive talent and a capable, three-division world champion. But he would never dream of throwing the fight-ending rear hook that Lomachenko unfurled. And that gap in creativity and execution is why Lomachenko has the belt today. There is a genius that Lomachenko possesses that Linares lacks. I can't ever remember seeing a similar combination to the one that Lomachenko threw on Saturday, and I'm sure that Linares wouldn't even conceive of it offensively, let along think about trying to defend it.  

Lomachenko-Linares is an example of boxing at its finest. Featuring sublime technical skills, athleticism, momentum shifts, power punches, adjustments and indelible moments, the fight will be remembered as one of the defining contests of 2018. It's the rare bout where both fighters are elevated in its aftermath.

Linares, who had won a number of vacant titles in his career and beat a lot of "B" guys, went toe-to-toe with perhaps the best active fighter on the planet. And Lomachenko had to dig down, overcome adversity and create a moment of improvisation brilliance to secure the win. 

On a final thought regarding Lomachenko, it's worth remembering that he had a 14-lb. functional weight disadvantage on fight night. Facing essentially a junior middleweight on Saturday, Lomachenko, the much smaller fighter, was the one who did more damage on a punch-by-punch basis; his shots had more of an effect. Lomachenko has good power, but he's not one of the harder hitters in the sport. He creates havoc with movement, timing, angles, accuracy, flawless technique, creative combinations and an indefatigable spirit. Lomachenko isn't really a lightweight, yet he was carving up perhaps the best fighter in the division. 

After the fight Lomachenko referred to being knocked down in the sixth as a teachable lesson, and I think that's the correct way to look at it. Lomachenko did not put together a flawless performance on Saturday. He got hit a lot, certainly more than he should have. Linares's periodic success forced Lomachenko to make the type of mistake that often occurs with Vasiliy's opponents, but here the master succumbed to a fatigue-induced error. At the top level of the sport, fighters are punished for pushing out lazy jabs. And if one stands in front of a good opponent too often, eventually the opponent will be able to figure out something that can work.

From what I know of Lomachenko, he's not plagued by self-satisfaction. He was victorious, but that won't be enough for him. He wants to get dominate! I'm sure that he and his father will get back to the gym in short order to perfect some of their mistakes from Saturday. That improvisational moment of brilliance won him the fight, but future opponents will remember that he hit the deck. They might be just a little less intimidated when entering the ring in the future, and Lomachenko knows that. I doubt that leaves a positive aftertaste.  

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of
He's a member of Ring Magazine's Ring Ratings Panel and a Board Member for the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook.

No comments:

Post a Comment