For anyone who thought it premature to anoint Vasiliy Lomachenko with the status of world's best boxer despite less than a dozen pro fights, hisappeared to remove any lingering doubt.
Lomachenko, 30, added to his string of boxing records by becoming the fastest to win world titles in three separate divisions when he got up off the canvas to finish 135-pound king Jorge Linares at New York's Madison Square Garden.
Each time the heat in the kitchen was raised by the larger and determined Linares, Lomachenko simply changed the recipe with dazzling feints and sublime footwork to get off counter attacks.
The dramatic finish in Round 10 was the perfect showcase of what makes the two-time Olympic gold medalist from Ukraine great. An unanswered flurry of eight punches, including everything from lead uppercuts to sneaky hooks, landed clean as Lomachenko bobbed and weaved forward before a left hook to the liver left Linares unable to continue.
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Yet for everything Lomachenko flashed in terms of his mesmerizing skill set, it was the intangibles he was forced to show at a weight class two divisions north from where he turned pro that proved to any critics he's more than just a talented frontrunner.
"Going into this fight, we knew Loma was a huge talent," Promoter Bob Arum of Top Rank said on Saturday. "After this fight, we know now that he's a fighter."
Lomachenko, who was knocked down for the first time in his career in Round 6, may be the one who ultimately benefits most from his brief battle with adversity.
"After the fight, I told [Top Rank vice president] Carl Moretti in the ring, 'It's going to be much easier for you to get opponents for me because they all see I'm also a human being,'" Lomachenko said. "What I did was make my promoter's job easier."
His recent rise in weight was largely due to the big names at 126 and 130 pounds avoiding him. What will be interesting to see next for a fighter who has so willingly dared to be great since turning pro is whether he does everything in his power to fight the most dangerous name in his new division: unbeaten WBC champion Mikey Garcia, who has been rumored to be facing IBF champion Robert Easter Jr. in a July 28 unification bout.
"Lomachenko did good, beat a solid world champion at 135 [pounds]," Garcia told the Los Angeles Times on Sunday. "I would love a fight with him. Hope we can make it in the near future."
Late Saturday, Lomachenko reiterated his desire to unify titles against anyone. But Arum, who went through a bitter promotional divorce with Garcia in recent years and revealed plans to bring Lomachenko back on Aug. 25 in Los Angeles, may not be as excited.
"Mikey Garcia is a worse negotiation than [Donald] Trump is gonna have with the North Koreans," Arum said on Saturday. "I don't have time for negotiations.
"If [Garcia] wants to fight, let him call me. I'll give him a number. If it's not good, f--- it. I ain't negotiating."
On paper, Garcia represents the toughest challenge for Lomachenko's style considering his patience, technical boxing prowess and thudding power at 135 pounds. In addition to producing a recognized champion at lightweight, a Lomachenko-Garcia bout would decide who is the top pound-for-pound fighter in the sport.
Garcia recently vacated the junior welterweight title he won from Sergey Lipinets in March in order to focus on unifying titles at lightweight.
|1. Vasiliy Lomachenko||11-1, 9 KOs||Light, junior lightweight champion|
| No one is on his level from the standpoint of speed, skill and precision. The only question becomes whether moving up in weight so rapidly will get him into hot water against a bigger puncher. Either way, Lomachenko's willingness to test himself has gone a long way in making him a star. |
|2. Terence Crawford||33-0, 24 KOs||Undisputed junior welterweight champion|
With his days at 140 pounds officially behind him, Crawford is ready for the big-money opportunities at welterweight. He begins his quest on June 9 against WBO champion and Manny Pacquiao conquerer Jeff Horn.
|3. Gennady Golovkin||38-0-1, 34 KOs||Unified middleweight champion||--|
| A last-minute dismantling of Vanes Martirosyan on May 5 helped GGG equal Bernard Hopkins' middleweight record of 20 title defenses. Up next is most likely a fall pay-per-view rematch against Canelo Alvarez, although icy relations between the two in the wake of the Mexican star's failed drug tests could shelf such plans.|
|4. Errol Spence Jr.||23-0, 20 KOs||Welterweight titleholder|
|Injuries to Keith Thurman have prevented Spence from securing the career-defining unification fight he covets most. Instead, mandatory opponent Carlos Ocampo awaits Spence in a June 16 homecoming outside of Dallas. |
|5. Mikey Garcia||38-0, 30 KOs||Lightweight champion|
|Initially willing to take on any challenge across three weight divisions, Garcia has decided to keep his focus on lightweight and is rumored to be preparing for a July unification bout with Robert Easter Jr. Whichever direction he goes, Garcia's two-year break from the sport has left him as hungry and dangerous as ever before. |
|6. Canelo Alvarez||49-1-2, 34 KOs||Lineal middleweight champion|
|Talk about a run of bad press. Alvarez failed a pair of drug tests ahead of his May 5 rematch against Golovkin and was suspended for six months. But his recent refusal to enter into a voluntary random drug testing program until a new contract with GGG is signed has only added to the public narrative that Alvarez isn't clean.|
|7. Keith Thurman||28-0, 22 KOs||Welterweight champion|
After elbow surgery kept him out since last March, a recent hand injury forced Thurman to stay on the shelf and relinquish his WBC title. A tentative summer return appears to be in order for "One Time," although any expectations for a big name need to be tempered.
|8. Srisaket Sor Rungvisai||45-4-1, 40 KOs||Junior bantamweight champion|
|After a pair of shocking conquests over former P4P king Roman "Chocolatito" Gonzalez, the native of Thailand cemented his placement among the best in the world by edging Juan Francisco Estrada. There may not be a fighter in the world more determined and hell-bent on producing action.|
|9. Nayoa Inoue||16-0, 14 KOs||Junior bantamweight champion|
|After conquering a pair of divisions nearly as quickly as Lomachenko, "The Monster" has decided to tackle a third at bantamweight. The 25-year-old Japanese destroyer faces WBA champion Jamie McDonnell on May 25. |
|10. Oleksandr Usyk||14-0, 11 KOs||Unified cruiserweight champion|
|The former Olympic gold medalist from Ukraine, and training partner of Lomachenko, unified titles at cruiserweight in a semifinal victory over Mairis Briedis in the World Boxing Super Series tournament that's on the short list for fight of the year. A recent elbow injury to Usyk has postponed the final against IBF and WBA champion Murat Gassiev. |
Honorable mentions: Sergey Kovalev, Jermall Charlo, Jermell Charlo, Leo Santa Cruz, Carl Frampton, Anthony Joshua, Murat Gassiev