Vasyl Lomachenko, Jorge Linares strike deal for May 12 title fight at MSG

Super-featherweight boxing champion Vasyl Lomachenko will pursue a third division belt May 12 at Madison Square Garden by moving up to take on lightweight champion Jorge Linares.

Lomachenko's promoter, Top Rank, and Linares' representatives, Golden Boy Promotions, hammered out a complicated deal that the fighters signed, a key official involved in the negotiation who was not permitted to speak publicly about it being finalized said Tuesday morning.


ESPN will televise the bout after adjusting its schedule to accommodate a 5 p.m. Pacific start for the card.

Golden Boy's top two officials, chairman Oscar De La Hoya and president Eric Gomez, originally balked at placing Linares on ESPN on May 12 because that night is also reserved for what's expected to be a highly viewed replay of their top fighter Canelo Alvarez's middleweight-title rematch against unbeaten, three-belt champion Gennady Golovkin.

But Top Rank was offering Linares (44-3, 27 knockouts) a record purse as the World Boxing Assn. champion seeks his eighth consecutive lightweight title victory.

Golden Boy also took exception to Top Rank Chairman Bob Arum's having first reached out to Linares' Japanese promoter, Akihiko Honda of Teiken Promotions, before contacting Golden Boy.

When ESPN told Arum last week that it would consider moving a softball game's start time back to accommodate a Lomachenko-Linares bout, that presented Golden Boy the opportunity to stage its own bout, perhaps including former 154-pound champion Liam Smith, on its HBO replay telecast without compromising viewership.

Jorge Linares celebrates his victory over Mercito Gesta at the Forum on Jan. 27.
Jorge Linares celebrates his victory over Mercito Gesta at the Forum on Jan. 27. (Jeff Gross / Getty Images)

Lomachenko (10-1, eight KOs), a two-time Olympic champion from Ukraine who trains in Oxnard, last fought at Madison Square Garden in December, dominating Cuba's super-bantamweight champion Guillermo Rigondeaux.

By retiring on his stool after six rounds, Rigondeaux became the fourth consecutive opponent of Lomachenko's to fail to answer a bell, prompting Lomachenko to crack that his last name should now be "No-Mas-Chenko."

He was named the Boxing Writers Assn. of America fighter of the year, and is listed No. 2 in The Times' pound-for-pound rankings of the world's top boxers.

In Linares, 32, the 30-year-old Lomachenko confronts a tough, smart champion astute at solving his foes inside the ring. Linares has won 13 consecutive bouts, including two victories by decision at the Forum in the past year against England's Luke Campbell and Mercito Gesta.

Vasyl Lomachenko works out at a Manhattan gym on Dec. 6.
Vasyl Lomachenko works out at a Manhattan gym on Dec. 6. (Kathy Willens / Associated Press)

Making the fight will position the winner to apply more pressure to World Boxing Council lightweight champion Mikey Garcia of Riverside County.

While Garcia won a fourth belt Saturday by defeating Sergey Lipinets by unanimous decision in Texas, he previously sought a unification with Linares, and a date with Lomachenko would be considered one of the best matches possible in the sport.

A former Top Rank fighter who bitterly split from Arum, Garcia additionally fights on Showtime, and after the haggling to make Lomachenko-Linares, going through that again seems especially unappetizing at this minute.