Conflicts over dates could prevent super-featherweight champion Vasyl Lomachenko from making his next fight against World Boxing Assn. lightweight champion Jorge Linares, promoters said Thursday.
Lomachenko promoter Bob Arum of Top Rank said he's reserved Madison Square Garden for May 12 for the bout on ESPN.
But Linares' promoter, Eric Gomez of Oscar De La Hoya's Golden Boy Promotions, said the fighters would be better served to fight on HBO, which is airing on that date a replay of the scheduled May 5 Canelo Alvarez-Gennady Golovkin middleweight title bout.
Unless a Lomachenko-Linares bout is part of HBO's May 12 package, Gomez asks, why place it on ESPN and draw fervent boxing fans away from the replay?
"If they'll move the fight to May 19 on ESPN, no problem. Done," Gomez said Thursday. "We are flexible. The real question is, 'Is Top Rank flexible?' I think they can only have their guys fight on ESPN. They're handicapped."
Not true, says Arum, and Top Rank President Todd duBoef adds that he had extended conversations with Linares' co-promoter from Japan, Akihiko Honda, in which the focus has remained a May 12 bout on ESPN to maximize the audience by placing it amid NBA playoff coverage.
"I don't want to hear what [Golden Boy and HBO] are saying now. Any of it is just noise now," DuBoef said. "They got backed into a corner and have to say something. Stop it."
Venezuela's Linares (44-3, 27 knockouts) has defended his belt successfully the last two times at the Forum, defeating Mercito Gesta by unanimous decision on Jan. 27. He's won seven consecutive title fights and 12 straight overall.
His purse for Lomachenko, according to one official connected to the talks but unauthorized to speak publicly on the matter, was to exceed $1 million, a personal-best.
Gomez said his company is paid handsomely by HBO for the replay of the Alvarez-Golovkin rematch, with the live bout airing first on HBO pay-per-view. Part of that May 12 replay coverage will be a boxing card, Gomez said, and he vowed HBO is prepared to exceed the money offered to both fighters in the ESPN-May 12 proposal.
Linares was traveling Thursday and not immediately available for comment, but he posted a message on Twitter aimed at Lomachenko.
"I know you are ready for May 12. Also I am too," Linares wrote. "I don't want politics to interfere with our bout. I will tell my promoter @GoldenBoyBoxing no matter what will take the fight for the benefit of boxing and the fans. #teamlinares."
While Linares could also opt to wait for World Boxing Council lightweight champion Mikey Garcia's March 10 junior-welterweight title fight in Texas against Sergey Lipinets, and pursue a summer date with Garcia, he believes Lomachenko is a better matchup, according to an official close to him.
Additionally, a Linares confidant wondered, "Aren't boxing fans smart enough to watch the fight and record the [Alvarez-Golovkin] replay? Actually, it might even convince them to buy the pay-per-view [on May 5], knowing Linares-Lomachenko was coming the next week.… Why can't we just be friends and do things together in the best interest of the sport? It's not time to fight."
Arum is chafed, however. After frustration built at the reduced boxing budget of HBO, he took his fighters to ESPN. Now HBO wants to spend?
"The money, everything is done. If they don't want us to go against the [replay], what are we supposed to do?" Arum asked. "When you guys tell me to cross the aisle and make fights with these guys and then you see this … it's just wasting time."
Asked if he considered Lomachenko-Linares dead, an exasperated Arum responded, "Ask Oscar."
Arum is now considering placing Lomachenko against the winner of Friday's ESPN-televised bout for the vacant World Boxing Organization lightweight belt between journeyman Ray Beltran and former champion Paulus Moses in Reno.
"We told Mr. Honda from day one, the only dates that cannot happen are April 28 — a live HBO event in which they'll promote the hell out of our pay-per-view — and May 12, when we get a live event and paid good money," Gomez said. "We're not going to promote against ourselves. Any other date is fine.