Lomachencko vs. Linares can usher in a new era of boxing where the best fight the best

At a historic venue here Friday, a group of boxing reporters who've devoted their careers to inspecting the sport that operates like no other will meet for its annual awards dinner.

One of the axioms spawned in gatherings like this is the refrain, "The best fights are the ones that don't happen."


It took five years of posturing and delays before the most lucrative bout of all time, Floyd Mayweather Jr. versus Manny Pacquiao, happened three years ago, and the letdown of the action was a direct result of the effects of the aging.

That's why events like Saturday night's lightweight title defense by Venezuela's veteran champion Jorge Linares at Madison Square Garden against two-division champion Vasyl Lomachenko of Ukraine is a beacon to how the sport may be altering its past self-destructive behavior.

"It's a product of having the cash to do it," Lomachenko's veteran fight promoter Bob Arum of Top Rank said, pointing to his union with ESPN last year to televise the "full vertical" of events from title fights to prospect cards.

"We now have absolutely no problem with our fighters going against others who fight under a different promotional banner."

Linares, for instance, is in the Golden Boy Promotions stable of Oscar De La Hoya.

To boxing insiders, Linares-Lomachenko is a tossup fight, a clash between a 32-year-old champion who has dared to travel to the home grounds of his challengers to make seven consecutive successful title defenses, and the favored 30-year-old challenger who has made his last four opponents quit on their stool.

"I became a professional boxer because I want the attention and interest to come back to boxing. That's very important to me," said Lomachenko, who will attend that Boxing Writers Assn. of America dinner following his Friday weigh-in to collect his award as 2017 fighter of the year.

Many in the sport are attracted to Saturday's bout and intrigued by the potential direction it could lead a sport that too often has been marginalized by the fight-making obstacles of promotional ties, television alliances and old grudges.

"I like Lomachenko, but I wouldn't be surprised if Linares pulls it off," said veteran trainer Robert Garcia, who said his unbeaten World Boxing Council lightweight champion brother, Mikey Garcia, could be moved to meet a victorious Linares this year.

Lomachenko-Garcia makes more sense for 2019, says Arum, who wants his prized fighter to pursue a meeting with Pacquiao late this year after also taking an August bout.

"But if Linares sticks to his game plan and stays smart, he has a good chance to win by using his size and distance and footwork with his conditioning," Robert Garcia said.

Such debates are the lifeblood of any sport, the uncertainty of the outcome and the possibility of upsets maximizing interest, rather than the onslaught of one-sided matchups that have hurt the popularity of boxing for so long.

"The mismatches disappoint … so do fights not happening because of politics in the sport," Garcia said.

There's momentum this year to change the bad habits of the past.


For instance, veteran fight manager Al Haymon of Premier Boxing Champions has steered his champions to demanding tests that have brought them greater attention.

Last month, unbeaten junior-middleweight champion Jarrett Hurd added a second belt by defeating Cuban Erislandy Lara, setting up an intriguing showdown with another 154-pound champion in the Haymon stable, Jermell Charlo.

On June 9, Robert Garcia is sending his four-division champion Abner Mares to a Staples Center featherweight-title rematch with Southland rival and three-division champion Leo Santa Cruz.

The division's other two champions, Norwalk-trained Oscar Valdez, and Washington D.C.'s Gary Russell, entered into cross-promoted fights this year, and if Russell loses next week to South El Monte's Joseph Diaz Jr., there'll be four Southland-based champions in the division.

"How cool would that be?" Diaz said. "We can all fight each other, here in L.A., over and over."

After Arum staged a March bout in which Valdez was bloodied and hospitalized, then another last month when his super-bantamweight champion Jessie Magdaleno was upset, Haymon offers a 50/50 bout next week in Canada when light-heavyweight champion Adonis Stevenson meets former super-middleweight champion Badou Jack.

With ESPN's backing, the aging Pacquiao and welterweight champion Lucas Matthysse are fighting in July, the winner further enhanced by the exposure on the cable giant.

"These fights that can happen should never be avoided, because they're huge," Garcia said.

Still, there's some reverting to the typical maneuvering in talks to make what should be the most attractive bout of the year, a heavyweight unification bout between unbeaten three-belt champion Anthony Joshua of England and Alabama's unbeaten WBC champion Deontay Wilder.

Wilder rejected a $12.5-million offer, and Joshua wasn't moved by Haymon's guaranteed $50 million offer to come to the U.S.

There's also a bitter strain between middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin and Mexicio's two-division champion Canelo Alvarez that could compromise their hopes for a Sept. 15 rematch.

Perhaps this week's gathering of the sport's power brokers in New York will produce the harmony it takes to create those major events as the debate stirs over Linares-Lomachenko.

"I like Linares because he's the bigger fighter. He's got boxing abilities. He's not going to try to walk through Lomachenko, and he's bigger," Mares said.

Linares, moved to accept his richest purse ($1.2 million) by the financial backing ESPN has provided, has dedicated himself to participating in the most competitive fight possible on a card that begins at 5 p.m. PDT.

"I am a technical fighter who likes to demonstrate what I've worked on in the gym," Linares said. "I have to be prepared [as if fighting] 15 rounds because the whole world is saying Lomachenko makes all fighters quit. My true goals in this fight are resistance, to finish the fight standing and to come out with the hand raised."

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