Vasiliy Lomachenko had been down on the canvas and was even on the scorecards.
The tough test Lomachenko craved, the one he said would force him to finally unleash all his skills, had finally arrived.
Moments later, he ended it.
Lomachenko stopped Jorge Linares in the 10th round of their lightweight championship fight Saturday night, winning a title in his third weight class in just his 12th pro bout.
Lomachenko landed a hard left to the body during a flurry of precision punches that sent Linares went to a knee. Linares finally got up just as the count was reaching 10 but referee Ricky Gonzalez called an end to the fight at 2:08 of the round.
“I prepared for the last few rounds, and my father told me, ‘You need to go to the body,'” Lomachenko said. His father, Anatoly Lomachenko, is his trainer.
Linares knocked down Lomachenko in the sixth and the fight was all even after nine rounds before Lomachenko (11-1, 9 KOs) put an overpowering end to his first fight at 135 pounds, adding that title to his belts at 126 and 130 pounds.
Linares (44-4, 27 KOs) hadn’t lost since 2012 and used his size advantage to do some damage, but in the end Lomachenko did more in an exciting Madison Square Garden match.
Each fighter was ahead 86-84 on a judge’s card, while Julie Lederman had it 85-all after nine rounds.
“The fight was getting interesting,” Linares said. “It was very close, but he did surprise me with that body shot. I wanted to continue. I wanted to keep working, but the ref stopped the fight.”
The fighter widely known as Vasyl said this week he prefers to use Vasiliy, his legal name. And now he can be called lightweight champion after picking up the WBA’s version of the belt in front of a crowd of 10,429 that chanted “Loma! Loma!” as he made his ring walk — which came first for a change since he was the challenger — and waved blue and gold flags for much of the night.
It was Lomachenko’s eighth straight victory by stoppage, but this one was much tougher than a recent stretch of clinics in which his last four fights ended when his opponents’ corners wouldn’t let them take more punishment from the Ukrainian.
Lomachenko had joked he should be called “no mas Chenko” for his habit of making opponents quit, but Linares made him earn this victory.
The Venezuelan was on a 13-fight winning streak and was giving the two-time Olympic gold medalist the test he wanted, one that he said would bring out the best in what many already consider the most skilled fighter in the world.
“Thank you to Jorge Linares for giving me one more lesson in this interesting sport,” Lomachenko said.
Lomachenko said Thursday he needed to finally be put in danger to show his complete array of skills, and they were on display in the 10th round with a series of shots that Linares couldn’t defend, especially the left to his midsection that took the biggest toll.
Linares landed the fight’s first noticeable punches early in the second round but Lomachenko began to get dialed in later in the round, and Linares’ face showed some frustration by the end of the third as Lomachenko kept landing quick combinations and dancing out of the way when Linares fired back.
Lomachenko ended the fifth with another flurry and his manager, Egis Klimas, stood in the corner smiling and nodding his head, knowing he has someone special.
But the smiling stopped in the sixth, when Linares knocked Lomachenko down with a straight right hand in the final minute of the round. Lomachenko got up easily and didn’t appear hurt, but Linares carried the confidence from the knockdown into a strong seventh round.
“That right hand, it was a great punch. It happens,” Lomachenko said.
Lomachenko regrouped to win the eighth but Linares responded with a strong ninth, landing a solid combination that seemed to momentarily hurt Lomachenko. But that was his last highlight.
Lomachenko arrived at the arena to find a personalized Knicks jersey hanging in his locker and the crowd that included new Knicks coach David Fizdale roared when clips of him warming up were shown on the arena’s video screens.
But unlike when he fought at the smaller Theater inside MSG in December in his last bout, a sixth-round stoppage of the smaller Guillermo Rigondeaux, this time Lomachenko faced a bigger man and a much bigger test.
“Linares is a great champion,” he said, “and the fight was good for the fans and everybody.”
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