The Agony of Jorge Linares
Last night's battle for the lineal lightweight title between Vasiyil Lomachenko and Jorge Linares was a gripping battle between the sport's emerging superstar and a proud champion who was willing to risk his belt for a chance at a greater glory. In the end, Lomachenko--though knocked down for the first time in his professional career in the sixth round--won by tenth-round TKO after delivering a crippling liver shot to the Venezuelan champion. At the time of the stoppage, I had the fight scored dead even, 85-85, although I admit to giving most of the close rounds to Linares, simply out of admiration for his determination to solve the rubik's cube puzzle that is Lomachenko. Linares got the better of Lomachenko in the first round by keeping the fight at a distance, where he could use his larger size and stiff jab to keep the Ukrainian at bay. But once Lomachenko started to work his way inside with dazzling footwork and handspeed, not to mention creative combination punches, it seemed like Linares was destined to be stopped. Then, in the sixth round, the momentum of the fight shifted dramatically when Lomachenko got careless and walked into a straight right hand from Linares that send the southpaw to the canvas. Lomachenko got up quickly from the knockdown, but seemed a bit stunned at first, and spent the final seconds of the round running from Linares. The seventh to the ninth rounds were close, as Linares looked to maintain momentum heading into the final rounds. But Lomachenko came on strong in the tenth, landing powerful combinations to Linares's head, causing him to lift his arms just enough for Lomachenko to deliver the coup de grace, the liver shot that sent Linares down, doubled over in pain and, in the correct judgment of the referee, unable to continue. With the stunning victory, Lomachenko had a signature win, and a world championship in a third weight division. Even better, the fight was telecast on ESPN, thus making it accessible for millions of sports fans who might have only a passing interest in boxing. All of which is to say, it was a good and hopeful night for the sweet science both in the present and in the future.
The knockout blow to the liver is probably my favorite punch in the sport. What I love about it is that, when delivered in just the right way, it can beat any fighter. No matter how tough or how game a boxer thinks he is, if he takes the wrong shot to the liver, the fight will end with the beaten man writhing on the floor. It is a conclusive and devastating way for a fight to end, as we witness the limits of the human body and the triumph of physical pain over fighting spirit. Every time I see a body shot end a fight, I think back to the September 2004 fight between Oscar De La Hoya and Bernard Hopkins, which ended with a liver shot to De La Hoya that left the resolute De La Hoya churning in agony on the canvas, unable to even contemplate the challenge of getting to his feet before the 10-count, so intense was the pain he suffered in that moment.
De La Hoya is now a member of the Boxing Hall of Fame, and Bernard Hopkins soon will be. Given the progress of his career and his unsurpassed amateur record, Lomachenko is a good bet to wind up in Canastota as well. And, I have to say, Linares got closer to the same recognition for the way he fought in defeat. In battles such as the one last night, the fight is defined as much by the losing boxer as it is by the winner. The winner represents the possibilities for greatness, triumph, and even perfection, but the loser, in all his suffering and agony, reminds us of the very human limitations of all those transcendant ideals.