Vasiliy Lomachenko lifted himself off the canvas, regained his faculties and figured out a way to bury a disabling punch to the ribs of Jorge Linares.
That damaging blow closed his thrilling pursuit to become the fastest man to wear a third weight-class belt, as Lomachenko scored a gritty 10th-round technical knockout of the veteran champion Saturday night at Madison Square Garden.
“Perfectly landed,” Linares lamented of the punch by Lomachenko (11-1), who added the World Boxing Assn. lightweight belt to the featherweight and super featherweight titles he won.
Linares (44-4), in his eighth straight lightweight title fight, stunned the pro-Lomachenko crowd in the sixth round by landing a right straight to the nose, knocking the Ukrainian down.
“He got hit on the kisser, but it was not a concussive punch,” promoter Bob Arum said of the knockdown, Lomachenko’s first since more than a decade ago as an amateur.
While Lomachenko retreated for the final seconds of that round, his mind remained sharp and he maintained his composure as the 10th round began, at which point the fight was even.
“I prepared for the last few rounds and my father told me, ‘You need to go to the body,'” Lomachenko said, illustrating the calm and direction that led him and his father to sweep the Boxing Writers Assn. of America awards for fighter and trainer of the year the night before.
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Lomachenko swept the ninth round, according to judges Julie Lederman, Robin Taylor and Steve Weisfeld, and maintained that energy in the 10th, as a tiring Linares dealt with swelling that nearly closed his left eye.
After combinations and uppercuts landed, Lomachenko delivered the decisive punch that dropped Linares. The 32-year-old Venezuelan took a while to rise and reached his feet with both arms down. Referee Ricky Gonzalez lifted them, looked him in the eyes and waved the bout over.
“The fight was getting interesting. It was very close. But he did surprise me with that body shot,” Linares said. “I wanted to continue, to keep working, but the referee stopped the fight.”
Lomachenko (11-1) barely out-landed Linares, 213-207, in total punches, but kept the champion on guard by throwing 112 more punches, with his jab an effective weapon while Linares landed more power shots.
Arum said he expects Lomachenko to fight again Aug. 25 at the Forum, likely against World Boxing Organization lightweight champion Ray Beltran, but it was clear that moving up five pounds from super featherweight presented a more complex test of physicality.
Lomachenko, 30, had stopped four consecutive smaller opponents on their stool. But Linares weighed 152 pounds Saturday after rehydrating from his 134.6 pounds the day before at the weigh-in, while Lomachenko weighed only 138, according to Top Rank President Todd duBoef.
“He was so much quicker [than Linares], but the guy clearly outsized him,” Arum said.
Instead of cruising as in those recent routs, Lomachenko could savor digging deep to find his way to victory and stand as one of 47 men in boxing history with world titles in three divisions.
“We always knew how good he was, but he was in a real fight,” Arum said. “This guy [Linares] was not going to quit. Lomachenko stood up to him and showed deep-down guts to knock him out. Tremendous.”
Said Lomachenko: “Thank you to Jorge Linares for giving me one more lesson in this interesting sport.”
In the co-main event, Indio-trained welterweight Carlos Adames of the Dominican Republic landed some heavy punches on Mexico’s Alejandro Barrera, but couldn’t stop him and had to settle for victory by unanimous-decision scores of 97-93, 96-94, 98-92.
Adames (14-0) is highly touted by his trainer, Joel Diaz, and he showed what the hype is about with impressive size and punching power.
But Barrera (29-5), who suffered a 2015 technical knockout loss to welterweight champion Errol Spence Jr., found the resolve to rally from getting staggered in the middle rounds to win some later rounds.
Ireland’s Michael Conlan (7-0) cruised to a unanimous-decision victory by three 80-72 scores over Spain’s Ibon Larrinaga (10-2) by outworking him and flashing more speed with several flush headshots in the featherweight bout.
Mikaela Mayer, a U.S. Olympian from the San Fernando Valley, improved to 5-0 with a six-round, unanimous-decision victory over New Zealand lightweight Baby Nansen (6-3-1).
And Brooklyn prospect Teofimo Lopez (9-0, 7 KOs) needed just 1:04 to knock out Brazil’s Vitor Freitas (14-2) in a lightweight bout.
The animated Lopez, 20, performed one of the popular dances from the Fortnite video game to celebrate the knockout, then quickly changed into a tuxedo to conduct some interviews and watch the remainder of the fight card.