Back in April, I decided to leave cold, wet and windy Manchester with my wife and fulfil a life-long dream to travel South America for 10 weeks.
Abandoning the pressures of everyday life and routines was liberating, as I immersed myself in my travels. Even boxing was an afterthought other than one book – Dark Trade by Donald McRae and the then latest issue of Ring Magazine, I had very little to keep my mind on the sport.
In May we arrived in La Paz, Bolivia. It certainly lived up to its billing as one of the ‘New 7 City Wonders of The World.’ A city created within a canyon, 4000 metres above sea level at its highest peak. We took a cable car to the top of the city, upon which were the most breathtaking of views. Looking downwards towards the centre, of this bowl-shaped city were roads, houses and schools all built on the sloping land. More spectacular still was the ubiquitous sight of the Illimani – a snow-capped mountain that overlooked La Paz and added awe to an already stunning city.
However, on May 12th, whilst still in La Paz, boxing sprung to my mind and there was one event that was unmissable. Vasiliy ‘Hi-Tech’ Lomachenko stepped up in weight to challenge the Ring Magazine champion Jorge Linares for the lightweight crown. Two terrific technicians with superlative skills going head-to-head in a contest that even their rival promoters (Linares of Golden Boy Promotions and Lomachenko of Top Rank) couldn’t deprive boxing fans of witnessing.
Despite using this trip to ‘get away from it all,’ it was ironic that not only was I adamant to see this fight but also that I would end up watching it at a supposedly English pub. So I took a seat, glued my eyes to the TV and watched the action unfold.
The fight was fantastic. Lomachenko used his array of magnificent skills to bewilder the noticeably larger champion, peppering him with many shots to the head and body whilst using expert footwork and upper-body movement to be evasive. He built up an early lead and oozed confidence but Linares dug deep and displayed admirable resolve. The champion attempted to claw his way back into the contest, by unleashing blurring combinations of his own and thudding body shots to slow down the dizzying offense of ‘Hi-Tech.’
In the 6th round, with Lomachenko looking comfortable, he flicked out a jab that fell short and was beautifully countered with a straight right hand by Linares that sent him tumbling to the canvas for the first time in his career. The Venezuelan sought to take advantage of the sudden swing in momentum as he piled on the pressure, looking to upset his celebrated challenger.
However, Lomachenko stood firm. Having regained his composure, he fought himself back into the perpetual-rhythmic-style that he is famed for. Demonstrating the type of will and determination owned by great champions, he fought in the trenches against the bigger man and landed punishing punches that opened up a cut on Linares’s eye in the 8th round.
By the 10th stanza of the fight, Linares had given his all in an effort to match the blistering work of his foe and despite his heart and mind being willing, his body had begun to wilt. The snap and accuracy from his punches had diminished and his footwork became increasingly static. Lomachenko focussed his assault on Linares’ injured eye and as the Venezuelan raised his arms to protect his battered face, Hi-Tech quickly diverted his attack to the body. A left hook bludgeoned into the liver of Linares and instantly left him crumpled on the canvas. He managed to rise to his feet before the count of ten but was hunched in agony, providing enough evidence for the referee to wave off the fight.
In what was just his 12th professional contest, Vasiliy Lomachenko had broken the record for needing the fewest fights to become a three weight world champion. He achieved it against the most accomplished and willing opponent available, with a glittering performance that highlighted every one of his tremendous fighting attributes.
Boxing purists were delighted, as they were treated to a violent chess match of the highest calibre, where even the vanquished Venezuelan can feel proud of his immense contribution to an entertaining and dramatic battle.
Soon after, I began the steep 100 metre incline-walk back to my hostel. Suddenly out of breath due to the altitude and hunched over like the recently defeated Linares, I took a minute to turn around and look back to appreciate the remarkable city of La Paz.
Thinking back to that moment, Linares vs Lomachenko was not just my favourite fight of 2018 due to the special performances between two elite boxers. It was also my most memorable because of the equally spectacular city that I watched it from – and the trip of a lifetime that it will forever be synonymous with.