Talks begin for Jorge Linares-Vasiliy Lomachenko lightweight title showdown

Lightweight world champion Jorge Linares made it clear that as long as he defeated Mercito Gesta this past Saturday night, he wanted his next title defense to be against a top opponent.

Indeed, Linares rolled to a one-sided unanimous decision against Gesta at The Forum in Inglewood, California, to retain his 135-pound belt for the third time, and then reiterated his desire for a major fight.

There are two opponents he has been linked to for possible bouts that would qualify as major fights: fellow lightweight titleholder Mikey Garcia and pound-for-pound king Vasiliy Lomachenko, a junior lightweight world titleholder who plans to move up to lightweight.

Garcia, however, is tied up because he is scheduled to challenge junior welterweight titlist Sergey Lipinets for his belt on March 10. But Lomachenko is going to fight this spring and very well could face Linares.

Top Rank chairman Bob Arum told ESPN on Monday that talks are underway for them to meet in the main event of a Top Rank ESPN card on either April 28 or May 12 at a site to be determined.

Arum said he has been discussing the bout with Teiken Promotions' Akihiko Honda, the leading Japanese promoter, whom Arum has known for decades and who co-promotes Linares with Golden Boy Promotions.

"I've been talking to Mr. Honda for a month about the possibility of Linares-Lomachenko," Arum said. "But I had to wait for Linares to fight on Saturday night and see how things turned out. Well, the kid won. Now we can discuss terms for the fight. I'm waiting to hear back from Honda.

"Knowing Honda, he'll probably ask for the terms he wants and we'll work that out, and then he would have me contact Golden Boy for the provision of services contract and to work out the other stuff, like tickets, travel, those details. So far in my conversations with Honda, everything is proceeding nicely, so we'll see."

Arum said, according to Honda, it is a fight Linares is very interested in -- and the same goes for Lomachenko and his manager, Egis Klimas.

"It's being worked on for the next fight," Arum said. "We want to make sure that Linares is OK and ready to go. He had a little cut [against Gesta] and he hurt his hand a little bit, so we need to make sure he's fine. Depending on how he feels, the fight will be either April 28 or May 12. Linares is a tremendous fighter. He's a guy with an excellent résumé and a good name.

"I've been communicating with Lomachenko through Egis and they are both very enthusiastic to do that fight, as is Lomachenko's father [trainer Anatoly Lomachenko]. I haven't talked to Golden Boy yet, but I have talked to Honda and Honda doesn't mess around. His kid wants the fight and we want the fight."

Golden Boy CEO Oscar De La Hoya said after Linares outpointed Gesta 118-110, 118-110 and 117-111 that he was ready to make the match.

"We're ready," De La Hoya said. "Lomachenko versus Linares is the fight to make, so we have to make it. For 2018, our goal is to always make the best fights and that's actually one of them out of many, so Bob Arum, give me a call."

De La Hoya reiterated his view on Monday, telling ESPN, "I want Linares to fight Lomachenko next and if Bob Arum is serious about making the fight, then I'll wait for his offer and see what it is. But that's the fight we want next for Linares. That's the fight the fans want to watch and I'm all for it."

Linares' past two fights have been on HBO, which is closely aligned with Golden Boy Promotions, while Top Rank fights are exclusively on ESPN. De La Hoya said that would not get in the way of making the fight.

"Golden Boy will not stand in the way of any fight," De La Hoya said. "For my fighters, I'm going to try to make the most money for them. If Bob Arum is going to come with an offer and I feel I can beat it, he should give me an opportunity to do so whether the fight is on HBO or ESPN. But I want to make the most money for my fighters. We are not going to get in the way of this fight being made."

Lomachenko (10-1, 8 KOs), 29, a two-time Olympic gold medalist from Ukraine, has won world titles at featherweight and junior lightweight, setting records along the way. He won a featherweight belt in his third pro fight in 2014 to tie the record for fewest fights needed to win a world title. When he won a junior lightweight title in his seventh fight, in 2016, he set a record by winning world titles in two weight classes in the fewest number of fights.

In a high-profile fight on Dec. 9, Lomachenko made Guillermo Rigondeaux quit after the sixth round of a one-sided bout that was the first-ever meeting between two-time Olympic gold-medal winners. Rigondeaux was the fourth opponent in a row to quit against Lomachenko.

Since he turned pro, Lomachenko, who was voted the 2017 fighter of the year by the Boxing Writers Association of America, said he wanted to win as many titles in as many weight classes as he could and set records.

A pro since 2002, Linares (44-3, 27 KOs), 32, a Venezuela native who now fights out of Las Vegas, has won world titles in three weight classes: featherweight, junior lightweight and lightweight. The victory against Gesta was Linares' 13th in a row since back-to-back stoppage losses to Antonio DeMarco in the 11th round because of severe cuts in 2011, and to Sergio Thompson in the second round in 2012.

During Linares' winning streak he has won two lightweight titles and feasted on the best British lightweights, winning in England three times against Kevin Mitchell and Anthony Crolla (twice) and also beating Luke Campbell in September.