The lightweight world championship fight between titleholder Jorge Linares and junior lightweight titlist Vasiliy Lomachenko, the pound-for-pound king who will move up in weight, is fantastic for boxing on so many levels.
On Wednesday, the fight many have looked forward to was made official for May 12 at Madison Square Garden in the main event of a Top Rank ESPN card (8 p.m. ET). At a time when major fights are actually being made on a regular basis -- just look at the recent and upcoming ESPN and Showtime schedules -- this is just the latest in a series of top-notch matches in a sport headed in the right direction. The momentum from a great 2017 is carrying over into 2018. Yes, we still get some bad matches, ridiculous mandatory fights, and we sure don't get everything we want, but fans should rejoice and appreciate what is going on.
Linares (44-3, 27 KOs) and Lomachenko (10-1, 8 KOs) got exactly what they wanted and were not held hostage by the one thing that often ruins fights we want to see: issues between promoters, networks and managers. Neither boxer wanted a walkover opponent. Their desire was for a serious challenge in a high-profile (and lucrative) fight.
Now both fighters will get easily their biggest fight.
Linares, who has won titles in three weight classes, has been one of boxing's top practitioners for many years despite a few losses along the way. He's exciting, skilled and often in dramatic fights. Now he has a chance to notch a legacy-making win and earn his first $1 million payday.
Lomachenko has sought major challenges since the day the two-time Olympic gold medalist turned pro. He's seeking a world title in his third weight class in just his 12th pro fight, which would be a record for fewest fights needed to do that if he wins.
For the fighters, this is everything they wanted: big stakes, big stage, big profile and big money relative to what they have been making.
When I was told the fight was being seriously discussed in late January, I was skeptical it would happen. We've all been down the road before of hearing about a supremely interesting and exciting fight, only to have it not materialize either because people really don't want to work together, because they have such big egos they don't know how to say yes to the right deal or because there is funny business in the details that make a deal impossible to finalize.
Now, when fights such as Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao or, going back some years, Lennox Lewis-Mike Tyson became the must-see bouts of their times, they were eventually made despite massive issues because there was simply too much money at stake to let them get away.
In the case of Linares-Lomachenko it's not on that level, so it would have been easy to let it slip away, especially when issues arose over the date.
Lomachenko promoter Top Rank, the lead promoter of the event, and ESPN had a Lomachenko fight slotted for May 12 at the Garden. Golden Boy Promotions, Linares' co-promoter, has its own event on HBO that night at the Turning Stone Resort Casino a few hours away by car in Verona, New York, where junior middleweight titlist Sadam Ali will make his first defense against mandatory challenger and former titlist Liam Smith.
Understandably, Golden Boy did not want to compete with itself, nor did it want to put HBO, which pays the promotion millions annually to provide fights for the network, in a difficult position.
So, even after the camps had agreed to the financial terms, the date nearly killed the fight. But to show just how much both sides wanted the fight they -- incredibly -- compromised when either could have acted like a baby and walked away and blamed the other side.
Instead, they thought things through and came up with a fantastic solution that both promoters and networks were amenable to, one that truly is a win-win for everyone, including the fans. ESPN will begin its telecast at 8 p.m. ET (earlier than initially intended) and HBO will go on the air at 10 p.m., when the ESPN telecast is either already over or just about to end. Fans should not miss a single punch and can watch everything live.
No DVR needed.
No need to avoid Twitter.
Beyond how good this scenario is for the fighters and the fans, and how ESPN and HBO, which are not really rivals like HBO and Showtime, are cool with everything, there's also the positive vibe of Top Rank and Golden Boy playing nice with each other. I have no idea if this is a one-off situation or if the making of Linares-Lomachenko can be the beginning of at least a workable business relationship, replacing the bitter, rancorous and dysfunctional mess Top Rank and Golden Boy have shared for years.
Top Rank boss Bob Arum and Oscar De La Hoya, his former fighter and the CEO of Golden Boy, have oceans of water under their bridge. They've had good times and bad times.
Hopefully, this is the beginning of normal relations, which I think it might be because they are no longer both competing for HBO's dollars and dates. Top Rank now has a slew of dates and money coming from ESPN. Golden Boy has most of the dates and money from HBO's boxing budget. There's nothing really left for them to fight over at this point.
So if Top Rank has an A-side (such as when Lomachenko is on this fight), that company can make an offer for the fight. If Golden Boy has an A-side (for example, if Canelo Alvarez ever sought a super middleweight title and wanted to face Mexican countryman Zurdo Ramirez), same thing.
When Linares-Lomachenko was announced, Arum even went out of his way to praise Nelson, who could have been a roadblock to making the fight if he wanted to be. Miracles do happen.
De La Hoya, for years, has preached working with others and doing everything he can to make the best fights for the fans. Give him credit because he has delivered more often than he has not in recent times. Did he wait a little bit longer than we all would have liked to finally green-light Canelo-Gennady Golovkin? Yes, but it got made last year and was not overcooked. Now the rematch is scheduled for May 5.
As far as Top Rank goes, there has long been a false narrative -- fake news -- pushed in the Twitterverse and among boxing YouTubers, and it goes like this: Top Rank wants to make in-house fights only between its own fighters and doesn't want to work with anyone else. That is simply untrue. Since its partnership with ESPN began in July, Top Rank has regularly worked outside of its company to make fights.
Of the 10 prime-time cards on the Top Rank ESPN Series, Top Rank has worked with another promoter to make six of the main events. It has made fights with longtime rival Don King (Jose Ramirez-Amir Imam), Eddie Hearn (Oscar Valdez-Scott Quigg and Terence Crawford-Julius Indongo), Roc Nation Sports (Lomachenko-Guillermo Rigondeaux), Nestor Tobias (Raymundo Beltran-Paulus Moses) and Anthony Kermah (Ramirez-Habib Ahmed). Top Rank's April 28 ESPN main event, junior featherweight titlist Jessie Magdaleno's defense against interim titleholder Isaac Dogboe, was also made outside of Top Rank, with Dogboe promoter Rising Star Africa Promotions.
But by working with Golden Boy, long its biggest rival, Top Rank should put the false narrative to rest. And even better than that: We've all got a tremendously significant and exciting fight to look forward to.