Usually the hard part to make a deal for a major fight is hashing out the money. But in the case of the proposed showdown between lightweight world champion Jorge Linares and junior lightweight titlist Vasiliy Lomachenko, the pound-for-pound king, that was a snap.
In a matter of a few phone calls over the past week or so between Top Rank president Todd duBoef, Lomachenko's promoter, and Teiken Promotions' Akihiko Honda, Linares' co-promoter with Golden Boy, they settled on a number to be paid to the Linares' side: $1.2 million, of which Linares would receive $1 million, by far the biggest purse of his 16-year career.
However, the very attractive fight probably is not going to happen because of a dispute over the date.
Top Rank planned to stage the fight as the main event of an ESPN card on May 12 at Madison Square Garden in New York. However, Golden Boy said that date is unacceptable because it has an HBO event that night -- the probable return of junior middleweight world titleholder Sadam Ali for his first defense since sending Miguel Cotto into retirement in December, along with the replay of the May 5 pay-per-view rematch between middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin and Canelo Alvarez.
Both sides are dug in. Top Rank said it initially looked at April 28, but because Linares suffered a small cut and a bruised hand in a title defense against Mercito Gesta on Jan. 27 (on an HBO undercard), Honda said April was no good but that May 12 was fine. April 28 also would not have worked for Golden Boy because HBO also has a card that night and on the telecast it plans to heavily promote the May 5 PPV.
But Lomachenko (10-1, 8 KOs), 29, the two-time Olympic gold medalist from Ukraine, and Linares (44-3, 27 KOs), 32, who is from Venezuela and fighting out of Las Vegas, both want the fight. Lomachenko, already a two-division world titleholder, has routinely fought the best available opponents and his stated goal is to win as many titles as he can. He said after his last fight in December that he was interested in facing Linares.
Linares, who has won world titles in three weight classes and is riding a 13-fight winning streak, also is hungry for a major fight. He wrote on social media this week directly to Lomachenko, telling him, "I know you are ready for May 12. Also I am too. I don't want politics to interfere with our bout. I will tell my promoter Golden Boy no matter what will take the fight for the benefit of boxing and the fans."
If only it were that easy. Top Rank and Golden Boy don't get along and rarely have, even though Top Rank and Honda have a strong relationship and Honda and Golden Boy also do business. But neither side is interested in budging.
According to duBoef, he spoke to Honda and Teiken executive Akemi Irie about the date, and they settled on May 12.
"Akemi said May 12, fine, great," duBoef said. "I said, 'Let me know what you need for the fight. Mr. Honda came with a number; I gave him a counteroffer. Then he came back to me and said, 'Can you do it for this number?' And I said, 'For you, yes, I can.' He said give me [last weekend] to make sure we're good. He calls me on Monday night, and he says we're all good, please have somebody from Top Rank call Golden Boy and do the details on travel, tickets, the minutia. The first thing we resolved, before the money, was the date because of the sensitivity to Linares' health.
"First I heard that there was a problem with May 12 was after [Top Rank vice president] Carl [Moretti] had a conversation about it with [Golden Boy president] Eric Gomez on Tuesday. Mr. Honda called me about it apologizing and very upset. He said they knew May 12 from the beginning, and he was very disappointed."
Top Rank chairman Bob Arum as well as duBoef said that whether Lomachenko fights Linares or somebody else -- possibly the winner of Friday night's ESPN-televised vacant lightweight title fight between Raymundo Beltran and Paulus Moses -- he will be fighting May 12 at Madison Square Garden. Arum said that he has already secured the Garden, which is eager to have Lomachenko in the main arena after he sold out the facility's 5,500-seat Theater for his December fight against Guillermo Rigondeaux, and that May 12 is the date that ESPN carved out for the fight during a busy NBA playoff season.
"That's the date held by ESPN, and I'm not going to drag over Jorge Linares," duBoef said. "Lomachenko is fighting May 12 on ESPN, and we'd like for him to fight Linares. So would Mr. Honda and Linares."
Arum has accused HBO Sports president Peter Nelson of leaning hard on Golden Boy not to allow the fight. Golden Boy and HBO deny the charge.
"Golden Boy has also been talking to us for quite a while about a live fight on May 12," HBO Sports spokesman Ray Stallone told ESPN in a statement. "HBO has not received any offer on a Linares-Lomachenko fight yet. We look forward to receiving one -- since we do have a first/last [contractual option] with Jorge Linares and have interest in the fight. We are not standing in the way of anything."
Gomez said Golden Boy would be happy to do the fight, just not on May 12 because it does not want to promote against itself.
"We told Mr. Honda no problem, try to get a deal done, but we can't do the fight a week before the pay-per-view or the week after because we're doing an HBO event," Gomez said. "But I have a solution. If Arum is committed to Madison Square Garden and it has to be May 12, HBO would buy the fight. I spoke to Peter Nelson and he will absolutely buy the fight and based on the numbers Honda gave us, HBO will pay more. Now that's a solution. We're flexible. We can do it on HBO. If Arum is committed to ESPN then let's pick another date."
DuBoef said putting the fight on HBO is a nonstarter after Top Rank recently left HBO to move all of its fights to ESPN.
"It's not in consideration for me to go on HBO," he said. "We have an agreement with Mr. Honda and he was telling Golden Boy that we all believe the best place for this fight is on ESPN, a sports platform with the most amount of homes and the best possible viewership. Coming off nearly 2 million viewers for the Rigondeaux fight we are going to keep the momentum going regardless of if it's Linares or the winner of Friday night's fight."