LINARES, VALDEZ, RAMIREZ TRIUMPH IN TITLE FIGHTS

JORGE LINARES EDGES LUKE CAMPBELL IN TACTICAL FIGHT, AIMS FOR MIKEY GARCIA

Had you said five and a half years ago that Jorge Linares would someday be one of the top lightweights in the world, people would’ve laughed in your face and questioned your sanity.

Linares, after all, had been knocked out twice in a row. He’d dominated Antonio DeMarco early, only to get bloodied, hurt and stopped later on in their October 2011 fight. Then he got dropped and stopped in just two rounds by Sergio Thompson in March 2012. He’d also lost in 73 seconds to Juan Carlos Salgado in 2009.

This was a fighter who hardcore boxing fans once believed had the goods, who’d won world titles at featherweight and junior lightweight and was trying to do the same at 135. There wasn’t much reason to believe that anymore.

Much has changed since then.

 

Linares recognized his weaknesses, worked to improve on them, and has won 12 fights in a row, including six world title fights. His latest victory was a tough one — a close split decision over Luke Campbell on Saturday in a competitive, tactical fight.

It was surprisingly competitive given the knockdown Linares scored on Campbell in the second round. Linares threw a right hand that was blocked. Campbell moved away. Linares followed with a left hook that missed. Campbell continued to move away, but he moved straight back, getting caught with a right hand between the gloves that landed before the southpaw Campbell’s wider right hook could.

Campbell got up, steadied himself, and showed that he belonged in the same ring as Linares. He controlled the distance, caught a lot of Linares’ shots with his gloves, picked his moments and landed on occasion to the head and body, and held up well to the right hands that Linares landed.

Campbell did enough to win a number of rounds. But so did Linares — who won just enough of them to pick up the decision.

Two judges had it for Linares — one scored it 115-112 (seven rounds to five, with an extra point taken from Campbell due to the knockdown), while the other had it 114-113 (six rounds apiece). The third judge gave Campbell the edge, scoring it 115-113, with seven rounds to Campbell, four rounds to Linares, and one round even.

Linares is now 43-3 with 27 knockouts. He’s one of the top lightweights around, but it hasn’t been easy. There was a tough fight against Kevin Mitchell in 2015, when Linares had to get up off the canvas and come from behind on the scorecards to score a technical knockout in the 10th round. And there was a competitive fight with Anthony Crolla in 2016; Linares won their rematch by a much wider margin earlier this year.

Still, it’s more than ever seemed possible after the DeMarco and Thompson fights.

Now, Linares feels confident enough to call out Mikey Garcia, who also has a world title and is one of the best fighters in the world. There’s no guarantee the fight will happen, or that Garcia (who recently beat Adrien Broner at 140) will decide to return to the 135-pound division. Linares has also expressed interest in facing Vasyl Lomachenko should Lomachenko move up from 130. Of course, Lomachenko first has to win a fight with Guillermo Rigondeaux in December before looking forward to other opponents.

Campbell is now 17-2 with 14 KOs. The 2012 Olympic gold medalist lost a surprising split decision to Yvan Mendy in 2015 but had won five straight since. This won’t be a huge setback. Campbell performed well, showed his skills and comfort in the ring, and did all of this despite having lost his father to cancer just weeks before the bout.

He’ll once again bounce back from defeat. That’s far more certain for Campbell than had once been the case for Linares.

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