Jorge Linares has been a sleeping assassin among the upper echelon of the Pound for Pound (P4P) rankings for some time now and had finally burst through that ceiling by taking Anthony Crolla’s WBA Lightweight title and then delivering another masterclass in the rematch.
Or so it would seem.
But for the fact that our current crop of champions with legit claims to P4P greatness up and down the weight classes – from Anthony Joshua all the way down to former king Roman Gonzalez, with Terrence Crawford and the now-retired Andre Ward in the middle, Linares is left in the corner practicing his Rodney Dangerfield impression with his Venezuelan inflected Spanish… Aye! No Respect, I tell ya!
Hopefully, that changes after his gutsy win over Coolhand Luke Campbell to retain his WBC, WBA & Ring Magazine Lightweight title.
Chess is a game of ultimate strategy and is essentially a stand-in for war – every piece has power and every move must be deeply calculated. The game originated in China around the 6th century AD, spread through India then into southern Europe by the Persians who fell in love with the game. It’s believed that Boxing is at least that old but likely much older as statues with what appear to be primitive hand wrapping can be found among collections of Greek antiquity.
Linares and Campbell engaged in a brilliant display of high-speed chess from the opening bell, it was an easy night’s work for veteran ref Jack Reiss as the two men largely boxed in center ring, there was very little clinching or holding and testament to the skill of both men no head clashes as is often the case when a southpaw – in this case, Campbell meets a conventional fighter - Linares in the boxing ring.
There were some intangibles heading into the fight that ultimately seemed to have no bearing on the outcome but are worth mentioning regardless; Campbell at 5’10” is a huge Lightweight and at 29 is still filling out. He struggled to make weight for this fight however, ultimately ended up bang on. The size difference between the two was evident in the ring! For Linares, the questions remain about his chin, his propensity for being cut and his consistent work rate all of which continue to force him out onto the periphery of the P4P conversation.
Regardless, Linares started strong doing what he does best – catching and countering with finesse, speed and power like few in all of the boxing. Jorge Linares has some of the best sticking power on the fly you will see and when he’s firing it’s a thing of beauty! Round one was a cagey start by both men and quite technical. In only the second round Linares found a home for his straight right hand that cut and scored a knockdown on Campbell. Round three was more of the same as Linares was the boss, his balance, and power carrying the fight so far.
Oddly, beginning in the 4th round Linares became lazier with his defense, suddenly Campbell was finding his jab and was landing to the body as well. A similar pattern began to emerge in many of the middle rounds as Campbell was finding his range and landing however the gulf in hand speed still favored Linares and was still landing hard shots as well.
Campbell continued to show his mettle and battled back decisively in the sixth on my card. At the behest of Cuban trainer Jorge Rubio, he was moving, landing his jab with urgency and using his length well.
Linares became increasingly content to land only single shots in these middle rounds, though they were hard and accurate. Linares’ own trainer, a Cuban as well – the great Ismael Salas implored Linares to fire combos – the lead right hook even the lead uppercut a punch Linares is well known for were there!
The middle rounds were quite even in my opinion with several swing rounds, however, Campbell seemed the busier of the two fighters furiously pumping the jab for Linares he regularly landed the right straight. According to orthodox many believe this is the most effective punch against the southpaw. For the left-handed fighter, a panacea against this is the lead right hook or sometimes called the check hook that can be landed as each fighter attempts to gain outside foot position on his opponent.
The pawns have advanced and all the pieces are in play…white tries to gain space and claim the center of the board but black defends well and will seek any opportunity for counterplay!
What may have hurt Campbell was he seemed to take the 11th round off, this aided the champion who stepped on the gas in the last two rounds and won both the 11th and 12th round on my card.
When the final bell rang there was a collective inhale in the arena, the sting of the Golovkin – Alvarez decision quite fresh in everyone’s mind.
I thought that Campbell had dug himself out of the hole he was knocked down into early on, he was consistent and busy, mostly I thought the jab was winning him the fight. Linares seemed to validate the criticism that he’s inconsistent however due credit to Campbell who was no easy target – I scored it for Campbell by the slimmest of margins 114-113.
However, the only opinion that matters are that of the three judges Zac Young (115-112 Linares), Max DeLuca (114-113 Linares) and Victor Loughlin (115-113 Campbell). A split decision for the champion Jorge Linares.
If the game of chess is played perfectly by each player then the game should end in a draw. It was clear that Campbell’s knockdown in the second round ultimately cost him the fight, however he answered many questions with a valiant and tactical performance against a top-level opponent, Linares is 32 and 40 plus fights into his career while seemingly in his prime realistically is approaching that watershed age where the ring wars and grueling training more than take their toll. Campbell however, who delayed his venture into the pro ranks to fight for his country on the world amateur stage and ultimately winning an Olympic gold medal has room to grow physically and developmentally in the sport. Many wrote Campbell off as a hype job after his loss to Yvan Mendy in December 2015, yet since then has won five straight stopping four of those opponents prior to his loss last night to Linares and no shame there – it should now be easy to see with some slight adjustments Campbell will be a champion in short order!
This was a highly entertaining and strategic battle between two extremely skilled fighters – just what fans of the Sweet Science needed – an effective palette cleanser after the bitter pill we all swallowed last week!