By Cliff Rold
If the possibility of a chess match with potentially low punch output and long bouts of staring doesn’t appeal, fight fans can recall what happened the last time Bernard Hopkins was matched with a fellow boxer-first type on pay-per-view.
What happened was that the paying customers got their money’s worth before the main event. Often forgotten when trying to forget the long twelve rounds that was 2007’s Hopkins-Winky Wright was the outstanding undercard that supported it.
U.S. fans got their first real look at action star Michael Katsidis in a Fight of the Year contending knockout of Czar Amonsot. For twelve rounds, the two would take the measure of one another in a classic affair.
Nothing on the Hopkins-Dawson undercard looks as promising as Katsidis-Amonsot. That doesn’t mean the support bouts are lacking. In fact, one of the selling points of the show is that it is well constructed, a hedge against a main event that could be uneventful.
A key name on this weekend’s card certainly hearkens back to the Hopkins-Wright show, if simply because he was on it. And boy was he. Katsidis wasn’t the only star boxing followers (thought they) saw born that night.
Also featured, for a vacant WBC belt at Featherweight, was a clash between veteran Oscar Larios and an unknown, undefeated Venezuelan named Jorge Linares. He wasn’t unknown by night’s end. Showing off an exceptional jab, solid infighting, and the pop to finish late, Linares finished Larios in ten.
The reviews were strong, with the whispers of ‘pound-for-pound potential’ heard on the wind.
Potential is a bitch. It’s ascribing often speaks more to the eye bestowing the nod than the results produced by the bearer. Fighters deemed to have high-end ‘potential’ can find themselves ridiculed by a fickle, cynical public when they stumble, even if they never heaped the praise on themselves others did.
In the case of Linares, the cart was in front of the horse. Linares had won a single fight, against a single known commodity. There was more story needing to be written, much less told.
Linares was writing the story off Broadway, when he was in the ring at all. One more fight in 2007, and a single appearance in 2008, rubbed away much of the buzz. On the plus side, the 2008 appearance allowed Linares to pick up a second vacant title in a new class, this time a WBA strap at 130 lbs. The downside was that, given the right promotional ties, winning belts, especially vacant ones, isn’t that much of an accomplishment anymore.
Making his second start in 2009, Linares was cold cocked in the first round by a fellow undefeated, Juan Carlos Salgado. Those who wondered if Linares had been overrated after Larios could feel vindicated, another one-win wonder exposed by a single belt to the chin.
Linares (31-1, 20 KO) has dusted himself off since Salgado, getting in the ring more frequently and winning four straight. Victories over veterans Francisco Lorenzo and Rocky Juarez were good rebuilding blocks.
The rebuilding culminates on the Hopkins undercard this weekend as Linares tries to creep into the exciting current Lightweight title scene. He is matched with Antonio DeMarco (25-2-1, 18 KO) for a vacant (of course) WBC belt. With Juan Manuel Marquez likely to return to 135 lbs. after a futile Welterweight challenge of Manny Pacquiao, and Brandon Rios emerged as one the sports most exciting young stars, opportunity will come at Lightweight.
Linares has to win first. His first defeat was, in many respects, the end of ‘potential’ and the beginning of professionalism. This is the part where the world begins to find out what kind of stuff the still-only 26 year old really has.
There’s ample evidence that a fighter who suffers the sort of loss Linares did is always another bomb away from a similar result. Former Lightweight titlist Julio Diaz was just about everyone’s top prospect early in his career. One fight removed from a close decision loss to Angel Manfredy, he suffered a shocking first round defeat against journeyman Juan Valenzuela in 2002.
Diaz rebounded to have an exceptional professional run. The plethora of belts around gave Diaz chances to win straps but he never quite got into the elite mix, losing badly when he stepped into range of the best Lightweights and then, eventually, struggling to get past newer contenders. Valenzuela was hint of struggles to come.
Conversely, it’s proven a fighter can go on to the Hall of Fame despite a devastating setback early on. Terry Norris scraped himself off the floor against Julian Jackson to rule Jr. Middleweight for a sizable chunk of the 1990s.
A Linares peer, Amir Khan, is a growing global star at Jr. Welterweight, a unified titlist, and the winner of last year’s Boxing Writer’s Association of America choice for Fight of the year. It wasn’t long ago, 2008 to be exact, the former British Olympic Silver Medalist was a first round knockout victim.
Oh, wait…no, that’s Khan in 2011 looking like one of the best fighters in the world.
Of course, the story is still being told on Khan. The feeling that he might just be a bomb away hasn’t disappeared. The same is true for Linares for now. So be it.
If the crafty Venezuelan wins this weekend, he’ll have a diadem in his third division. Maybe that parlays in the long run into an eventual spot on pound-for-pound lists or a clear reign as the Lightweight king. Maybe it doesn’t.
Either way, Linares has a freedom from his lone defeat to go out and carve a career on its own terms. Salgado lowered expectations.
Now the potential is there to exceed them.
The Weekly Ledger
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Cliff’s Notes… Jean Marc Mormeck and Wladimir Klitschko talking trash to each other is appropriate. After all, the fight is utter garbage. Long reigns breed soft nights sometimes. Louis had them; Ali had them. Who knows? In the off chance James Toney upsets Cruiserweight Denis Lebedev, maybe they can dig him up to Heavyweight one more time. At least it would be entertaining press…If Dimitry Pirog’s people are making a bona fide offer for Sergio Martinez to go to Russia, why not? A real World Champion can fight anywhere. However, unless there is U.S. TV and neutral judges, just to start, a road trip like that won’t be any champ’s first choice…While accepting the strong possibility of a less than thrilling main event, the thinking here is that Hopkins-Dawson will at least end up a pleasant surprise. No matter, it’s not to be missed. Stack it all up, and Hopkins has a hell of a case as the best fighter of our time. Who knows how long until he really is just history instead of history making.
Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel, the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]