By Francisco Salazar
INGLEWOOD - Jorge Linares is still a great fighter.
He proved that again Saturday night in defeating a young, strong challenger in Luke Campbell.
Linares was able to win the last two rounds to defeat Campbell by split decision over 12 rounds before an announced, but boisterous crowd of 4,125 at The Forum.
Linares (43-3, 26 knockouts) has come a long way when people thought he was finished several years ago.
Remember? The back-to-back knockout losses to Antonio DeMarco, just up the 110 Freeway at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, and five months later to Sergio Thompson in Cancun, Mexico.
Teiken and Golden Boy Promotions never gave up on 'El Nino de Oro' (which means The Golden Boy in Spanish). Instead, they kept putting him on fight cards in Japan and Mexico, along with fight cards in Las Vegas.
That investment to still go all in with Linares, who is 32 years of age, has paid off.
"He's the best fighter at 135 pounds," said Oscar De La Hoya to a small pool of boxing scribes after the fight.
Linare just might be. He owns the WBA title and the RING Magazine belt. The Venezuela native has not lost in 12 fights.
And props to Luke Campbell tonight. He came to win and did not look like a fighter who was in awe of facing Linares or of fighting for the second time in the United States.
Campbell showed his grit and fortitude in surviving a second round knockdown to take the fight to Linares during the middle rounds. He was able to win a decision on one scorecard, although many boxing scribes at ringside were puzzled by the 115-113 scorecard for Campbell.
He did make one fan with his performance Saturday night.
"My hat is off to him," said De La Hoya. "I believe Luke Campbell will be a world champion one day."
Campbell is promoted by Eddie Hearn.
The scorecards reflected an even fight going into the championship rounds, but Linares won the last two rounds, even stunning Campbell during the 12 round.
The other two judges scored the bout 115-112 and 114-113 for Linares. Boxingscene.com scored the bout 116-111 for Linares.
Compubox numbers revealed a close fight. Linares landed 140 out of 414 punches (33.8 percent), while Campbell connected with 141 out of 524 punches (26.9 percent).
"I fought very well," said Linares in a post-fight interview. "At the fifth round, we had some trouble, but we came out on top. I have a great connection with my team and with my trainer, so we worked hard and kept at it. I had to let the dogs out."
Asked who he would like to fight next, Linares mentioned the WBC titleholder at 135 pounds.
"I would like to fight Mikey Garcia next," said Linares.
That is a fight many in boxing would like to see. In fact, that is a fight many boxing fans will welcome as Garcia was even open to a fight against Vasyl Lomachenko, if the Ukraine-born fighter wanted to move up in weight.
De La Hoya did say there are other options on the table as to who Linares could face.
"We're going to go back to the drawing board. We will see what weight class (Linares) will fight in. If he wants to go up to 140 (pounds). There's different options for him. We'll see what happens."
Francisco A. Salazar has written for Boxingscene.com since September of 2012 and has covered boxing in Southern California and abroad since 2000. Francisco also covers boxing for the Ventura County (Calif.) Star newspaper, RingTV.com, and Knockout Nation. He can be reached by email at [email protected] or on Twitter at FSalazarBoxing