By Jake Donovan
Shortly after the disastrous ending to his last fight, Jorge Linares was described by HBO color commentator Max Kellerman as a fighter who is perhaps less than the sum of his parts.
The comment was made for good reason, as the fight itself was a metaphor for Linares’ career to date. The supremely talented ex-titlist looks every bit the part – so much that Golden Boy Promotions couldn’t wait to snatch up the aptly nicknamed “Nino de Oro” boxer.
For the greater part of the first ten rounds of his fight with Antonio DeMarco last October, Linares undoubtedly looked the part. There was a brief scare or two along the way but the Venezuelan was miles ahead on the scorecards heading into the championship rounds.
Then disaster struck… again.
Linares was knocked out in his only career loss, a 1st round blitzing against Juan Carlos Salgado more than two years ago.
The changing of the guard didn’t last very long as Salgado lost in his very first defense to Takashi Uchiyama, who still rules the division to this day. The Mexican boxer-puncher has regained his footing in the title picture, surviving a late knockdown against Argenis Mendez to cross the finish line and take a split decision in their vacant 130 lb. title fight.
Linares was two rounds away from an alphabet title reign in his third weight class, with a vacant lightweight belt at stake in his HBO PPV-televised co-feature last October. Instead, it was DeMarco who found a way to erase a massive deficit on the scorecards to come on strong and force a stoppage in the closing moments of the 11th round.
DeMarco has since made his first defense, a violent 5th round knockout of Miguel Roman two weeks ago in Mexico. The win paved the way for a highly anticipated rematch with Linares, as their first fight was regarded by many as one of the year’s best.
Plans are in place for a July 7 sequel in Southern California, the same corner of the world in which Linares fell from grace for the second time in the span of just over two years. It’s in that general area in which Linares plies his trade under the tutelage of esteemed head trainer Freddie Roach.
In order to get from here to there, Linares first has to get past tonight’s planned showcase bout against Sergio Thompson. The two collide in a main even that will be carried on Fox Deportes, airing live from the Oasis Hotel Complex in picturesque Cancun, Mexico.
While one of the more famous vacation spots in the world especially during this time of the year when many are on spring break, Linares knows that Saturday night is all business. Connected fighters are often giving the benefit of the doubt, but eventually run out of Teflon.
Linares has always bore the look, but at some point substance has to go with the style. Saturday night is the first step towards perhaps his last ever chance to prove that he is in fact the goods.
“The fight against Thompson is only part of the preparation for the rematch against Antonio DeMarco,” admits Linares (31-2, 20KO), though not to suggest he’s looking past the man who will be in his face for however long the fight lasts tonight. “This will help me heat the engines, because I’ve gone a few months without a fight after my fight against DeMarco in Los Angeles.”
The majority of Linares’ career has taken place in Japan prior to hooking up with Golden Boy Promotions in 2007. He has since split time between continents, though predominantly fighting on this side of the world. Two fights have taken place in Japan following his joining Golden Boy – the aforementioned loss to Salgado and a tune-up win over Jesus Chavez in July ’10.
The rest of the journey has taken place in Mexico, Venezuela and of course the United States. Saturday marks Linares’ second fight in Cancun, though his first trip to paradise also indirectly led to the longest layoff of his career.
A knockout win over Gamaliel Diaz in a Dec. ’07 title defense was his last as a featherweight. Linares abandoned the belt and the ring as well, sitting out for 11 months before resurfacing at the 130 lb. division with a vacant title win over Whyber Garcia.
There has been a noted trend to Linares’ title ventures, that each shot was for vacant belts rather than actually bump off a defending champion. This in part points to the metaphor that there is perhaps more (or actually less) than meets the eye and that his career is a bit of a mirage.
Tonight’s bout won’t necessarily indicate just how for real Linares is, in regards to belonging at the top level or justifying the hype that continues to surround his career. Thompson (21-2, 19KO) boasts no notable wins of note, in fact his record even more varnished than that of his opponent.
Two things play into Thompson’s favor tonight - home field advantage, as he lays his head in Cancun these days, as well as the fact that he’s yet to be dropped or stopped in 23 pro fights to date.
Linares can draw motivation from the latter, as DeMarco faced a similar circumstance in his title defense against the previously undentable Miguel Roman two weeks ago.
Anxious to make an impression in his first defense, DeMarco delivered big time.
“DeMarco’s dream of becoming a world champion was fulfilled when he beat Jorge Linares and he’s not going to let anyone take it away from him,” said Gary Shaw, DeMarco’s promoter, in announcing plans for the summer rematch. “The fact that he knocked out Roman for the first time in his career means he’s all business.”
The onus is now on Linares to prove that amidst a paradise location – one that figures to boast a partisan crowd in favor of his opponent – he can remain focused not just on the task at hand but also what lies ahead with a win.
“I am very happy to return to Cancun. I feel like I’m at home,” Linares insists. “I’m very happy and I know the location. The climate benefits us.”
A win would benefit him even more, though the preparation leading into this bout leaves the former two-division champ convinced that sticking to the game plan will be enough to get the job done.
“I have all the resources to win; to use my boxing, but I'm always taking care of myself in the event of a war,” Linares believes. “I’m not really focused on the knockout. I'm very determined to secure the victory with my boxing. If Thompson comes looking for the knockout, I am sure that he will [be the one to get knocked out.”
Doing so will make Linares the first to accomplish that feat, no greater way to enter his revenge-motivated return bout with DeMarco approximately three months from now. Whether knockout or decision, the goal for Linares is to ensure that nothing goes wrong to disrupt the plan in place.
"[Thompson] is a boxer who has enough desire and he wants to come out in this fight and wants to take me out of my game place, so the idea is to not allow that to happen.”
Then again, it’s already twice proven to be much easier said than done.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter:@JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to JakeNDaBox@gmail.com