by Cliff Rold
When the money is right, a sequel is sometimes the best option. This Saturday (Showtime, 6 PM EST/3 PM PST), Jorge Linares will return to the lion’s den and attempt to send Manchester’s Anthony Crolla to the showers empty handed in his hometown.
If he can, Linares may be on the verge of the most lucrative moment of a fourteen-year career. All he ahs to do is repeat his last outing. In a rousing fight, and one of the most complete performances of his career, Linares looked every bit the star he’s never quite become.
Crolla didn’t make it easy the first time and he won’t this time either. It was a good fight. Does a better one wait for us this time? Or does Linares finish this rivalry off in style?
Let’s go the report card.
Title: Ring/WBA lightweight (2016-Present, 1st Attempted Defense)
Previous Titles: WBC featherweight (2007-08, 1 Defense); WBA super featherweight (2008-09, 1 Defense); WBC lightweight (2014-15, 2 Defenses)
Weight: 134 ¼ lbs.
Hails from: Barinas, Venezuela
Record: 41-3, 27 KO, 3 KOBY?
Record in Major Title Fights: 8-2, 7 KO, 2 KOBY
Rankings: #1 (BoxingScene, ESPN), #2 (TBRB, Boxing Monthly), #4 (BoxRec)
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: 5 (Oscar Larios TKO10; Juan Carlos Salgado TKO by 1; Jesus Chavez RTD4; Antonio DeMarco TKO by 11; Anthony Crolla UD12)
Previous Titles: WBA lightweight (2015-16, 1 Defense)
Height: 5’8 ½
Weight: 134 ½ lbs.
Hails from: Manchester, Lancashire, United Kingdom
Record: 31-5-3, 13 KO, 1 KOBY?
Record in Major Title Fights: 2-1-1, 2 KO
Rankings: #4 (Ring, ESPN), #5 (Boxing Monthly), #6 (BoxingScene, TBRB), #9 (BoxRec)
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: 3 (Gavin Rees UD12; Darleys Perez D12, KO5; Jorge Linares L12)
Pre-Fight: Speed – Linares A-; Crolla B
Pre-Fight: Power – Linares B+; Crolla B
Pre-Fight: Defense – Linares B; Crolla B
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Linares B+; Crolla B+
The gap in the first fight in speed, overall skill level, and execution made all the difference in the first fight. Linares was usually first and landed in superior combination. That didn’t mean Crolla didn’t have moments. The best of them were predicated in a focused body attack. It’s a place he has to go to again, even at the risk of taking more fire.
Linares, for as good as he looked, remains a question mark when it comes to durability. Crolla didn’t do enough to slow Linares down as the fight wore on. It may be that Linares has matured in such a way that his pacing has caught up to his talent. He used his feet wisely against Crolla the first time and never took the sort of punishment he did in the grueling loss to Antonio DeMarco.
Crolla doesn’t have the sort of stunning initial power that Juan Carlos Salgado and Sergio Thompson did in catching Linares early. He has to find a way to get Linares out of rhythm to have a shot to reverse this outcome. That may mean getting rougher on the inside.
Can he get there and stay there to do it? The first fight suggests that is an uphill battle. Linares, respectful but not fearful of the incoming, was as relaxed and focused as he’s ever been in their first fight. Can he repeat that level of focus?
There is a sense here that Linares is going through the sort of evolution that heavyweight Wladimir Klitschko once went through. Like Linares, Klitschko looked like the future of his field early on and then stumbled on his path. It took time for him to marry his talent to his professional development. Klitschko, like Linares, had to become both physically and mentally tougher.
So in terms of intangibles, we may just be dealing with a better Linares than we ever have. It appeared so in his last fight, and in his off the canvas stoppage of Kevin Mitchell in 2015. Crolla is a solid professional that has maximized his talent and shown his own maturing over the last few years. It wasn’t enough the first time.
In the end, it comes down to one guy just being better. If both guys are on, Linares is more well-rounded and is more athletic. That’s a bad recipe for Crolla. If he can get to Linares’ ribs and hurt him, he’s got a chance to win. He’s gritty enough to stay in the fight regardless. At the final bell, it will be another commendable defeat that probably gets scored closer than the reality of the ring would indicate. The pick is Linares in another decision.
Report Card and Staff Picks 2017: 5-5
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]