By Francisco Salazar
Starting over for many fighters on the downside of their career may be difficult, but do not count out Jorge Linares.
He may have lost by knockout to Vasyl Lomachenko in his last bout on May 12, but Linares is still an elite fighter, gifted with a strong skill-set and power to drop opponents.
Just ask Lomachenko.
Linares will debut at a new weight class and have a new trainer in his corner Saturday night when he faces fringe contender Abner Cotto at the Fantasy Springs Resort Casino in Indio, California.
The 12 round elimination bout will headline a four-bout 'Golden Boy Fight Night' card that will be streamed on Facebook Watch (9 p.m. ET/ 6 p.m. PT).
After fighting at 135 pounds for almost a decade, Linares will now campaign as a junior welterweight. Linares would be a top contender, but he must get past Cotto, who is the younger cousin of Puerto Rican great Miguel Cotto.
"I want him to be prepared," Linares told BoxingScene.com in a recent phone interview. "I'm glad he took the fight and I'm sure he will be at his best on the night of the fight."
Despite the loss to Lomachenko, who some consider to be the top fighter in boxing today, Linares' tock went up with his performance. Linares did score a knockdown in the fight and the fight was a split decision draw entering the 11th round, when the fight ended.
Linares (44-4, 27 knockouts) believes he gained more fans and respect based on his performance that night.
"I demonstrated I could prepare and do well as I trained myself for the fight against Lomachenko," said Linares, who turned 33 last month. "I did better than most boxing experts expected I would do. I did not win the fight, but it was an excellent fight between two top fighters in the sport. No one expected that from me."
Most fighters would have taken the rest of the year off or come back at a later date, but Lomachenko wanted to return to the ring as soon as possible.
Linares claims to have the same motivation he had when he made his pro debut back in December of 2002, when he fought as a junior featherweight.
"My team and I made the decision that moving up to 140 pounds was best for me. Winning another world title is what motivates me. Also having my wife and children is what keeps me humble every day. I live and train in Las Vegas and I'm grateful to have them with me."
Linares is expected to defeat Cotto (23-3, 12 KOs), who has won his last five bouts, but who he will fight afterwards will be interesting. Linares will likely return to the ring in early 2019, but will likely aim to fight any of the world titleholders at 140 pounds.
That might be easier said than done as WBA titleholder Kiryl Relikh, along with Ivan Baranchyk and Anthony Yigit (who will be fighting for the vacant IBF title) are in the 140-pound World Boxing Super Series tournament. Maurice Hooker will be defending his WBO title against Alex Saucedo on Nov. 16.
Linares does have other options he would like to pursue.
"I would like to face (WBC titleholder) Jose Ramirez. I would still like to fight Mikey Garcia, but my focus is on Cotto on Saturday night.
Linares is currently ranked number four by the WBC.
Over the last several weeks, Linares has been working with trainer Jorge Zerpa.
"We know each other very well. We are both from Venezuela and we have a connection with each other."
Linares is motivated and believes he can make another run at a world title belt. There were some doubters who believes he was done after he lost back-to-back fights to Antonio DeMarco and Sergio Thompson about six years ago.
Linares would put together a streak of 13 consecutive victories and won the WBC and WBA lightweight titles.
He may be a step slower, but Linares has proved many people wrong thus far.
"I have always kept learning. This is not my final stand in boxing. I know what I need to do to put myself in the best position to win. The motivation will always be there."
"Most of all, I believe I still have a lot to prove in the sport."
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. He can be reached by email at [email protected] or on Twitter at FSalazarBoxing