by Francisco Salazar
Not too long ago, it looked like Jorge Linares' career was over. He had lost back-to-back fights to Antonio DeMarco and Sergio 'Yeyo' Thompson, both by knockout.
Five years later, Linares is near the top of the lightweight division. Or at the top, considering who you speak with.
With a possible unification fight with Mikey Garcia in the works, Linares is not overlooking his opponent Saturday night, someone who could spoil those plans.
Linares returns to action tonight, facing Anthony Crolla at the Manchester Arena in Manchester, England. The 12 round bout will air live on Showtime, beginning at 6 p.m. ET/ 3 p.m. PT.
The Linares-Crolla clash is a rematch of their thrilling September 24 bout, one which Linares won by unanimous decision. With the win, Linares won the WBA World lightweight title.
Linares (41-3, 27 KOs) makes his return to a country, where he has had a penchant for thrilling bouts. Almost two years ago, Linares survived a fifth round knockdown to stop Kevin Mitchell in the 10th round.
While Crolla (31-5-3, 13 KOs) may have have a partisan crowd cheer for him tonight, Linares does not mind fighting in Crolla's backyard.
"I'm happy to be back here in England again and have another opportunity," said Linares this past week. "I get treated very well. I feel comfortable fighting here. The fans here have a lot of boxing knowledge and they know me well. It's nice (as) I feel at home."
Linares, who is originally from Venezuela, has had an 11-week training camp, which began in Japan and ended in Las Vegas. He is trained by Ismael Salas.
"I really think coming to train with Ismael Salas made the difference," said Linares, who has won his last 10 bouts. "It's what helped me really establish myself as a professional fighter and to gain more experience. We learn 'old school' as Salas always says. It really has worked well for me in the two years I've been with him."
Crolla compiled a 10-bout unbeaten streak prior to his close decision loss to Linares. Amongst his recent fights were knockout victories over Darleys Perez (to win the WBA title) and hard-hitting Ismael Barroso.
Despite the win he had in their first fight, Linares is expecting the best Anthony Crolla tonight.
"Crolla could come better prepared than last tonight," said Linares, who is promoted by Golden Boy Promotions. "Maybe he will throw more punches, maybe he will box more. I don't really know. The most important thing is I hope he has worked really hard and comes in great condition so there are no excuses and no doubts after the fight."
The World Boxing Council (WBC) has mandated Mikey Garcia, who won the WBC lightweight title by knocking out Dejan Zlaticanin on January 28, to face the winner of the Linares-Crolla fight.
A possible clash between Linares and Garcia would be welcomed by boxing fans and could be a big fight for 2017, but that depends if Linares is able to get by Crolla tonight.
But Linares is living in the now. A possible clash with Garcia would have to wait as Crolla is Linares' focus at the moment. But a convincing win over Crolla would likely solidify Linares' standing as the best lightweight in the world.
"I am honestly so happy because we are right where we want to be for this fight. (I am) ready to show the world who I am inside the ring."
To place a wager on this contest, check out these UK betting sites.
Francisco A. Salazar has written for RingTV since October of 2013 and has covered boxing in Southern California and abroad since 2000. Francisco also covers boxing for the Ventura County (Calif.) Star newspaper, Boxingscene.com, and Knockout Nation. He can be reached by email at [email protected] or on Twitter at FSalazarBoxing