By Cliff Rold
History says when facing exceptional talents, one’s best chance to defeat them often comes the first time around. Jose Luis Castillo and Marcos Maidana came much closer to defeating Floyd Mayweather the first time than the second. Joe Louis won every rematch in his career.
There’s an old notion that a superior fighter, once he’s seen the look of a tough foe, remembers them and is more lethal the second time. It’s not always true.
It was true Saturday night.
Anthony Crolla didn’t really have a case for winning his first fight with Jorge Linares but he made a hell of a scrap and earned a rematch with his effort. He again showed guts but the gap between them widened and Linares won going away.
Let’s go the report card.
Pre-Fight: Speed – Linares A-; Crolla B/Post: A; B
Pre-Fight: Power – Linares B+; Crolla B/Post: Same
Pre-Fight: Defense – Linares B; Crolla B/Post: B+; B
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Linares B+; Crolla B+/Post: A; B+
Crolla appeared to be trying to make some attack adjustments at the start but it took only a couple of rounds to show Linares had him in checkmate. Working the jab, using his feet, and working in his nasty uppercut, Linares won almost every round of the fight. His knockdown in the seventh was punctuation on this short rivalry, even as Crolla got up and showed tremendous guts.
Crolla willed himself into a respectable effort in the next couple rounds. He never untracked Linares but it spoke to the work ethic that got him into the titled race at all. He’s a good fighter who has been bested by a better one. There is no shame in that and he will have his chances at other fights down the road. He’s already talking about a move to 140; could that mean a crack at the winner of the Ricky Burns-Julius Indongo unification next month? Stay tuned.
For Linares, the time to strike is now. At 31, he’s in position for the best run of his career. Will he be recalled as a gutsy guy who made his way back towards the top but never quite etched himself as among the very best of his time? Or can he pick up the sort of scalps that validate all the talent he shows and firmly put his worst days behind him?
The answer to that question probably comes down to one fight: Mikey Garcia. There are other tough lightweights out there but none are as dangerous as Garcia. Linares would be an underdog and Garcia has both the skill to match him and the eraser to raise doubts given Linares’ history. It’s a fantastic fight if they can make it.
If not, there could also be the winner of Terry Flanagan-Petr Petrov in a unification clash. That wouldn’t be a bad consolation prize but for now let’s hold out hope that Golden Boy and Al Haymon can play nice for something better.
With that said, a trip back one week for some overdue thoughts on the excellent card now two Saturday’s past at Madison Square Garden featuring Roman Gonzalez-Srisaket Sor Rungvisai and Gennady Golovkin-Daniel Jacobs.
Let’s go to those report cards.
Pre-Fight: Speed – Gonzalez B; Sor Rungvisai B/Post: B+; B
Pre-Fight: Power – Gonzalez A; Sor Rungvisai A/Post: B+; A
Pre-Fight: Defense – Gonzalez B+; Sor Rungvisai B/Post: B; B-
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Gonzalez A; Sor Rungvisai B+/Post: A+; A
It’s hard to find many who scored this fight of the year contender for Gonzalez and readers won’t find that here. The final tally on this card favored Gonzalez in six rounds with five to Sor Rungvisai and one even. Others saw it wider for Gonzalez but due credit to the now two-time Thai titlist. He dropped Gonzalez early and gave him hell for all of twelve rounds.
Prior to the fight, it said here that he was a live underdog and the best puncher Gonzalez has ever faced. Both were proven true. Where Gonzalez deserves acclaim is in the way he adjusted. Busted open in more than once spot by repeated incidental head butts, Gonzalez showed how effective he can be defensively at close quarters. Sor Rungvisai landed plenty; it was a high output affair. However, Gonzalez did an excellent job slipping and picking shots with his gloves while landing more and surpassing the challengers output.
It was a great fight made greater by the final three minutes. Gonzalez, who has seemed to be slowing in the eleventh, dug deep for maybe the finest three minutes of his career to date. He went on the attack, looking to seal victory, and had Sor Rungvisai in a retreat we’d not seen all night. The decision went against him, but the will to win he displayed, the character in that last stanza, shouldn’t be forgotten.
Gonzalez may still be the best fighter in the world. He didn’t appear to lose this fight and after 46 straight he’ll have to deal with that sting. It was a reminder that a little luck goes into a long-standing “0.” A round here or there and Mayweather could easily have lost to Castillo. Joe Calzaghe got the benefit of the doubt in close rounds with Bernard Hopkins. Sven Ottke had an almost mystical ability to get odd decisions in Germany.
Very few finish undefeated for a reason. It’s a tight needle to thread. That doesn’t mean he can’t win a rematch, doesn’t sully his Hall of Fame credentials, and doesn’t detract from what is a genuinely exciting class at 115. Gonzalez added to his claim to being a truly great prizefighter in his first loss.
As to the victor, a lot of fight fans didn’t know Sor Rungvisai before a week ago. They know him now and they’ll be happy to see him again after this war. A rematch is in order, but which one? Will Gonzalez get his before Carlos Cuadras gets a chance to win a second title from Sor Rungvisai? We’ll see how it works out.
Pre-Fight: Speed – Golovkin B; Jacobs A-/Post: Same
Pre-Fight: Power – Golovkin A+; Jacobs A/Post: A; A
Pre-Fight: Defense – Golovkin B; Jacobs B/Post: Same
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Golovkin A; Jacobs B+/Post: A; A
This scribe was in the minority on this fight, favoring Jacobs as the victor at a tab of nine rounds to three. That might have been a little wide and perhaps a second viewing would change it. There were certainly rounds up for debate, including a first that could easily have been called even. This wasn’t a robbery and those who saw the thinking man’s battle between knockout punchers the other way can and have found their justifications.
Jacobs fought the fight of his life, no matter who people thought won. Outside of a fourth round knockdown, he kept himself away from the best of Golovkin’s power and landed enough of his own to take away a lot of what makes Golovkin so good. Golovkin largely played headhunter behind his schooled jab and was often limited in hat came behind the jab.
That’s because getting close to Jacobs had consequence. Jacobs landed some of the hardest rights and lefts anyone ever has on Golovkin, keeping him honest and away from his body. What was there to like about Jacobs? Well, through twelve rounds, they were mostly fighting his fight. He set the tone, often the pace, and dictated the space they were fighting at.
The amount of mental energy it took for Jacobs to stay as focused and disciplined as he did was evident in the way he collapsed at the final bell. Could he do it again in the rematch? It’s hard to imagine fighting Golovkin gets easier with twelve more rounds of trying to avoid the punishment he’s capable of. If we find out, it won’t be until 2018 and Jacobs may not be at middleweight anymore.
For Golovkin, this decision had some wondering if perhaps he’s aging. He might be, but one must also factor in that he saw a style he wasn’t used to and an opponent who wasn’t flat footed and right in front of him all night. The shallow middleweight field of the last few years hasn’t exactly been the sort that tests a top fighter to go beyond their most comfortable dimensions. It says here Golovkin still mops the floor with Canelo Alvarez or Billy Joe Saunders and those fights may happen before the year is out.
A fighter who can’t get out of the way or break Golovkin’s rhythm is in big trouble. It makes one want to see more then of the fighters who can test him. Golovkin is a very good fighter without the foes yet to prove him great. Let’s hope more tests are coming.
Report Card Picks 2017: 6-5
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@example.com