Jorge Linares will once again hit the road for the next step in his quest to become a three-time lightweight titlist.
Terms have been reached for a fight between Linares and Zaur Abdullaev, with the long-discussed lightweight bout now official. German Titov, Abdullaev’s promoter informed BoxingScene.com that the WBC lightweight semifinal eliminator will take place February 22 in Ekaterinburg, Russia.
An agreement was in place for several weeks, though initially with ambitious hopes of staging the fight before year’s end. Titov attended the annual WBC Convention in November with hopes of gaining approval for the fight to serve as a final eliminator to the WBC lightweight title currently held by Devin Haney (26-0, 15KOs), who next faces Joseph ‘JoJo’ Diaz this Saturday at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
The suggestion was politely shot down, though with the sanctioning body agreeing to a scenario where the winner could become eligible to then participate in a final eliminator. The bout will also come with Abdullaev’s WBC “Silver” title at stake.
The well-traveled Linares (47-6, 29KOs) will now fight in his ninth country over the course of his storied 19-year pro career. The 36-year-old former three-division titlist from Venezuela—who now lives and trains in Tokyo—spent more than half of his career in Tokyo, though with his U.S. debut resulting in his first title win, a tenth-round stoppage of former junior featherweight titlist Oscar Larios to claim the vacant WBC featherweight title in July 2007.
Linares—who had already fought in Japan, Panama, Venezuela, South Korea and Argentina by that point—then made his way to Mexico before moving up in weight to claim a super featherweight belt. The reign was short-lived, suffering a first-round knockout to then-unbeaten Juan Carlos Salgado upon his return home to Japan in October 2009. More than five years later would come his third divisional reign, winning a lightweight title in Japan in 2014 before making his way to England for wins over Kevin Mitchell and twice over Anthony Crolla in a span of four fights.
The fight with Abdullaev checks Russia off his bucket list, though with the potential to become a frequent participant in the Eastern Bloc. A win would leave Linares—who split with Golden Boy Promotions on amicable terms following his title fight loss to Haney this past May in Las Vegas—with the opportunity to do future business with RCC Boxing Promotions.
Abdullaev (14-1, 8KOs) will enjoy hometown advantage, as has been the case for all but one career fight. That occasion resulted in his lone career defeat, suffering a fourth-round stoppage to Haney in their September 2019 WBC interim lightweight title fight at Madison Square Garden Hulu Theater in New York City. Haney was subsequently upgraded to “World” titlist and will attempt his fourth title defense this weekend, more than six months after outpointing Linares.
Three straight wins have followed Abdullaev’s only loss, incuding a twelve-round decision over former titlist Dejan Zlaticanin this past September in Ekaterinburg.
Linares was also presented with the option of pursuing the WBA lightweight title he held for 20 months before losing to Vasiliy Lomachenko in May 2018 at MSG Hulu Theater. On the table for the former four-time titlist was an ordered title eliminator with unbeaten Dominican contender Michel Rivera. The two sides were instructed to enter a 30-day negotiation period which began November 18, though Linares was already committed to the fight with Abdullaev by that point.
Linares is currently ranked number-three by the WBC, with Abdullaev one spot below at number-four. The winner will plead his case to surpass current number-two contender Ryan Garcia (21-0, 18KOs), who also plans to return in the first quarter of 2022, ambitiously calling out newly crowned lineal/WBA/IBF/WBO/WBC “Franchise” champion George Kambosos Jr. (20-0, 10KOs) who dethroned Teofimo Lopez (16-1, 12KOs) on November 27 in New York City.
Lomachenko (15-2, 11KOs) is ranked number-one by the WBC, risking his place in line in a dangerous showdown with fellow former champ Richard Commey (30-3, 27KOs) on December 11 at Madison Square Garden.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox