By Francisco Salazar
INDIO, California - Jorge Linares is nowhere near done with boxing. Not by a long shot.
After the loss to Vasiliy Lomachenko on May 12, the boxing world would have understood and applauded the 33-year-old Linares had he decided to walk away from the sport.
Linares had won world title belts in three weight classes, has fought on four continents, made a lot of money and will likely be an inductee into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
That can wait as he has another weight class he would like to conquer.
Linares looked impressive in dropping fringe contender Abner Cotto in round three Saturday night at the Fantasy Springs Resort Casino in Indio, California. The fight was the first for Linares at 140 pounds.
Based on the performance, boxing scribes and fans can analyze Linares' performance in two ways: the fighter from Venezuela is near the top of the elite fighters at 140 pounds. Or Linares needs to face someone better than Cotto to prove he belongs amongst the best at junior welterweight.
Whatever it is, and based on the buzz on social media, it may be more that boxing fans are excited Linares has thrown his hat inside the proverbial ring of 140-pound contenders.
"I'm happy he can back with a win," Golden Boy Promotions' matchmaker Robert Diaz told BoxingScene.com immediately after the fight. "Saturday night was Jorge's third fight in 2018, in a time in boxing where there are fighters who fight once a year or once every two years. Jorge came back and looked impressive tonight."
The quick hand-speed and the elusiveness might not be there as it once was 10-12 years ago, but Linares is still a gifted and talented fighter. What he displayed Saturday night was more aggression, where he closed the distance and dropped Cotto once in round two and twice more in round three.
Linares gave himself a high mark on his performance.
I felt great and I demonstrated it with the knockout (win)," Linares told a small group of reporters in an impromptu post-fight press conference after the fight. "I know I didn't have an elite fighter in front of me, but I feel strong at 140 pounds."
"I looked for the knockout because I knew I could knock him out. I feel natural and great at this weight. I don't want to waste any time going forward, especially with the record and talent that I have. (Cotto) wasn't an easy opponent because these types of opponents are dangerous. He almost cut me (over my right eye) with a head-butt."
Linares may feel stronger and not having to cut weight, but there is a rematch he would like to fulfill. Lomachenko may have knocked Linares out, but the fight was close entering the 11th round (The fight would have been a split-decision draw had the fight ended after round 10). Linares scored a knockdown of Lomachenko in round six.
If a Lomachenko rematch presented itself, Linares would take it in a heartbeat.
"The only time I will drop down to 135 pounds is to face (Vasiliy) Lomachenko in a rematch," said Linares, who is co-promoted by Golden Boy and Teiken Promotions. "I will sacrifice going down in weight. I will repeat this again: I know how to defeat, especially now that I have a strong corner. I know I can beat him."
"I have to thank God that I was given the opportunity to fight the best pound-for-pound fighter in boxing today. I was happy to leave the 135-pound division, even though I didn't win. I almost won. I would like a rematch because in my four defeats, none of them have given me a knockout. I would love that rematch with Lomachenko. It would be excellent."
The likelihood of facing Lomachenko in a rematch is very slim. But a fight with Mikey Garcia does interest him. Garcia does have the WBC lightweight title, but Linares would have no problem moving down in weight for that fight.
For a fight between the two to happen, Golden Boy Promotions would have to meet with advisor Al Haymon and vice versa. It would be interesting to see whether boxing politics would prevent that fight from happening, something Linares has spoken to Garcia
"I have told this to Mikey Garcia. We have texted each other in the past about fighting each other. I congratulate him because he's a tremendous fighter. He's an excellent champion. He knows we can make this fight at anytime and anywhere. When the bell sounds, we are rivals. He knows how this business just like I do. I hope that can be made because it would an excellent fight."
Robert Garcia, who trains Mikey Garcia, was ringside for the Linares fight in Indio. Did Linares want to send a message to Garcia or any of the 140-pound world titleholders?
"The boxing world knows that when I come to the ring for every fight that I'm well-prepared, especially against the best opponents. I want to fight the best. If tonight was a statement for Jose Ramirez, Mikey Garcia or any of the top fighters at 140 pounds, then so be it. I'm glad I made this statement tonight. This is the message I'm sending to all of them, including Lomachenko at 135 pounds."
As appealing as a rematch with Lomachenko or a fight with Garcia, Linares' best bet would be to fight at 140 pounds. He would have to exert so much energy to drop down to 135 pounds.
Linares (45-4, 28 knockouts) is dead-set on facing Lomachenko, but understands and is resigned to now campaign as a junior welterweight.
"I'll fight anyone (at 140 pounds)," said Linares, who resides and trains in Las Vegas. "I admire and have worked with Jose Ramirez. He's not an impossible opponent to defeat. Ramirez is an excellent champion. I want to fight the best out there. Jose Ramirez. Mikey Garcia. There are a lot of great fighters at 140 pounds. They know who I am and I know who they are."
Eric Gomez, the president of Golden Boy Promotions, admits there are a lot of options for Linares for his next fight.
"I give Linares an 'A' for his performance," Gomez told BoxingScene.com early Sunday morning over the phone. "We will sit down with him and his manager. I believe he can fight and beat any fighters at 135 and 140 pounds."
"As far as our options go, we've had a few talks and we've had a few offers from promoters for Jorge to fight. That's all I can say. We will sit down and analyze these offers and we what's best for Jorge."
As Diaz pointed out about Linares fighting three times this year, the number could actually be four if Linares does get his wish to fight in December.
"I would love to come back and fight again in December. I wouldn't mind fighting early in 2019. I am keeping an eye on that Lomachenko fight against Jose Pedraza on Dec. 8. We're waiting to see the result of that fight."
Linares is in good shape to land a big fight, most likely at 140 pounds. One opponent Linares could face in 2019 is WBC junior welterweight titleholder Jose Ramirez, who Robert Garcia also trains.
Linares looked impressive, albeit against Abner Cotto, but there is the curiosity whether the Venezuela-born fighter can duplicate that against elite, even B-level fighters.
Seems like Linares does not need anyone or anything to make him believe he can become the best fighter at 140 pounds.
"I feel great at 140 pounds. This is the right time to move up in weight. This is the best decision of my career after making seven defenses of my (WBA) lightweight title. I don't have anything else to prove at 135 pounds. The only exception would be a rematch with Lomachenko. This is the right time to prove to myself how strong of a contender I can be at 140 pounds."
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