Many left Jorge Linares’ career for dead five years ago.
In 2011, he faced Antonio DeMarco for a vacant lightweight world title and though he was winning handily, he suffered terrible cuts and eventually was stopped in the 11th round of a major upset. Then, in his next fight in early 2012, Linares hit bottom when he was stunningly stopped in the second round by Sergio Thompson in a world title eliminator.
Those problems now, however, seem like a lifetime ago. Linares has won 11 fights in a row, claimed two versions of lightweight world titles and beaten quality opponents Kevin Mitchell and Anthony Crolla (twice), both on their turf in England, in his last four fights.
Linares, who is from Venezuela, but also spends considerable time in Japan, has not forgotten the tough times.
“Bad moments in that time because I lost two times (in a row),” Linares said. “It was a very bad, bad time. I thought about retiring (after the losses). But, you know, I had very good people around me. Everybody talked to me. Now I feel I’m in the best moment in my career.”
A big part of putting it behind him was taking the recommendation of Akihiko Honda of co-promoter Teiken Promotions. Honda said he should hire trainer Ismael Salas.
“My promoter from Japan, Mr. Honda, says, ‘I have very good coach for you, it’s Salas,'” Linares said. “I changed everything in my style. Now I have five years with Salas. Every fight I looked better, I looked amazing. He changed my style because before I fought like an amateur.
Linares (42-3, 27 KOs), 32, who has also won world titles at featherweight and junior lightweight, has been fighting extremely well in recent fights, including back-to-back victories against Crolla in his last two fights. He hopes to keep his hot streak going when he faces another British fighter, this time in the United States, in mandatory challenger Luke Campbell on Saturday (HBO, 10 p.m. ET/PT) at The Forum in Inglewood, California.
The fight will be Linares’ first in the United States since 2014, and his first as an HBO headliner. That has him excited.
“This is a great fight for me. I am the first Venezuelan boxer to headline an HBO show and it is a huge privilege,” he said. “I hope that with this fight, I leave a big enough impression and make Golden Boy, Teiken, and HBO proud. I’m actually looking at footage from the last time I fought in L.A. against Ira Terry because he has a similar fighting style to Campbell, and in my opinion I think that night’s game plan and execution was almost perfect – minus the cuts – and will make sure we get the victory.”
Salas said Linares has done everything he needs to do to be ready for Campbell, who will be fighting in the United States for the second time.
“We’ve had a very good camp. We’ve been in camp for almost three months in London, then we finished it up in the USA,” Salas said. “For sure, we will bring the best out of Jorge. He has been growing day by day. Everyone is saying that since he has lost, which was five or six years ago, he has become a different fighter. It’s time to prove it, and he is ready for that.”
Campbell is the underdog, but he has lot going for him, Linares believes.
“He’s not an easy fighter,” Linares said. “He’s an Olympic champion, so it’s a big opportunity for me. He has a very good style, southpaw, he’s fast and he’s taller than me.”
The telecast will open with a replay of last week’s action-packed draw between unified middleweight world champion Gennady Golovkin and Canelo Alvarez in the year’s most significant fight. It will be followed by the scheduled 10-round co-feature between junior welterweight contender Antonio Orozco (26-0, 17 KOs), 29, of San Diego, and Roberto Ortiz (35-1-2, 26 KOs), 31, of Mexico. Expect that one to be a brawl.
Campbell (17-1, 14 KOs), 29, who won a 2012 Olympic gold medal for Great Britain, stopped former world titleholder Darleys Perez in the ninth round in April in a title eliminator to earn a mandatory shot at Linares. He’s won five fights in a row since a stunning split decision upset loss to French journeyman Yvan Mendy in London in December 2015.
“This is why I turned professional, for big nights like this to test myself,” Campbell said. “I’ve had a great camp; preparation has been spot on. We’ve worked hard and we’ve worked smart. I’m physically and mentally ready for this, I believe in my own ability.
“[Linares is] strong and durable with plenty of experience, but this is my time,” he continued. “It would be incredible to bring home the world title. Fighting on such a big stage doesn’t change the preparation. Motivation is a massive thing. It’s a fantastic way to introduce myself to the American market and this is my opportunity to show what I’ve got.”
If Linares retains his 135-pound title for the second time, there are even bigger fights out there that interest him.
“After this fight, when I win, there are big opportunities,” he said.
He would like to faced the likes of junior lightweight titlist Vasyl Lomachenko or fellow lightweight titleholders Mikey Garcia (whose last fight was at junior welterweight) and Terry Flanagan.
Linares also said he would consider moving up to junior welterweight.
“Maybe [I’d face] Mikey Garcia for a big fight, or maybe a unification with Flanagan in England,” Linares said. “I need to win this fight. It’s not easy but I have very good conditioning — mentally, physically, and I have a very good plan. I want this fight and then I need a big fight for next year. Why not Garcia or Lomachenko?
“I’ll fight (Garcia), whether he goes down to 135, or I go up to 140, if he’s willing to negotiate. Boxing fans want these fights, and so do we as boxers.”
Five years ago the notion of Linares being involved in such significant fights seemed impossible after those two losses. But no more.
“Since my loss to Antonio DeMarco at Staples Center, I am a completely different fighter,” he said. “Now training with Ismael Salas, I feel like I have been made a more complete fighter. We have been able to take on tough challenges together.”