You don’t have to be a boxing expert to know that rightly or wrongly, the sweet science has quite an obscene amount of ‘world champions.’ However, with that comes an almost tiered perception of the world’s finest fighters. Sure there are many champions, but there’s an understanding of sorts amongst fans that within those names, there’s an elite group. A handful of pugilists that on a combination of achievement, performance or even longevity, stand above the rest as operators of the highest order.
Over the last four years, Vasyl Lomachenko has earned that exact acclaim. Winning a world title in just his third fight, the former amateur star has since gone from strength to strength, using spectacular skill and style to wow fans with each outing. After making four straight opponents retire on their stool, Lomachenko is truly one of boxing’s most admired champions, a fighter that whilst far from mainstream, has built up a buzz purely due to an undeniable and at times awe-inspiring brilliance.
However, his upcoming opponent Jorge Linares enters the ring with a rather contrasting backstory. Incredibly, the Venezuelan first captured a world title over a decade ago. Then operating at Featherweight, Linares defeat Oscar Larios to win the vacant WBC crown. One successful defense later and Linares was headed up to Super Featherweight, immediately taking the WBA title in the process. As an undefeated, two-weight world champion, Linares was an understated rising star but following just one title defense, his career took a dramatic turn.
Defending his title against the then undefeated Juan Carlos Salgado, ‘The Golden Boy’ was shockingly stopped in the very first round, losing his title in boxing’s upset of the year. That result was a stunning one but Linares rebounded nonetheless, moving up to Lightweight and tying together four straight wins to earn a WBC title shot. Fighting Antonio Demarco, Linares dominated much of the action until fatigue and major facial damage dragged him in to a violent brawl. In the end, the referee would perhaps prematurely save Linares in the 11th round, halting his attempt to reclaim a world title in devastating fashion.
Unfortunately, this time there’d be no quick rebound either. Instead, Linares lost his next fight also, being overwhelmed early by Sergio Thompson before a rather hasty doctor stoppage in just the 2nd round. It had been another setback for the talented technician but he wasn't deterred, steadily rebuilding in fights across the globe before once again earning title contention, this time successfully winning the WBC crown to become a 3-weight world champion. His first defense would be a dramatic one too, as Linares rose from the canvas to stop Kevin Mitchell, ironically taking over after brutal cuts had left the Brit unable to answer.
Following one more defense, an injury would stall Linares’ title reign but he’d never leave the world stage regardless, heading back to the UK for two fights with Anthony Crolla, both of which were for the WBA and Ring Magazine titles. On both occasions, Linares would come out the decision winner, with his 2nd victory being a particularly dominant showing. Though Crolla may not be a name that’s internationally revered, Linares’ on the road wins were certainly impressive and very much solidified his reputation as a world class fighter.
Since then, Linares has returned to the US, scoring decision wins over Luke Campbell and Mercito Gesta. Those fights didn't come without struggles though, Campbell caused Linares major issues and a cut made his job against Gesta slightly tougher too. However, he came out in the win column both times and with that, positioned himself for a fight of the highest order. Thankfully, that’s exactly what he’s got now too: a world title defense against the aforementioned Lomachenko, a fighter whose immense reputation precedes him.
Linares’ resume isn’t that of an ‘elite’ fighter and he’s probably not been dominant enough for that acclaim either. Fortunately, there’s always been a sense that beneath the flaws, Linares has the quality necessary for this level. With fast hands, crisp combinations and a stylish finesse, Linares has looked elite often even if he lacks the results to make it undeniable. Though he’s been at the top level for over a decade, Linares has been unable to take the next step, never truly proving his worth as one of boxing’s absolute elite.
This fight could change that though as with a win over Lomachenko, Linares goes from respected world champion to becoming arguably, one of his era’s greats. The eye-test suggests that at least offensively, Linares is a genuinely brilliant boxer but this Saturday night, it’s time to find out just how brilliant he really is.