Jorge Linares did as most expect he would last Saturday night in defending his WBA World lightweight title against Anthony Crolla at the Manchester Arena. If the circumstances of the rematch were almost identical to the first the result evolved into a more defined form of its predecessor.
Linares was beautifully emphatic, severely accurate, a dexterous punching machine. He won almost every round as the away fighter in a bout that had a huge profile in the UK despite being deemed unworthy of pay-per-view status. He did what he wanted when he wanted, and in whatever measure he fancied. Listing the moments in which his splendidness peaked would detract from what this article is about but I point to the seventh round in particular, where he dropped Crolla with a splendid left uppercut after slipping a right hand as my favourite example. Linares’s gloves seemed only to brush the cheek, sending Crolla into a rubbery heap on a canvas dotted with blood and flooded with artistry. An unneeded exclamation point on a near-perfect showing.
As is most often the case for fighters in the aftermath of an impressive display, Linares will not be able to savour his victory. We always want more from them, to see them replicate the same form we’ve just lauded, though this time against a more fearsome opposition. Such is the fight game. Now it seems the demanding tide is taking Linares towards a fellow title holder in the 135-pound division, a man exiled for almost three years over matters nobody but lawyers care much about.
Mikey Garcia has 30 knockouts in his unbeaten 36-fight career. He won the WBO feather and super-featherweight titles before his time away from the sport and after just a single fight to ease him back in he ripped the WBC World lightweight title away from Dejan Zlaticanin in three rounds with one of the most chilling knockouts you are likely to see. It was a real flatliner, the kind where those present begin to exchange wide-eyed looks as they wonder at the true extent of the damage done to the man lying prone. I suggest you watch it if you haven’t already. It will give you a better understanding of the clamour for him to be Linares’s next opponent. He announced himself as a monster there and then. Boxing fans love a boogeyman.
The prospect of the classical fighter against the bullish puncher has timeless appeal and that is what we have on our hands if Linares and Garcia end up in the same ring. A tantalising prospect. However, a saddening dose of reality needs to be injected. Anyone who has followed boxing for any length of time knows the best rarely fight the best when it is first demanded. Jorge Linares v. Mikey Garcia had not even been conceived three months ago. Not until the latter announced his re-entry in such style did the idea take form, and only on the eve of Linares’s rematch with Crolla did the whispers become shouts. Those at the reigns will have identified the spark. They will fan the flames for as long as they can.
A supporting factor for this theory is Linares’s promoter Oscar De La Hoya, a man as admired for his willingness to fight anybody in his day as he is reviled for protecting the fighters he promotes now. Just as Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez is being shielded from Gennady Golovkin, so will Linares be from Garcia, for the time being at least.
His comments in an interview with FightHype.com directly after the Crolla win were indicatively vague on the matter.
“It’s incredible how Linares is getting better and better and better and he’s gonna go after the top, top guys. And so we’ll go back to the drawing board and we’ll figure out who he’s gonna fight.”
There is something squirmy about De La Hoya when he talks like this. If the consensus ‘top, top guy’ is not Linares, it’s Mikey Garcia. Surely no trip to the dreaded drawing board is necessary. But the simple fact is there are other, safer, options. WBO champ Terry Flanagan and IBF holder Robert Easter Jr present winnable unification opportunities, fights that look very good on paper but pale in comparison to the real deal.
If Linares is matched with either of those before Garcia he would not only generate more money for Golden Boy Promotions, he would also strengthen his bargaining position come negotiation time for the Garcia bout. As one of only two world champions in De La Hoya’s stable alongside Canelo, we can be confident his path forward is going to be mapped out very strategically. We may be waiting a while.