Jorge Linares put together the most majestic and complete performance of his career to comprehensively outclass Anthony Crolla and finally cement his rightful place among boxing’s elite.
The WBA lightweight champion was beguiling and brutal in equal measure as he ensured this rematch was painfully one-sided, dominating Crolla with spellbinding combinations and ruthless uppercuts on his way to a unanimous 12-round decision in Manchester on Saturday night.
Whereas Crolla was able to occasionally trouble the 31-year-old in their first clash last September, this time it was abundantly clear that he operates at several levels below his supremely talented conqueror.
Cut in the sixth and dropped by a spearing uppercut in the seventh, three identical scorecards of 118-109 were perhaps even a little generous to the undoubtedly brave but outgunned home fighter.
Skilful and savage, Linares proved himself more than worthy of facing the very best in or around 135 pounds, including the two men now in his sights: Vasyl Lomachenko and Mikey Garcia.
Born in Venezuela but a resident of Tokyo since the age of 17, the well-travelled Linares belatedly looks set to headline a major event in the US, with the wheels in motion for a Las Vegas unification against WBC champion Garcia.
“I did what I had to do tonight, now I can go back to the United States and get the biggest fights, I’m ready to fight anybody,” said a victorious Linares, flanked by his beaming promoter Oscar De La Hoya. “Anthony and I are both warriors and we fought our hearts out. I trained three times as hard for this because I knew what I had in front of me. Anthony has a big heart and that’s why he was able to go the 12 rounds with me.”
At the halfway point it looked decidedly unlikely Crolla would indeed last the distance.
As early as the second, the classy Linares had already settled into an unerring rhythm, moving beautifully with poise and balance, alternating his jab between head and body before unleashing blistering three and four-punch combinations.
Initially boxing on the back foot, he quickly grew in confidence, holding his ground more and masterfully picking his shots. As Crolla soldiered forward, Linares began to skewer his high guard with vicious uppercuts.
One landed flush in the third and another, the best punch of the fight, clipped a wincing Crolla and sent him reeling to the canvas in the seventh.
To his credit, the gritty local hero came back with a strong response in the eighth, but Linares was just far too sharp and every time Crolla attempted to force the issue, it only led to him being laced with spiteful counters.
Trainer Joe Gallagher wanted to pull his man out after the 11th but Crolla showed characteristic bravery to talk him out of it. After a valiant effort across 23 rounds and two fights, there was honour in hearing the final bell.
“I got beat by the better fighter,” admitted the Mancunian. “I’m 30 years old, I’m going to rest, but I believe I can come again, rebuild and take it from there.”
Being kind to Crolla you’d say he was courageous to the end but simply succumbed to the genius of a man who made him pay a heavy price for every single mistake he made, no matter how small.
If you were being critical, and perhaps more so of his trainer, you’d say that there was no discernible game plan to start with or adjustments made as he emphatically lost round after round.
The truth is probably somewhere in between. Yet while Linares is at a level Crolla will never reach, the fact that he earned the right to twice share a ring with him is testament to his own qualities.
Linares, meanwhile, will get the opportunity to truly fulfil the enormous potential which generated so much hype in his younger days.
Gym stories of him dominating Manny Pacquiao in sparring sessions only added to the myth, but the three defeats on his ledger and doubts over his durability have tended to caveat his many achievements.
However, he’s never looked better than in dismantling Crolla, a flawless display which suggests a glorious final chapter to a glittering 15-year career that has already delivered 41 victories and world titles in three weight classes.
Gennady Golovkin may be human after all. The Kazakh knockout merchant saw his brutal streak of 26 straight finishes brought to an end by Daniel Jacobs on Saturday, but the 34-year-old crucially retained his status as the world’s best middleweight with a measured and mindful performance.
‘Triple G’ and his trio of 160lbs belts remain in his possession as he earned a unanimous decision victory in New York after being taken the full quota of 12 rounds for the first time in his career.
Ultimately, he was indebted to a fourth-round knockdown as Jacobs’ fluid footwork and rapid combinations nullified his near-mythical power.
But Golovkin’s display should be regarded as part of an evolutionary process rather than an indication age is degenerating a man who turns 35 next month.
Indeed, it seems the WBA, WBC and IBF middleweight champ has fallen victim to his own savage success. In the ruthless court of opinion, many labelled his performance as lacklustre and laboured but in reality he delivered against an opponent more athletically gifted, with a boxing brain and bigger physically – much bigger than anticipated after Jacobs missed the IBF-required Saturday morning weigh-in which would have restricted him to be no more than 10lbs heavier than his official weight.
Yes, Golovkin appeared mortal but Jacobs’ size advantage, with estimates he weighed north of the light-heavyweight limit of 170lbs on the night, played a significant role in holstering his devastating weapons. After being out-boxed for portions of the Kell Brook battering and now being taken the distance by
Jacobs, Golovkin’s critics are asking the inevitable question of whether the signs of aging are beginning to emerge. But the fact is it’s an ascension of quality opponents rather than his own personal decline.
Jacobs is the No2 middleweight on the planet. He proved as much with his crafty but dangerous switch to Southpaw which neutralised Golovkin’s jab and opened counters for his right hand.
His hand speed, lateral movement and perpetual upper body motions were all hallmarks of an elite fighter. The expectation of such a one-sided clash was in hindsight, well, farcical and it seems only Golovkin rightly respected the power of a fighter who had flattened his last 12 opponents and owned the height, weight and reach advantage.
The fact Jacobs performed so much better than some anticipated meant some viewed the decision objectively and thought he won. But make no mistake Golovkin more than matched a fighter of his calibre, flooring Jacobs with a pair stinging rights in the fourth session and having the edge overall in punches landed and accuracy, according to Compubox figures.
Still, the apparent evaporation of his veil of invincibility will offer encouragement for the likes of WBO title holder Billy Joe Saunders and Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez. And both are fights on Golovkin’s radar.
“Of course I am ready to fight Canelo. Of course I want that fight. I am like an animal for that fight,” Golovkin said post-fight before adding: “My goal is all the belts in the middleweight division. Of course, Billy Joe Saunders is the last step for my dream.”
Golovkin also refused to rule out a rematch with Jacobs, although the American potentially stimulated the prospect of Saunders and Canelo stepping up to take on the Kazakh.
“[The power] wasn’t what everybody made it out to be,” Jacobs said. “He’s not this boogeyman, this knockout artist. Even when I got dropped… I didn’t get hurt like I thought, like if he landed one of those shots, it would be over. It wasn’t like that.”
The fight wasn’t like many expected either but Golovkin is still a monster and his rivals should be fearful of what comes next because he’s finding different ways to win and now it’s against some of the best in the world.
It’s a fight no one asked for but one we’re likely going to get anyway. The prospect of Conor McGregor meeting Floyd Mayweather in a boxing ring is gathering momentum and perhaps now is the time to address the reality of the situation.
It’s becoming unavoidable at this point. Mayweather seems eager to sign, the UFC has shown a willingness to step aside and McGregor appears ready to accept terms as well.
On Friday, the social media maelstrom surrounding ‘May/Mac’ picked up revolutions as the Irishman stepped inside a boxing ring to accompany countryman Michael Conlan into the squared circle for his pro debut before proclaiming: “We’re getting close.”
The smoke and mirrors which accompany any big fight means separating the fact from fiction is a difficult task. But the stumbling blocks are starting to erode and what’s left now is the build-up to what is an absurd match-up.
The debate surrounding the potential showdown has lurched from whether it will happen, to how it could happen to what will happen.
But the result is already predetermined because of the rule set.
It’s a mismatch. McGregor can boast about being longer, stronger and taller than Mayweather but in boxing against one of its greatest proponents, size just does not matter. The fight itself is a circus because ultimately it means nothing, contextually or otherwise. It’s just a moneymaker to satisfy our deeply curious nature.
But what does it say about the positioning of the fight game in general that it demands something like this should take place?
We all know it shouldn’t but in the fight game, especially in boxing which has experienced diminishing interest in recent years, anything which captures the public’s imagination becomes the central selling point. Ultimately, combat sports deal in entertainment and by constructing this fight the idea of sport is completely supplanted.
When big money is involved – and the talk is that it could potentially be the first fight to generate $1billion – and the interest is there, fights will be made.
The exponential gate receipts and incomprehensible pay-per view revenue are the only reasons Mayweather Promotions, McGregor Promotions and the UFC are at the table. Sadly, competition matters little. The Irishman has a nonexistent record in professional boxing and you can’t shake the feeling that it is a mistake which will only be realised in hindsight.
The striking fundamentals between the cage and the ring are vastly different. Precision and power has been the foundation of McGregor’s march to two-weight UFC history but the skill of a professional boxer is unparalleled.
Mayweather’s footwork, timing, speed and ring IQ has been peerless within that. McGregor has dominated because of his knockout potential but the gloves are twice as big in boxing and while Mayweather wasn’t hallmarked by his power, he will be able to land clean and often.
The attraction for Mayweather is obvious. He’s a businessman and the combination of an enormous pay day which will allow him to reach 50-0 with minimal risk is hard to ignore. But that’s not the case for the UFC and McGregor.
A horror show will further mark a reputation damaged by the loss to Nate Diaz and the knock on effect for the promotion is far more severe given their desperation for mainstream appeal.
May/Mac may soon be a reality but perhaps it should stay in the world of fantasy.