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.