By: Alex Beard (@alex_beard17)
Despite Matchroom’s branding of the fight as ‘Repeat or Revenge?’, once the opening bell rang at the Manchester Arena on Saturday night there was very little chance of revenge. Jorge Linares claimed a second unanimous decision victory over Anthony Crolla, retaining his WBA lightweight title with another masterful performance.
This was the quintessential match-up between a good fighter and a great fighter. The evolution of Crolla has been one of British boxing’s most unlikely success stories in recent years, but he was made to look extremely rudimentary and was rendered almost entirely ineffectual by Linares’ supreme skills.
At no point did it look as if the Venezuelan was in trouble – nor even that his hair was ruffled – and as the fight wore on it became increasingly clear that after 24 rounds in the ring with him, Crolla still had no idea how to solve the problem that is Jorge Linares.
There now appears to be a clear separation at the top of the lightweight division between the two best fighters – and the rest of the top 10. Sure, there are two other unbeaten world champions in the division in Terry Flanagan (WBO) and Robert Easter Jr. (IBF), but it’s a stretch to imagine that either man could defeat Linares or WBC titleholder Mikey Garcia – although Linares’ chin has been exposed in the past.
Flanagan is a very good fighter who has made the most of what he has, he’s a good but not excellent boxer and has shown himself capable of always (so far) finding a way to win. However you cannot compare the opposition that he’s faced with that of Linares and Garcia. Derry Mathews and Orlando Cruz do not stand up to the likes of Crolla and Kevin Mitchell (Linares) or Orlando Salido and Dejan Zlaticanin (Garcia).
Likewise, Robert Easter Jr. is a fine prospect in the division but the only name of note on his record is Richard Commey who he slipped by via split decision in 2016 to claim the title. He’s not ready to be thrown in with Crolla or Denis Shafikov, let alone Linares and Garcia.
Therefore the only fight that NEEDS to be made in the 135lb. weightclass is a unification bout between Linares (42-3-KO27) and Garcia (36-0-KO30). I believe Garcia would be the favourite in that match, due to his impressive unbeaten record and knockout percentage – whereas Linares still bears the faint whiff of the stink from his earlier stoppage losses to Juan Carlos Salgado, Antonio DeMarco and Sergio Thompson.
But Linares has now displayed in back-to-back fights with a solid world champion that he has some of the best boxing skills in the sport. His hand speed is ridiculous, his combinations lethal and difficult to block – while the disguise he gets on his uppercuts is superb. Crolla never saw the uppercut coming that felled him in the seventh round last night, and it was hardly the sole uppercut Linares landed.
He’s not as hard a hitter as Garcia, but he may be the superior pure boxer. He moves around so well and is agonisingly difficult to hit. Crolla was left confused and on the verge of being pulled out by his corner last night, and the frustrating nature of Linares style was continually referenced on commentary. So perhaps Garcia’s punching power may not even matter.
Having said that, Garcia is no slouch technically himself. The way he shepherded Zlaticanin onto the uppercut-right hook combination that ended his night in the 3rd round of their fight in January was nothing short of spectacular. He’s outboxed and stopped crude operators in the past, and it would be interesting to see how he now deals with a fighter of Linares’ quality.
We did see Crolla land the occasional punch late on last night when Linares appeared to take portions of rounds off towards the end of the contest, and it’s clear that approach would be extremely dangerous against a heavy hitter like Garcia. The tactical aspects of this fight are too intriguing not to see it happen.
In the last few years we have seen an encouraging upward trend in the number of elite match-up’s in boxing, Ward-Kovalev, Frampton-Santa Cruz and Thurman-Garcia for example. And although we’re still waiting for Golovkin vs. Canelo, there have been more high-level fights than in the years previous.
Hopefully Linares vs. Garcia will follow soon and we’ll get to see who the best lightweight in the world is in one of the best fights that can be made in the sport today.by