By Joseph Herron: Almost three years ago to the day, a young talent from Venezuela was the toast of the boxing world. Despite fighting almost exclusively in Tokyo, Japan, throughout the first five years of his professional career, Jorge Linares had already become a two division world champion and had entered the elite level discussion among fight scribes at the tender age of 24.
The heralded young fighter was making his second WBA World Super Featherweight title defense against tough Mexican prospect Juan Carlos Salgado, who was undefeated with a 20-0-1, 15 KO record. Although Salgado was a respected young fighter, he wasn’t considered to be a legitimate threat to the “Golden Boy’s” crown.
Jorge’s combination of natural athleticism and technical brilliance made him the favorite in most proposed match-ups at 130 pounds, and his title defense on October 10th, 2009, was no exception in the eyes of the boxing world.
At 27-0 with 19 knock-outs, the sky was the limit for the fighter most affectionately known as “El Nino de Oro”.
But in the sport of boxing, often and appropriately referred to as the theater of the unexpected, the feature doesn’t always play out according to script.
In just 1:13 seconds into round number one, Golden Boy Promotions’ self proclaimed “Golden Boy” was knocked out by a single left hook to the forehead and was dethroned by the big punching Mexican fighter. The first genuine chink in the armor was not only apparent, it was concave.
But after moving up in weight and working his way back into title contention by beating reputable tough guys like Rocky Juarez, Jesus Chavez, and Francisco Lorenzo, most boxing pundits were willing to dismiss Jorge’s first round hiccup and give the young Venezuelan the benefit of the doubt.
On October 15th, 2011, Linares was slated to face tall, rangy southpaw Antonio DeMarco for the vacant WBC Lightweight Championship in the co-main event of the Bernard Hopkins/Chad Dawson PPV event. Although the young Mexican fighter was largely viewed as Jorge’s toughest test to date, the two division world champion was overwhelmingly expected to outbox the Mexican contender and capture his third world title in three different weight divisions.
After working with Freddie Roach at the world renowned Wild Card Gym and sparring regularly with eight division world champion Manny Pacquiao, the entire boxing world was confident that Linares would be back in the elite level conversation among fight scribes and boxing fans around the world.
To begin the highly anticipated title fight, Jorge looked masterful and moved about the ring beautifully while landing hard, flush shots to the body and head of DeMarco. Round after round Linares was the ring general and seemed to be in position to capture the WBC Lightweight title. Although the heavy favorite was clearly in control of the twelve round contest, DeMarco was slowly closing the distance and starting to have some mild success touching up the two division champion in the mid to late rounds.
In the eleventh round of action, while well ahead on every ringside judge’s scorecard, Linares showed his fighter’s heart and elected to stand and trade with the hard punching southpaw. Instead of heeding the advice of his elite level trainer and controlling the fight with a sporadic jab and fluid footwork, he decided to unnecessarily tangle with the durable Mexican fighter.
Midway through the round, Linares was badly hurt with a right hook, straight left hand combination and was sent reeling back against the ropes. With only 23 seconds left in the drama filled eleventh stanza, referee Raul Caiz Sr. stepped in and called a halt to the bout after Jorge was pummeled by a barrage of unanswered punches from the determined Antonio DeMarco.
At the time of stoppage, the scorecards read 99-91 and 98-92 twice; in favor of the beaten former champion.
Jorge Linares had once again fallen short of expectation. He lost a championship fight in which he had been easily winning for the majority of the contest.
But the talent was there. The skills were easily apparent. “El Nino de Oro” was outclassing a very strong fighter on the biggest stage of boxing. Because of his masterful and dominant albeit losing performance against a legitimate contender and new world champion, the boxing world was willing to give the gifted technical fighter a temporary pass once again.
After putting up such a gallant effort in his second knock-out loss, the WBC decided to place Linares in position to become the mandatory challenger for the current Lightweight Champion, hoping to set up the heavily desired rematch with Antonio DeMarco.
On March 31st, 2012, Jorge Linares stepped back into the ring in a title eliminator bout with hard punching Sergio Thompson of Mexico. Although he was facing a dangerous puncher who had knocked out his last five opponents, and was fighting Thompson in his hometown of Cancun, Mexico, the talented Venezuelan fighter was once again expected to make short work of his seemingly overmatched adversary.
After an ostensibly easy three minutes to open the 12 round contest, Linares got caught with a hard right hand that pushed him back into the ropes at the 1:23 mark of the second round. Thompson quickly swarmed over the favored fighter and put him on the canvas with a minute remaining in the bout. Not only was Linares floored, he was also badly cut over his left eye. After getting up from the canvas, the ringside physician examined the wound and immediately advised the third man in charge to call a halt to the bout.
And just like that, Jorge Linares had fallen short yet again. “The Golden Boy” had suffered his second consecutive knock-out loss and his second early round stoppage to another seemingly overmatched opponent.
Often in boxing, just like baseball, three strikes and you’re figuratively out of the fight public favor.
Just like former Junior Welterweight Champion Amir Khan, the Venezuelan phenom is considered to have defensive issues and a suspect chin. Although recognized as one of the most gifted offensive fighters in boxing, his fighter’s spirit seems to ultimately be the genesis of his issues in the ring.
But is this a bad thing for the sport of boxing? Does the always cynical boxing fan and fight scribe place too much importance on a single loss and unjustly place negative scrutiny on a fighter who gets caught while putting on an entertaining performance?
This happens in boxing. Going down in a blaze of glory is what creates drama within the ring and shouldn’t be viewed as a bad thing. It is the greatest of all things in boxing. Instead of condemning a fighter for giving it everything he has in the ring, we should be praising him for it.
This Saturday night, October 6th, at the legendary Memorial Auditorium in Sacramento, California, Jorge Linares will begin his rebuilding process against veteran tough guy Hector Velazquez (52-17-3, 35 KOs) in the ten round main event of the evening.
Hall of Fame matchmaker and promoter Don “War a Week” Chargin gives his special take on this delicate issue.
“Jorge is a special talent and his handlers are still very high on the young fighter,” states the six decade boxing proponent. “I paired him up against a really tough veteran fighter like Velazquez, because he has a great chin and a solid right hand. Linares is going to see some rounds, which he needs, and we’re going to find out exactly where Jorge is mentally at this stage in his career.”
“Hector is the epitome of a gatekeeper in boxing. Jorge’s people claim that he is looking great right now, but we’ll know the truth when he gets in the ring against a very durable fighter like Velazquez. The truth is always told in the ring, especially when a young fighter is forced to go through a trial by fire.”
“Jorge Linares will be tested against Hector Velazquez this Saturday night in Sacramento.”
The main event of the evening will air at 10PM EST, on Fox Deportes this Saturday night. Once the dust settles within the squared circle on October 6th, the boxing world should have a better grasp on the future of one of the most talented fighters in the sport.