UL­TI­MATE TEST

Paul Wheeler pre­views a fight be­tween two men who have proven that they can re­bound from set­backs

Boxing News - - Contents -

Olympic champ Luke Campbell trav­els to L.A to chal­lenge Jorge Linares

‘THIS IS THE OP­POR­TU­NITY I’VE BEEN WAIT­ING FOR. I MUST AND WILL TAKE IT’

LUKE CAMPBELL wasn’t ex­pected to lose to Yvan Mendy. A Euro­pean gold medal­list, World sil­ver medal-win­ner and Olympic cham­pion as an am­a­teur, Campbell had breezed to 12-0 in the pro ranks be­fore com­ing across the largely un­her­alded French­man. Mendy went into the De­cem­ber 2015 fight with four de­feats on his record, yet de­fied the odds to drop his highly touted op­po­nent en route to an up­set split de­ci­sion suc­cess.

In the 21 months since that chas­ten­ing re­verse, Campbell, 17-1 (14), has re­grouped in fine fash­ion. Bas­ing his train­ing camps in Mi­ami un­der the guid­ance of es­teemed coach Jorge Ru­bio has re­sulted in the Hull light­weight reg­is­ter­ing five straight vic­to­ries against solid ad­ver­saries. Gary Sykes was stopped early in a va­cant Com­mon­wealth ti­tle bout, while Ar­ge­nis Men­dez was unan­i­mously outscored – al­beit af­ter Campbell had suf­fered a knock­down.

In­side-sched­ule tri­umphs over Derry Mathews, Jairo Lopez and, most re­cently in April, Dar­leys Perez, have con­firmed Campbell’s re­vival. So much so that the skil­ful south­paw now finds him­self ranked No. 1 at 135lbs by the WBA. This Satur­day (Septem­ber 23), the 29-year-old York­shire­man re­ceives his manda­tory ti­tle shot against that or­gan­i­sa­tion’s cham­pion – Jorge Linares, 42-3 (27).

While Campbell’s come­back from de­feat has been im­pres­sive, Linares’ res­ur­rec­tion has been noth­ing short of as­ton­ish­ing. Prior to his Oc­to­ber 2009 su­per-feather­weight meet­ing with the­nun­proven Juan Carlos Sal­gado, Linares was an un­beaten two-weight world ruler (WBC feather and WBA su­per­feather), as well as one of the hottest prop­er­ties in the sport. This made the man­ner of his loss to Sal­gado all the more shock­ing – he was ham­mered in just 73 sec­onds.

De­spite win­ning his next four con­tests, the worst was yet to come for Linares. Up at light­weight in the space of five months from Oc­to­ber 2011 to March 2012, the Venezue­lan was left blood­ied and bat­tered by ag­gres­sive Mex­i­cans An­to­nio De­marco and Ser­gio Thomp­son. De­marco bru­tally halted Linares in the

11th round, while Thomp­son took just two ses­sions to deck Jorge heav­ily and force him out with a badly cut left eye­lid.

In­stead of wal­low­ing in self-pity, Linares was back in ac­tion just six months later, claim­ing the first of what has turned out to be 11 wins in a row – cat­a­pult­ing him to the cusp of pound-for-pound level. Dur­ing this re­mark­able run, the 32-year-old has col­lected 135lb belts from the WBC and WBA, and recorded a trio of high-pro­file suc­cesses in the UK.

In May 2015, Linares sur­vived a trip to the can­vas to stop Kevin Mitchell in 10 thrilling rounds in Lon­don, be­fore em­bark­ing on two vis­its to Manch­ester to face An­thony Crolla. In their first tus­sle a year ago, the South American wiz­ard came through a closely con­tested clash to earn a unan­i­mous de­ci­sion. Jorge re­peated this re­sult in March, although this time the fash­ion of his vic­tory was far more em­phatic, as Crolla was floored, cut and out­classed. With a test against a third qual­ity Brit lined up this week­end, the well-trav­elled Linares is aware of what to ex­pect.

The three-weight world ti­tlist said: “I’m ex­cited to make my re­turn to the United States [the fight will be held at the In­gle­wood Fo­rum in Cal­i­for­nia – a state in which both men have com­peted in the past]. I know Campbell is a tough com­peti­tor with an in­cred­i­ble am­a­teur and pro­fes­sional back­ground, but I’m con­fi­dent that I’ll emerge vic­to­ri­ous.”

Hav­ing fought in Bri­tain in three of his last four bouts, Linares de­cided to move per­ma­nently to the UK this sum­mer. He had pre­vi­ously been liv­ing in Las Ve­gas, where he trained along­side top coach Is­mael Salas, but the pair have now based them­selves at the Hayemaker Gym in Vaux­hall. Ac­cord­ing to Jorge, “Lon­don is now the best place for box­ing.”

While Linares has been car­ry­ing out his prepa­ra­tions in the home coun­try of his op­po­nent, Campbell was forced to move his train­ing camp ear­lier this month, due to the ef­fects of Hur­ri­cane Irma in Mi­ami. Fol­low­ing the storm, Luke re­lo­cated his camp to Los An­ge­les, which is some­thing that he had planned to do a cou­ple of weeks be­fore the fight re­gard­less.

Although Campbell rightly holds Linares in high re­gard, he be­lieves his own jour­ney in the sport has pro­vided him with am­ple ex­pe­ri­ence to get the job done. “It’s an hon­our to be fight­ing Linares in one of the big­gest fights in the light­weight divi­sion,” Luke stated. “I have tremen­dous re­spect for Jorge, but this is the op­por­tu­nity I’ve been wait­ing for as a pro­fes­sional. I must and will take it.”

A rangy and phys­i­cally im­pos­ing 135-pounder, Campbell picks his punches with con­sum­mate tech­ni­cal skill, whether they be jabs, lead right hooks, straight one-twos or fluid com­bi­na­tions. Adopt­ing a high guard, Luke grace­fully glides in and out of range, ready to un­leash rapid coun­ters when the op­por­tu­nity arises. Fur­ther­more, he is a ruth­less fin­isher, es­pe­cially when launch­ing de­bil­i­tat­ing left hands to the mid­sec­tion.

Like Campbell, Linares boasts light­ning-quick re­flexes and swift, in­tel­li­gent foot­work. Broad-shoul­dered, shrewd and un­pre­dictable in his at­tacks, the free-flow­ing champ rat­tles off fe­ro­cious com­bos. A sharp and ac­cu­rate puncher with ei­ther hand, he is equally com­fort­able box­ing on the out­side or fight­ing in close.

De­spite be­ing sus­cep­ti­ble to cuts af­ter a long, hard ca­reer, Linares is ar­guably at the peak of his pow­ers. He will have to ride out some sticky patches along the way, but ul­ti­mately his daz­zling reper­toire of shots – zoom­ing jabs to the body, slic­ing hooks and lash­ing up­per­cuts – will see him pre­vail on points.

THE VER­DICT A high-qual­ity matchup be­tween two class op­er­a­tors.

‘CAMPBELL IS TOUGH, BUT I’M CON­FI­DENT THAT I’LL BE VIC­TO­RI­OUS’

Photos: AC­TION IMAGES/AN­DREW COULDRIDGE

TRAN­SI­TION: Af­ter en­joy­ing huge suc­cess as an am­a­teur, Campbell wants to do the same as a pro­fes­sional

SPELL­BIND­ING: Linares boasts one of the finest skillsets in all of box­ing

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