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