You had to have seen it to really appreciate it. If you love offensive boxing blended with technical mastery, then I suggest you watch a replay of this past weekend’s WBA lightweight championship bout between defending title holder Jorge Linares 42-3 (27) and the man he won it from last September, Anthony Crolla 31-6-3 (13). What you’ll see is no doubt one of the best offensive exhibitions posted by any fighter in recent memory. All three judges saw the bout overwhelmingly for Linares by identical 118-109 scores. I had it 120-109, scoring the first round even and then scoring every subsequent round for Linares, awarding him a two-point advantage for dropping Crolla with a beautiful left uppercut near the end of the seventh round.
The last time Linares and Crolla mixed it up at the Manchester Arena in the UK, the bout was competitive for the first two thirds before Jorge’s offensive explosions seized the fight in his favor on his way to a 12 round unanimous decision, leaving Crolla as the former champ. When they met six months ago, had you been seeing them both for the first time, it’s plausible you could come away from the fight thinking they’re near equals. Not this time; no sir. It was obvious by the end of the second round that Linares had prepared diligently both physically and strategically. He didn’t make a single tactical mistake against a very determined Crolla.
Linares knew that in order for Crolla to have any success, he’d have to push the fight and disrupt Linares’ offensive fluidity. In a perfect world Crolla would’ve had Linares fighting off his back leg while at the same time forcing him to rush his offense, thus reducing its effectiveness. But it was not to be. The problem that Crolla confronted was that there was a steep price to pay for attempting to force the fight. And before getting into that, let it be said that Anthony Crolla is a very tough fighter with a nearly unbreakable will. Unfortunately Crolla had no answer for Linares’ sustained two-fisted attack. Crolla couldn’t solve it, or even slow it down.
Crolla started the fight trying to push the action, hoping to cut the ring off on Linares. Jorge fully understood that and gave him a lot to think about, thus completely blunting his aggression. Linares jabbed, up and down, hooked off his jab, jabbed and turned his shot into an uppercut, then stepped back, reloaded and cut loose again with right hands from mid and long range, with most of his shots finding their intended target. He was technically superb and his offense was very creative; the marks of a great pro. Linares used the entire ring, turning and spinning Crolla whenever he got near him. His stinging jabs to the head forced Crolla to raise his guard, and then Linares ripped him to the right side of his body with thudding left hooks. And after absorbing so many hooks to the body, Crolla was vulnerable to the short chopping right hands to the face, and that’s what Linares sent his way, then he was gone…time for Crolla to start over and follow Linares into another laid trap that ended with an outburst of hooks, right hands and uppercuts set up by one of the most educated and sophisticated left jabs in boxing.
Linares had such a read on Crolla it was almost scary. He had Anthony flinching when he feinted and poked from either side before he planted and cut loose. And the few times Crolla was close to stabilizing one of the middle rounds, specifically the seventh and the eighth, Linares sensed it and opened up again, forcing Crolla to defend with no chance to get anything going offensively.
After the bout Crolla said, “I got beat by the better fighter. I’m 30 years old, I’m going to rest, but I believe I can come again, rebuild and take it from there. I believe I was better than ever coming into this.” And that’s what makes Linares’ showing that much more impressive, because he totally dismantled a very well trained and purposeful opponent. Linares also showed that he was merciful because had he opened up more during the last round, he might have won by stoppage but he never pushed for it – sensing how badly Crolla wanted to go the distance.
Linares, 31, is riding a five year unbeaten streak that has gone under the radar. Jorge has been a pro since 2002 and it’s very possible that his offensive clinic versus Anthony Crolla in their rematch may be remembered as the most complete performance of his stellar career. And it couldn’t be coming at a better time because now he’s in line for a lightweight unification bout with WBC title holder Mikey Garcia 36-0 (30), a fighter I consider the most fundamentally sound combatant in boxing and one who, like Linares, is a three weight division titlist. Garcia, 29, looked fantastic in his last bout stopping defending champion Dejan Zlaticanin with a brutal third round knockout.
If Linares and Garcia meet, it will be a pleasure to watch. Linares has a great offense grounded with outstanding basics, and he can throw every punch in the book accurately with speed and power. His punching form is a thing of beauty and Garcia will need his sound defensive basics in place in order to break Jorge’s fluidity and timing. Garcia is no doubt the bigger puncher and physically stronger, but he hasn’t yet confronted an opponent as good as Linares. Unfortunately, Linares’ less reliable chin and his proneness to getting cut could be the difference. I expect Garcia to win but he’ll know he was in with an elite fighter.
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Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com