HBO Boxing Insiders Eric Raskin and Kieran Mulvaney share their thoughts on Jorge Linares' split decision win over Luke Campbell, plus they discuss the Canelo-GGG scoring (again), Daniel Jacobs' big career move, the deaths of Jake La Motta and Joe Carnicelli, and the sudden retirement of Andre Ward.
Photos: Ed Mulholland
By Kieran Mulvaney
INGLEWOOD, Calif – For the second week in a row, a close fight ended with a split decision. For the second week in a row, the result of that split decision left at least some fans and observers disappointed. But, unlike last week’s middleweight clash between Gennady Golovkin and Canelo Alvarez, there was no bizarre outlier score at the end of Luke Campbell’s lightweight title challenge of Jorge Linares. All three cards, while differing in the details, agreed that Linares and Campbell had fought 12 highly competitive rounds that had yielded a legitimately close decision, and by scores of 113-115, 114-113 and 115-112, they awarded that decision to Linares.
Early on, it did not appear as if their contribution would be needed. After a first round in which England’s Campbell (17-2, 14 KOs) and Venezuelan Linares probed each other’s defenses – Campbell perhaps shading it behind his lanky southpaw jab – defending titlist Linares exploded into life in the second. A left hook landed over Campbell’s jab, and then another hook thudded into Campbell’s face as the Englishman sought to step forward with a left hand. Then, suddenly, the shorter Linares (43-3, 27 KOs) stepped forward with a three-punch combination, culminating in a short right that dropped Campbell to the seat of his pants. The Briton beat the count but he was cut beneath his right eye, and Linares ended the round firing ripping combinations to body and head.
When Linares opened up the third in similarly fast and furious fashion, it looked as if Campbell might be facing the prospect of an early night, but he began to recover his poise as the round progressed, and in the fourth, even though Linares again came out fast, throwing rapid fire jabs, Campbell took charge over the final two-thirds of the frame. He used his reach advantage to great effect, spearing Linares with his long jab and using it to set up left hand power punches to the Linares body.
Campbell now was drawing on all the experience and ability that had taken him to an Olympic gold medal in 2012, and in the middle rounds began to assert control. Linares was struggling with the range, Campbell making full use of his height and reach to keep the Venezuelan at the end of straight punch after straight punch; and while Linares continued to plow forward, he was no longer able to reach his target with the same effectiveness as earlier.
But although Campbell was steadily asserting control, he was by no means running away with the contest. Linares was in every round, and managed to pull out a round or two in the middle of the contest to ensure that as the bout entered its final quarter, while he had ceded the lead on the scorecards, he was within striking distance.
“I wanted to knock him out,” he said afterward to HBO’s Max Kellerman, “but in the tenth round I knew it was going to go the distance. But from round ten, I wanted to let the dogs out, and that’s what I did.”
Suddenly, Linares was once more at a range that worked for him. He opened up the round with a fast combination, and closed it with one, two, three right hands in close succession and then a fourth just before the bell. In the eleventh, Campbell was oddly quiescent; Linares had now taken away his jab and was firing his own jab rapidly and firmly to Campbell’s midsection. In the 12th and final round, he stepped up his effort yet more, and while Campbell fired back in return, catching Linares with a hard counter hook, the Venezuelan ended the round looking confident, bouncing on his toes and firing a combination as the bell rang.
CompuBox statistics underlined the closeness of the contest: Campbell landed exactly one punch more than Linares over the course of 12 rounds – 141 to his opponet’s 140 – but he also threw 110 more in the process. Campbell was the busier boxer throughout, but Linares’ explosive combinations found their target with greater accuracy.
Campbell was deflated after losing his first world title tilt, all the more so for the fact that he thought he won it.
“After the second round knockdown, I had double vision for the rest of the fight,” he said. “But I don’t think he landed anything clean. I think I outclassed him.”
Photos by Ed Mulholland
LOS ANGELES, Calif -- There is a feeling of familiarity ahead of Saturday night’s World Championship Boxing lightweight title bout; and yet, at the same time, change is in the air.
The familiarity comes from the location. Jorge Linares and challenger Luke Campbell meet at the Forum in Inglewood, the third time in five weekends – and the second time in three – that HBO Boxing has broadcast from the Los Angeles area. If Campbell and Linares provide the kind of sustained action seen at nearby StubHub Center when Yoshihiro Kamegai kept valiantly impaling Miguel Cotto’s gloves with his face, or when a sextet of 115 pounders put on a trio of sensational fights, then an entertaining evening beckons.
But the sense of is also manifest that a page is turning. For one, boxing is still recovering its breath after the build-up to, furious action during, and controversy after, last week’s middleweight clash between Gennady Golovkin and Canelo Alvarez. (A replay of that terrific 12-round brawl will precede tomorrow’s live broadcast.) For another, the Wednesday announcement by Andre Ward that he is retiring from the ring after an undefeated professional career is the latest in what began as a series of coincidences and has now grown into a full-blown trend.
Wladimir Klitschko was the first, the former long-time heavyweight champion turning down the opportunity to pursue a rematch with Anthony Joshua and choosing to instead enjoy the fruits of a long and distinguished career. Juan Manuel Marquez, who had not fought since 2014, followed suit the next day, and Timothy Bradley confirmed his own retirement days after that. Within a couple of weeks, Shane Mosley had done likewise. Floyd Mayweather joined the club at the end of August. And Cotto, of course, insists that he’ll be doing likewise after he has just one more fight, tentatively penciled in for December – which means Canastota, the home of the International Boxing Hall of Fame, will figure to be a busy place five or so years from now. That’s fully six retirements from the sport in under two months – plus Cotto’s yet-to-be-enacted departure. Add to that Bernard Hopkins stepping away at the end of last year and the apparent likelihood that Manny Pacquiao will leave the ring in 2018, and that’s a profound transformation at the head of boxing’s table.
A new generation is taking the old guard’s place in rapid fashion, and one of the things that’s especially notable about it is its polyglot nature. Terence Crawford surely now stands supreme among American boxers, but he’s joined at the top of the pound-for-pound list by the likes of Ukraine’s Vasyl Lomachenko, Mexico’s Alvarez and Kazakhstan’s Golovkin. And while the United States and Mexico will always, it seems, churn out top boxers, the new wave is populated with representatives from around the world – although a few countries in particular stand out. Russia is one, represented by the likes of Sergey Kovalev, Dmitry Bivol, Artur Beterbiev and Murat Gassiev. Ukraine is another, with Lomachenko joined by Olkesandr Gvozdyk and Oleksandr Usyk. And then there is the United Kingdom.
British boxing is undergoing a surge in popularity and quality, fueled by investment in a first-rate amateur program that has achieved success in numbers at three consecutive Olympic Games. At featherweight, Belfast’s Carl Frampton is the reigning Boxing Writers’ Association of America Fighter of the Year; Billy Joe Saunders holds a middleweight belt that Golovkin craves; James DeGale may be the best man in a talented super-middleweight division; and, of course, Joshua stands very tall at the top of the heavyweight tree. At lightweight, Terry Flanagan holds an alphabet belt and on Saturday, Campbell will be aiming to join him.
For Linares, it will be the third time in a row that he has faced a British opponent, following two victories over Anthony Crolla. Two fights before he first squared off against Crolla, he defeated yet another Brit, Kevin Mitchell. He has even moved to London.
Given all that, it stretches credulity a little when Campbell says – as he did after a media workout on Wednesday – that, “I don’t know much about Jorge Linares.” He almost certainly knows far more about him than he is prepared to concede; certainly, Linares has done his research on the Englishman.
“Luke Campbell is a young and hungry fighter and that can be a critical difference in the ring,” the Venezuelan said at the workout. “Being a former Olympic fighter, the big lights and cameras won’t scare him off and neither does being the underdog.”
Campbell is not only a former Olympian, but a gold medalist at the 2012 games – and, by popular acclamation, the best amateur boxer the U.K. has ever produced. He has struggled to reach those heights as professional, and in a country with so much boxing talent from which to prove, has not really been able to break through. Victory over Linares, however, would be the catapult for him to do so, not just in his homeland but also on this side of the pond.
“Motivation is a massive thing,” he said. “I'm fighting on the biggest network out there. It's a fantastic way to introduce myself to the American market … This is my opportunity to show what I've got."
The timing, at least, is impeccable. The race is on to see who emerges.
Jorge Linares: 134.2 lbs.
Luke Campbell:134.8 lbs.
World Championship Boxing returns Saturday, Sept. 23 with the exclusive replay of Canelo Alvarez vs. Gennady Golovkin's epic middleweight battle, followed immediately by live coverage of the lightweight title bout between Jorge Linares and Luke Campbell. It all starts at 10 PM ET/PT on HBO.
HBO Boxing unofficial scorer Harold Lederman previews the lightweight championship bout between Jorge Linares and Luke Campbell. Linares vs. Campbell happens Saturday, Sept. 23 live at 10 PM ET/PT on HBO World Championship Boxing.
When boxing's best "road warriors" are discussed, Jorge Linares' name should be in the mix. That's because the Venezuela native has succeeded at world level despite having fought away from home in 41 of his 45 pro fights and just once since July 2010. He won his first world title in Las Vegas (KO 10 Oscar Larios for the vacant WBC featherweight title), his second in Panama City (KO 5 Whyber Garcia for the vacant WBA super featherweight belt), his third in Japan (KO 4 Javier Prieto for the vacant WBC lightweight belt) and his fourth in England (W 12 Anthony Crolla for Crolla's WBA lightweight title).
Meanwhile, Luke Campbell, who won several international amateur titles away from England, won his Olympic gold medal before his home fans in London in 2012 and is fighting in the U.S. for only the second time in his pro career (KO 2 Steve Trumble on the Kell Brook-Shawn Porter undercard). How will the lanky lefty cope with the absence of rapturous applause as well as the most skilled the experienced fighter he has yet faced? We shall soon see.
Linares has won 11 straight since back-to-back KO losses to Antonio DeMarco and Sergio Thompson, and he has done so with the blend of speed, power and technique that moved some experts to declare him boxing's next great superstar. In the eight CompuBox tracked fights compiled during his current streak, Linares has done it with superior volume (62.7 per round to his foes' 53.8), better jabbing (33.1 thrown/5.3 connects per round to 22.1 thrown/2.7 connects per round for his foes), more frequent hitting (19 total connects per round to their 11.7) and especially more precise power hitting (46% to 28%).
Because Campbell is a southpaw, Linares' past performances bear mentioning. He has not fought a lefty in three-and-a-half years and has faced three since July 2009 -- Josafat Perez, Antonio DeMarco and, most recent, Nihito Awakawa. In his 12 tracked fights against right-handers, he's performed well. He's thrown more (63.5 per round to 58.6), landed more (19.1-12.7 per round overall, 6.4-2.7 landed jabs per round, 12.7-9.9 power connects each round) and did so much more accurately (30%-22% overall, 19%-12% jabs, 42%-28% power). Against the three lefties, Linares throws fewer punches (52 per round to their 48.6) but the numerical spreads are even wider (20.9-9.7 total connects per round, 5.3-1.7 jab connects each round, 15.6-8 landed power shots per round and percentage gaps of 40%-20% overall, 26%-9% jabs and 49%-28% power).
A caveat: None of the three southpaws are jab-oriented technical boxers like Campbell, but the closest one to the trio in terms of style -- DeMarco -- only found success when he went for broke in round 11 after being thoroughly out-boxed over the first 10 rounds.
Campbell didn't turn pro until two months before his 26th birthday, so many elements of his amateur style remain deeply ingrained. The most obvious manifestation is his emphasis on the jab. The typical lightweight averages 60.2 punches per round, of which 24.1 are jabs -- a 60-40 split in favor of power shots. In his three CompuBox-tracked fights against Argenis Mendez (W 12), Derry Mathews (KO 4) and Darleys Perez (KO 9); Campbell averaged 63.4 punches and 38.3 jabs per round -- a 60-40 split in favor of jabs. Against his three best opponents to date, that approach has worked out well as he nearly doubled his opponents' total punches per round (13.2 vs. 6.8) and jabs (3.5 vs. 2.0) while more than doubling their power connects per round (9.8 vs. 4.8). However, one potentially fatal flaw is that while he jabs often, he doesn't do so accurately. In his three bouts he landed a combined 9.1% of his jabs, including 7.2% against Perez and 8.3% against Mathews (he landed 11.3% against Mendez). Campbell has compensated with precise power punching (38% vs. Mendez, 48% vs. Mathews and 36% against Perez) but if he is to maximize his height and reach advantages (one inch and two inches respectively) he must do a better job with the jab.
Inside the Numbers
Linares (in his last 6 fights) landed 44.7% of his power shots despite landing just 15.6% of his 30.1 jabs thrown per round. Linares opponents landed just 22.3% of their total punches and just 28.5% of their power shots. Campbell is busy (63.4 per round in his last 3 fights) and landed 39% of his power shots, but landed just 9.8 per round. 38.3 of his 63.4 punches (60.4%) are jabs. Campbell opponents landed just 24.7% of their power punches- look for Linares to add significantly higher.
Linares has struggled most against physical fighters who disrupt his highly technical and patient approach. Campbell is, by nature, a careful points-oriented boxer who uses his fencing jab to set up sudden power strikes down the middle and surprisingly effective body shots. There's a reason for that: Campbell was floored by Mendez in round two and, in his only loss to Yvan Mendy, was knocked down in the fifth. Linares definitely has the power to exploit that weakness in Campbell. Campbell's jab could wreak havoc with Linares' cut-prone eyes but history suggests he won't land it often enough to do significant damage. Thus, the guess here is that Linares will methodically cut the distance between them, exert his all-around technical expertise and land enough firepower to pound out a unanimous decision.
When Luke Campbell and Jorge Linares face off in the ring at The Forum in Inglewood on Saturday (HBO, 10 PM ET/PT), what is nominally at stake is Linares’ lightweight championship belt. But the two men are also fighting for their reputations, to prove that their reality matches their early hype, and to dispel the doubts about their durability and potential. That may seem harsh, given that between them they boast 59 wins against just four defeats, that Linares has not lost a fight in six years and Campbell is just five years removed from winning Olympic gold. But both men, lauded early in their careers, have struggled through patches that have raised questions, questions that one will hope to put to bed and another will hope are not raised anew – or even deemed to have been answered in a way he won’t want to hear.
Linares (42-3, 27 KOs), has had something of a globetrotting career. He now lives in London, having moved there from Las Vegas; but he was born in Barinas, Venezuela, and turned professional in Japan. Five years later, in 2007, he made his U.S. debut on the Bernard Hopkins-Winky Wright undercard, immediately garnering attention by dominating Oscar Larios en route to securing his first world title belt, at featherweight. He defended it just once before moving up to 130-pounds, where he secured another title.
He seemed to have it all: boxing skills deployed in a pleasingly aggressive style, and knockout power to match, along with a natural charisma that suggested he had the makings of a future star.
Then, in October 2009, he made the second defense of his junior lightweight crown, against Mexico’s Juan Carlos Salgado, and was knocked out in the first round. It is a measure of Linares’ standing in the sport at the time that the loss was dubbed “Upset of the Year” by Ring Magazine, and its nature suggested that there was a very serious chink in the Venezuelan’s armor. A left hook dropped Linares to the seat of his pants, and although he beat the count, Salgado immediately swarmed him in the corner, causing Linares to slump down on the ropes and prompting referee Luis Pabon to intervene. The whole affair lasted just 73 seconds.
Still, it can happen. Anyone can be caught clean and cold in the opening round; perhaps this was just a one-off. But after scoring four comeback victories, including against solid if shopworn veterans Rocky Juarez and Jesus Chavez, Linares was stopped by Antonio DeMarco in a bloody war at the Staples Center in Los Angeles in October 2011. The problem this time wasn’t his chin but his skin, which had long displayed a tendency to cut; Linares had been coasting through six rounds, until a DeMarco flurry opened a gash on his nose, followed by a cut over his eye two rounds later. Sent off-kilter by the bleeding, a fading Linares was being battered by a resurgent DeMarco until referee Raul Caiz Sr. stepped in in the eleventh. The cuts were a mitigating factor, but the late fade hinted anew at an underlying fragility, and when he was again knocked out early in his next fight, against unheralded Sergio Thompson, it appeared he had reached the end of the line.
But slowly, he began to rebuild. By March 2014, he was defeating Nihito Arakawa in a lightweight title eliminator, and at the end of the year won the vacant alphabet belt outright against Javier Prieto. But it was his first defense, against rugged Brit Kevin Mitchell, that truly showed he had turned the corner. In a tough battle, he was knocked down in the fifth; but this time he passed the gut check with flying colors, reentering battle and halting Mitchell in the tenth.
That contest, in London’s O2 Arena in May 2015, was the first of three in England in under two years, the others being a pair of victories against Anthony Crolla, the second of which in particular showcased him at his most dominant.
Right now, says the 32-year-old, “I feel like I’m 25. I feel very good, strong. I have very good focus, mentality. I feel in the best moment right now.” Certainly, he says, “I feel better than six years ago,” when he suffered his losses to DeMarco and Thompson. His fragile skin now stands up to the rigors of being punched in the face, an improvement Linares puts down to taking better care of himself. “I changed some things,” he notes. “Different vitamins and supplements.”
His regular appearances in the United Kingdom have won him recognition and a fan-base, and he likes the idea of returning there for a major fight, perhaps against the likes of Mikey Garcia or Vasyl Lomachenko, or a title unification with England’s Terry Flanagan.
But first he must contend with Campbell (17-1, 14 KOs), although he enters the contest feeling confident.
“He is a good boxer, an amazing fighter,” he praises. “He’s taller than me. I like his style. He’s a southpaw, he moves around the ring, it’s perfect for me. It’s not easy, but it’s not hard for me, this fight.”
Campbell was arguably Britain’s greatest ever amateur boxer, securing a silver medal at the 2011 World Championships and gold at the London Olympics, part of a vaunted crop of British amateurs that includes fellow 2012 champion Anthony Joshua. But whereas Joshua stands at the very pinnacle of the profession following his enthralling victory over Wladimir Klitschko in April, Campbell as a pro has a long way to go to catch up to him (or indeed to come near the professional achievements of Oleksandr Usyk or the admittedly barely-human Vasyl Lomachenko, who also took gold in London).
“I think the perception of Luke Campbell in the UK is oddly not as high as when he turned professional,” observes Matt Christie, editor-in-chief of the weekly British publication Boxing News. “He won the Olympic gold medal on the back of an amazing amateur career, and then when he turned over, he was knocking people out. This wasn’t the Luke Campbell that we knew as an amateur. And then that stopped, as it very often does as you go up through the levels, and people began thinking, ‘Maybe Luke Campbell isn’t as good as we thought he was,’ whereas the truth of the matter was that the opposition had just got that little bit better.”
Then, like Linares, he suffered a loss in something of an upset – and whereas, unlike the Venezuelan, he was not knocked out but instead dropped a split decision, it was a loss that came earlier in his career, in a European championship bout against unremarkable Yvan Mendy. As a result, it perhaps solidified negative perceptions of him before he had had the opportunity to justify a more optimistic outlook.
“Many people saw that [Mendy defeat] and thought, ‘Well, he’s exposed,’” adds Christie. “But I think what you have to remember about that is that he’s still a young man, he’s still learning the professional game; he mastered the amateur discipline and now he’s learning his way in the professional game. But I still think he’s a work in progress, and we haven’t seen the best of him yet.”
Despite being just three years younger than Linares, the man from Hull is unquestionably a neophyte in comparison, and Christie admits that he initially thought Saturday’s bout was too much, too soon.
“But there’s another train of thought to that. We haven’t seen anything from Luke Campbell as a professional to suggest that he can upset Jorge Linares. However, the ability is there. He uses height very well. At times, he can look like he was born to do it. He’s a lovely, fluent boxer, very natural. He may not win, but I think he’s going to surprise a lot of people.”
In the co-main event, undefeated Antonio Orozco faces off against once-beaten Roberto Ortiz in a 130-pound bout. The 31-year-old Ortiz boasts 35 wins on his résumé, but none against an opponent of particular caliber. It would be a shock if he defeats Orozco, who has overturned solid veterans such as Martin Honorio, Steve Forbes and Humberto Soto. Orozco may not be able to do to Ortiz what Lucas Matthysse did, and stop him on an early body shot (although the stoppage in that fight was somewhat controversial, as Ortiz appeared to beat the count), but if he does beat him, and especially if he beats him convincingly, then it may well presage the entry of yet another exciting and genuine contender in a stacked division.
HBO Boxing Insiders Eric Raskin and Kieran Mulvaney preview this Saturday's Jorge Linares vs. Luke Campbell lightweight fight — featuring interviews with Linares and Boxing News Editor-in-Chief Matt Christie — plus they share a few extra reflections on the thrilling Canelo Alvarez-Gennady Golovkin battle.