Linares looks to rebuild damaged reputation
It’s not impossible for a once-promising young boxer to comeback from a first-round KO loss, but it isn’t easy.
Junior lightweight contender Jorge Linares, who lost a 130-pound title and most of his once-considerable credibility when he was knocked out in the first round by Juan Carlos Salgado last October, can look to 140-pound beltholder Amir Khan for hope.
Khan, who suffered a first-round KO to Breidis Prescott in September of 2008, has begun to earn respect with hardcore fans following an impressive victory over veteran Paul Malignaggi in May.
However, Linares, who fights Rocky Juarez in a lightweight bout on the Juan Manuel Marquez-Juan Diaz II pay-per-view undercard in Las Vegas on Saturday, should note that it took the 2004 Olympic silver medalist from Britain five consecutive victories to regain the momentum he had lost.
It might take Linares (28-1, 18 knockouts) just as many bouts, maybe more. The 10-round crossroads match with Juarez (28-6, 20 KOs), Linares’ second bout in the U.S., is only the first step in salvaging his damaged reputation.
How much of a “rep” did Linares have? Plenty for a non-Olympian who had only been featured on U.S. television once. The 24-year-old Venezuelan did not have the exposure Khan received during his extensive amateur background but he was every bit as hyped as the Brit in boxing circles.
And though Linares doesn’t pack arenas the way Khan does in the UK, the fast and fluid stylist is one of the best known professional boxers in Japan, where his promotional company, Teiken Boxing Promotions, is based and where most of his fights have taken place.
“Jorge signed with Mr. [Akihiko] Honda (CEO of Teiken Boxing) out of the amateurs and turned pro in Japan,” said Nobu Ikushima, a Las Vegas-based representative of Teiken Boxing. “He was developed in Japan, he lives in Japan, he fights on network television (Nippon TV) in Japan, he even learned the language, which goes over very well with the Japanese people. I’d say he’s as popular as a non-Japanese fighter can be in Japan. He’s been adopted.”
Hardcore American fight fans who had read internet stories of a teenage Venezuelan boxer holding his own in sparring sessions with then-featherweight champ Manny Pacquiao were ready to adopt Linares if the hot prospect could deliver against a credible opponent in an actual prize fight.
When Linares finally made his U.S. debut, a showdown with Oscar Larios on the Bernard Hopkins-Winky Wright undercard in Las Vegas in July of 2007, he delivered.
His 10th-round stoppage of the still-serviceable Mexican veteran for a vacant 126-pound belt wowed the ringside press, HBO’s commentators and the domestic pay-per-view audience.
So it was with much fanfare when Golden Boy Promotions announced that it had signed Linares to a co-promotional contract (with Teiken Boxing) at a press conference held the morning of the Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Juan Manuel Marquez in Las Vegas last September. Golden Boy Promotions had big plans for Linares, whose nickname “El Nino de Oro” means Golden Boy in Spanish.
But those plans were ignominiously dashed when Linares was blasted by the unbeaten but unheralded Salgado in one round in Tokyo just one month after the Golden Boy press conference in Las Vegas.
Like Khan’s loss to Prescott, Salgado’s stoppage of Linares was considered the upset of the year by many boxing publications and writers. For Japanese fans the loss was just upsetting.
“The entire arena went quiet when Jorge went down,” said Akemi Irie, a Las Vegas-based Teiken representative who worked the Salgado fight. “Nobody expected to see that. Everybody was in a state of shock. Jorge was shocked.”
No he wasn’t.
The former two-division titleholder says he expected to lose to the untested Mexican prospect.
“The loss was meant to be,” Linares told RingTV.com through interpreter Rudy Hernandez, who works the young fighter’s corner as a cutman. “I was meant to lose that fight. I wasn’t confident going in. I wasn’t myself because of certain personal issues.”
Linares will not go into specifics about those “issues,” but he does divulge that he was having “family problems” at the time. How bad were those problems?
“I thought I was going crazy a few weeks before the fight,” he said.
That mindset was not conducive to a productive training camp. Linares, who trained with Ken Adams in Las Vegas for the fight, says he was in excellent physical condition but mentally absent.
“I was dropped in sparring before that fight,” Linares said. “I wasn’t myself in those sparring sessions because I had no focus.
“Part of me wanted to pull out of the fight but I couldn’t do it. I had been inactive because of training injuries before that fight, and other bouts of mine were cancelled. I didn’t want to put off another fight, so I went through with it, but I knew I was doomed because I couldn’t keep my mind on training.”
However, his mind was on the fight, and for the first time in his career Linares had a sense of dread before one of his bouts.
“It’s a horrible feeling going into a fight that you know you’re not mentally ready for,” he said. “The only way to describe it to someone who hasn’t boxed is to think back when you were in school, and remember how you felt the morning of the day of a big test that you know you didn’t study for.”
Hernandez, who worked Linares’ corner for the Salgado fight, doesn’t buy the psychological excuses.
“I think he just got caught,” said the veteran trainer. “He saw the punch coming and he assumed it was going to land in the area of his jaw where he had his glove ready to block it. But it looped around his glove and hit him the temple. He got dropped and couldn’t recover. It happens in boxing.”
It happens all the time but that doesn’t keep fans from branding any fighter who suffers a first-round KO loss “overrated,” or even “finished.”
Linares’ last fight, a majority decision over veteran Francisco Lorenzo in March, didn’t convince fans and boxing insiders to withhold those cruel labels when describing his career.
Linares won the 10-round bout, which took place in Venezuela, by tallies of 97-93, 97-94 and 95-95. The close scorecards prompted many insiders to assume that Linares had lost his confidence as the result of the Salgado loss.
Linares says the people who say that probably didn’t see the fight.
“I didn’t lack any confidence in that bout,” he said. “I felt good, really good. It was like a sparring session. If the ring was bigger he never would have touched me. The canvas was slippery, too, which prevented me from sticking and moving the way I normally do. It was like boxing on an ice rink, but I still think I handled Lorenzo.
“The 95-95 scorecard just wasn’t right. I think that judge was upset with me and my team. Rudy [Hernandez] wore shorts in my corner and I recall that judge had a problem with this. He told Rudy that it was against the rules to wear shorts in the corner in Venezuela. He was also upset that I had so many people in the ring before my fight. He complained about that, and I think he took his frustrations out on me with his scorecard.”
Fans are curious if Linares will take any of his recent frustrations out on Juarez, or if the perennial featherweight and 130-pound contender who hasn’t won a high-profile fight since an 11th-round stoppage of Jorge Barrios in September of 2008, will take his frustrations out on the once-Golden Boy.
Linares, who looked sharp sparring with lightweight prospect Jesus Hernandez on Saturday, says he has no frustrations and promises to box smart against the 2000 Olympic silver medalist.
“I know I’ve got to be careful of his hook,” Linares said. “His right hand is pretty good, too. He’s going to come right at me and I know he’s going to be very strong, but I feel super good for this fight. My speed and reflexes are there and most importantly my focus is there for this fight.”
The fight will take place at a 133-pound catch weight, which falls between the junior lightweight and lightweight limits. There were rumors that one of Linares’ problems going into the Salgado fight was a struggle to get down to 130 pounds, but THE RING’s No. 8-rated junior lightweight says that’s not true.
Linares, who weighed 133 pounds on Saturday, says he plans to continue fighting at junior lightweight but he also wants to keep his options open.
“If I can get a title shot at lightweight, I’ll take it,” he said. “The plan is to make an impression against Juarez and to return to the U.S. for more big fights as soon as possible.
“The opportunities will come after the Juarez fight and we’ll see what’s available to me. I think my future might be at lightweight because the name fighters are there, including Juan Manuel Marquez and Juan Diaz.”