Jorge Linares pines for big fights against Mikey Garcia, Vasyl Lomachenko
LOS ANGELES — This isn’t the fight Jorge Linares envisioned as he kicks off his 2018 campaign, but it’s the fight in front of him.
He recently wrapped up a grueling training camp, split between his three homes — in Tokyo, London and Las Vegas — and finally, Los Angeles, where the fight takes place Saturday. Linares will be defending his RING lightweight championship for the third time, and this one comes against Mercito Gesta, a longshot trained by Hall of Fame coach Freddie Roach.
Of course, Roach used to work Linares’ corner, and the Hollywood-based trainer is 8-0 against his former pupils. But that’s about where Gesta’s advantages stop.
This amounts to a routine title defense for the talented Venezuelan after Golden Boy Promotions was unable to lure Mikey Garcia with a multi-fight contract beginning with a unification matchup against Linares.
So Linares will settle for a defense against Gesta, but that’s OK with him.
After all, he’s been fighting far from the bright lights of American television for the last 10 years, and now he’s readying for a second consecutive bout on HBO.
And Linares (43-3, 27 knockouts) knows: Look good against Gesta and the big fights will surely follow.
“It’s my moment, it’s my time right now,” Linares, 32, told RingTV.com during a sit-down this week. “Right now, I need to win this fight.
“I want the big fight with Mikey Garcia, but now I need to focus on this Saturday with Mercito Gesta. … Right now, big opportunities are coming for me. HBO, Showtime — whatever. I need the big names, the big fights.”
Linares-Garcia is simply one of the best matchups that can be consummated in the sport, but for the moment, Garcia is preparing for a shot at a fourth world title when he challenges Sergey Lipinets for his junior welterweight strap on March 10.
Garcia has maintained he plans to return to 135 pounds for a summer unification bout with Linares, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
“I don’t know [if it will happen] because I think [Garcia] has problems coming down to 135, but I don’t care; I can move to 140,” said Linares, who narrowly outpointed Olympic gold medalist Luke Campbell in his last outing. “It’s my plan, maybe this year or maybe next year. But now, I need to still focus on 135, make the good opportunity at 135 and then going up.”
That good opportunity, if Linares has his druthers, will be against Vasyl Lomachenko, the Ukrainian junior lightweight titleholder who sits at No. 3 on THE RING’s pound-for-pound list and was selected as the magazine’s Fighter of the Year for 2017.
Top Rank CEO Bob Arum, who promotes Lomachenko, told RingTV.com on Friday that the fighter’s next bout will be at lightweight, and that Linares is on the short list of names.
Linares says he fancies a fight with Lomachenko at 135 before meets Garcia at 140. And Linares knows which fight would be more difficult.
“[Lomachenko is a] good boxer, he’s amazing boxer, but you never know, maybe one day he have fight with me and then the moment’s different,” Linares declared. “I want that fight because he’s very similar to me — fast, quick champion.
“He’s younger than me, but I don’t care. I think it’s a good fight. But I think Mikey Garcia is better than Lomachenko. Strong; fast, too. Mexican style is hard. But it’s not impossible for me. I want two more fights, big fights, two good names, Lomachenko and Mikey Garcia. But for me, Mikey Garcia is more hard.”
And hopefully, Linares earns the chance to test himself against both elite practitioners.
But he knows he can’t overlook Gesta, whom Linares counts as a good, strong fighter who’s “coming [forward] all the time.”
Only after Gesta is out of the way can Linares look forward to truly beginning his era, his moment in the spotlight against the best fighters the sport has to offer.
Mike Coppinger is the Senior Writer for RingTV.com. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeCoppinger