By Hans Olson
Too often in sports, fans and observers have little perspective.
In boxing in particular, there is even less.
Over the weekend in Cancun, Mexico, Venezuelan prodigy Jorge Linares was stopped in two rounds by the little known Sergio Thompson. It was Jorge’s 3rd loss in his pro career, and one that mirrored not his recent losing war of attrition to Antonio DeMarco, but rather his shocking 1st round knockout loss to Juan Carlos Salgado in October of 2009.
Thompson (22-2) started fast at the bell, setting the tone to what would be a thrilling first round. Early in the bout, Jorge appeared uncomfortable. Thompson controlled the ring and landed several flush rights, the pawing jab of Linares doing little to deter the forward-charging Mexican. When Linares did start to land his jab—mostly as a counter—its success was fleeting.
Toward the round’s two-minute mark, Jorge was sent reeling to the ropes as Thompson flurried a barrage of power punches. This forced the fight out of Linares, for at this moment he started to let his hands go, punching in beautiful combinations—a defiant stand that would cost him dearly. Engaging in a firefight was certainly against his best interests, although a thundering left hook did stagger Thompson. As the round came to a close, many had the feeling we could either be in for another classic, or Linares would meet an early demise.
We saw the latter.
At 1:16, Thompson looped a bomb of a right hand, jarring Linares, who then entered survival mode. Over the next 20 seconds, Thompson landed array of punches, eventually sending Linares down. As the bleeding Linares stood up, referee Bill Clancy called timeout for an examination of the cut over Jorge’s left eye. After looking at the cut briefly, the doctor pulled out a red card to stop the fight.
Immediately after, online cries from couch-side fans all but read the last rites on the career of Jorge Linares.
“Cuts too easily.”
“Will never be as good as advertised.”
“Can’t take a punch.”
Along with the harsh criticism, many writers and know-it-all fans blasted Linares and Golden Boy Promotions for what turned out to be a mistake in taking what was supposed to be a tune-up fight before a big-money rematch with DeMarco in July on Showtime.
It’s a sign of the times when everyone cares more about the potentials than the actuals—for it was not only the potential of a rematch with DeMarco, but the potential of Linares himself, that everyone cared about.
Looking at the fighters and the sport itself for what they, and for what it is…should be a habit more familiarize themselves with.
You’ll often hear the argument that the fighters of today’s era “don’t fight often enough.”
In the next breath, you’ll hear about fighters making “bad business moves,” like the one that Linares and team apparently made in taking the Thompson fight.
Then came more criticism.
This time, it was from Oscar De La Hoya, directed at Linares’ trainer, Freddie Roach…though this criticism may be fair.
After the fight, De La Hoya had taken to his Twitter account.
“Linares needs a new trainer,” tweeted De La Hoya. “He has so much natural ability but has no defense.”
“He needs a new trainer someone that is going to pay attention and teach him defense!”
With Roach’s hectic schedule and commitments to Manny Pacquiao, Julio Chavez Jr., and Amir Khan among others, it isn’t crazy to suggest that Jorge might indeed need more attention paid to him.
Perhaps the Freddie project just isn’t working.
“I will continue boxing, but we have to improve a few things,” said Linares in a report by Boxing Scene’s Jhonny Gonzalez. “I have to speak with Golden Boy Promotions to figure out [my next move].”
It’s likely that Oscar De La Hoya will advise him as his tweeting suggested: He wants Roach out.
“Look at his natural ability if he had defense he would be untouchable,” continued De La Hoya’s Twitter feed.
It’s ironic, because Freddie Roach pieced back together the career of Amir Khan after his shocking knockout loss to Breidis Prescott in 2008. Roach tightened Khan’s defense, guided him with an intelligent move up in weight class, and along with strength and conditioning coach Alex Ariza, reconstructed Khan’s body from a the top-heavy muscular build to a balanced physique. In the proper weight class with stronger lower body and core strength paired with improved defense, Khan showed astonishing improvement.
It’s curious why Jorge Linares hasn’t had similar success.
Actually, maybe it’s not.
Because he’s not Amir Khan. He’s a different fighter, with different strengths and weaknesses.
It might not be with Freddie Roach, but Jorge Linares does indeed have the skills to compete at the elite level despite the recent setbacks.
In actuality, he might come back better than ever. It’s times like these when a fighter is often able to put it all together, strengthening the strengths and nullifying weaknesses. This is when they become great. Just ask Wladimir Klitschko.
Linares simply has to acknowledge his defensive liabilities and adjust into a different fighter. Sure, he might not give us the same blood-and-guts wars like we saw against DeMarco, but he’ll be winning fights. And hey, who’s to say having that penchant for mixing it up wouldn’t be a good card to pull out when absolutely needed?
He’ll need to work on creating angles and avoiding right hands. And if he can’t avoid them, he needs to keep his left hand up and forget about rolling with those punches. He’ll likely need to modify his wide-stance, a stance similar in nature to that of Adrien Broner. Where a wider stance creates power, it also leaves fighters less mobile to a certain degree…and Jorge’s upper body movement and defense in the pocket isn’t comparable to that of Broner.
But Linares has many gifts that even fighters like Khan and Broner don’t have. Few in boxing can counter punch as well as Jorge Linares. His blazing speed and combination punching sets him apart from most active fighters. Utilizing those skills with improved defense and a more cautious style are certain to keep him in the 135 discussion for some time.
Winston Churchill once said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
Jorge Linares will continue, and likely with the courage that so many of his critics don’t, and will never have.