There is little doubt that WBA lightweight champion Jorge Linares is among the best fighters in the world, but an uneven performance against Luke Campbell suggests the end of the line may be near for the decorated champion. Linares hung on to outlast Campbell but it was a desperately close affair and there were those at ringside who thought the challenger had shaded it.
From the opening round, Linares’ vaunted speed was on display as he used sharp head movement and quick hands to give the former Olympian pause. With Campbell already mindful of Linares’ left hand after taking a hook early on, he then absorbed a hard right hand while pinned on the ropes.
Linares came out stalking in the second, often firing a quick shot as Campbell stalled on the ropes, the challenger doing little more than circling the ring and pawing with the jab. Linares was able to use Campbell’s apprehensiveness to his advantage and dropped him with a lightning-fast right near the end of the round. At this point Campbell was looking out of his depth and he headed back to his corner knowing the fight was beginning to slip away.
The challenger pressed the action in the third, perhaps to gain some measure of respect from Linares, but after a swarm of punches came his way it was back on his bicycle. Every time Campbell looked like he was going to make a fight out of it, Linares would return fire and the more telling and forceful blows forced the challenger to retreat.
As the fight progressed and Linares realized that Campbell wasn’t giving him any cause for concern, the champion began to pick up the pace and throw with more conviction. With Campbell keeping his guard up and unwilling, or unable, to mount a counter-attack, there was little evidence to suggest that he could turn the bout around in a fashion similar to what Antonio DeMarco did to Linares’ misfortune almost five years ago.
Campbell’s enthusiastic U.K. fans cheered him on, but it was clear after six rounds that he was going to have to take a chance as Linares became more confident in response to Campbell’s increasingly passive approach. Though the Briton did land a right hook flush on Linares’ questionable chin, he spent the rest of the round taking retaliatory punishment as the champion targeted Campbell’s body.
But starting in the seventh, the bout began to turn. The Venezuelan has shown in the past that both his chin and his stamina can be questioned, and Campbell was now landing with more frequency as Linares’ fluid movement became sluggish and his hands began to drop. With renewed confidence and a tiring foe in front of him, Campbell picked up the pace and found himself the aggressor in rounds eight and nine as his fans roared their approval and Linares was forced to absorb punishment.
Tiring rapidly, the champion needed to turn the tide and he came out for round ten with increased urgency. Linares tried to take the fight into close quarters, but it was Campbell who maintained control as the southpaw landed more than a few heavy left hands.
Going into the final round, the challenger knew he had to close the show and he went after Linares and outworked the champion but it just wasn’t enough to secure the verdict. The thinking here was that Linares did enough early work, including the knockdown, to withstand Campbell’s onslaught and retain his championship by the slimmest of margins and indeed that was the case. The champion kept his title by scores of 115-112 and 114-113 with Campbell getting the nod on the third card by a score of 115-113.
Though Linares remains the top man at lightweight, his performance left plenty of doubt as to his chances ahead of what could be a career-defining showdown with Mikey Garcia. When one considers how Campbell was able to repeatedly score heavy shots in the later rounds, there’s really no telling how Linares will fare against Garcia. If he was desperate in Inglewood against Luke Campbell, he may find himself defeated when he encounters a bigger, stronger and more experienced adversary. — Danny Howard