Linares, Valdez, Ramirez Triumph in Title Fights

Jorge Linares Edges Luke Campbell in Tactical Fight, Aims For Mikey Garcia

Had you said five and a half years ago that Jorge Linares would someday be one of the top lightweights in the world, people would’ve laughed in your face and questioned your sanity.

Linares, after all, had been knocked out twice in a row. He’d dominated Antonio DeMarco early, only to get bloodied, hurt and stopped later on in their October 2011 fight. Then he got dropped and stopped in just two rounds by Sergio Thompson in March 2012. He’d also lost in 73 seconds to Juan Carlos Salgado in 2009.

This was a fighter who hardcore boxing fans once believed had the goods, who’d won world titles at featherweight and junior lightweight and was trying to do the same at 135. There wasn’t much reason to believe that anymore.

Much has changed since then.


Linares recognized his weaknesses, worked to improve on them, and has won 12 fights in a row, including six world title fights. His latest victory was a tough one — a close split decision over Luke Campbell on Saturday in a competitive, tactical fight.

It was surprisingly competitive given the knockdown Linares scored on Campbell in the second round. Linares threw a right hand that was blocked. Campbell moved away. Linares followed with a left hook that missed. Campbell continued to move away, but he moved straight back, getting caught with a right hand between the gloves that landed before the southpaw Campbell’s wider right hook could.

Campbell got up, steadied himself, and showed that he belonged in the same ring as Linares. He controlled the distance, caught a lot of Linares’ shots with his gloves, picked his moments and landed on occasion to the head and body, and held up well to the right hands that Linares landed.

Campbell did enough to win a number of rounds. But so did Linares — who won just enough of them to pick up the decision.

Two judges had it for Linares — one scored it 115-112 (seven rounds to five, with an extra point taken from Campbell due to the knockdown), while the other had it 114-113 (six rounds apiece). The third judge gave Campbell the edge, scoring it 115-113, with seven rounds to Campbell, four rounds to Linares, and one round even.

Linares is now 43-3 with 27 knockouts. He’s one of the top lightweights around, but it hasn’t been easy. There was a tough fight against Kevin Mitchell in 2015, when Linares had to get up off the canvas and come from behind on the scorecards to score a technical knockout in the 10th round. And there was a competitive fight with Anthony Crolla in 2016; Linares won their rematch by a much wider margin earlier this year.

Still, it’s more than ever seemed possible after the DeMarco and Thompson fights.

Now, Linares feels confident enough to call out Mikey Garcia, who also has a world title and is one of the best fighters in the world. There’s no guarantee the fight will happen, or that Garcia (who recently beat Adrien Broner at 140) will decide to return to the 135-pound division. Linares has also expressed interest in facing Vasyl Lomachenko should Lomachenko move up from 130. Of course, Lomachenko first has to win a fight with Guillermo Rigondeaux in December before looking forward to other opponents.

Campbell is now 17-2 with 14 KOs. The 2012 Olympic gold medalist lost a surprising split decision to Yvan Mendy in 2015 but had won five straight since. This won’t be a huge setback. Campbell performed well, showed his skills and comfort in the ring, and did all of this despite having lost his father to cancer just weeks before the bout.

He’ll once again bounce back from defeat. That’s far more certain for Campbell than had once been the case for Linares.

Oscar Valdez Retains Title in Fun Firefight With Genesis Servania

Oscar Valdez hit Genesis Servania with clean shot after clean shot. And yet it was Valdez who hit the canvas first. Such was the nature of their featherweight title fight Friday night. Valdez threw with power with seemingly every punch he sent out. Servania regularly reminded Valdez that he wasn’t going to go away that easy. That led to an enjoyable decision victory for Valdez, who made the third successful defense of his world title.  

Valdez took the first three rounds with clean, heavy blows. He may have gotten overconfident. In the fourth, Valdez blocked a left hook to the body and kept his gloves down while moving away to his right. Servania landed a right hand that put Valdez down. Valdez got up immediately. He hadn’t learned his lesson, though. Before the round was over, Valdez once again had his left glove down while moving to his right. And once again, Servania landed a hard right, this one leaving Valdez momentarily unsteady.

Servania was soon on the mat himself. That moment came in the fifth. Servania threw a jab. Valdez threw a left hook at the same time. Servania fell backward, hurt more than Valdez had been the previous round. Valdez followed up with several big blows but couldn’t put Servania away.

He never was able to. Valdez would have moments during the remainder of the fight where he’d land big shots, but Servania would get a chance to retaliate with good single shots and combinations.

It wasn’t heated action, but it was enjoyable nonetheless, concluding fittingly with toe-to-toe trading in the final seconds.

Valdez got the clear nod on the cards. The judges had it 117-109 (a very wide 10 rounds to two, with extra points deducted from each man for the knockdowns), 116-110 (nine rounds to three) and 115-111 (eight rounds to four).

Valdez is now 23-0 with 19 KOs. He has good talent but needs to shore up some elements of his game before taking on the other top 126-pounders, including not loading up on so many of his punches and not keeping his hands down when he’s in punching range.

Servania is now 29-1 with 12 KOs. This was a nice step up for a contender that many likely had never heard of. This hopefully won’t be the last we see of him.

Gilberto Ramirez Drops Jesse Hart, Withstands Comeback for Victory

Gilberto Ramirez got the test he needed. So did Jesse Hart. Only one of them came out of the fight Friday with the victory, but both benefitted from the experience.

Ramirez was the winner, defending his super middleweight world title with a unanimous decision victory. He dropped Hart in the second round, unleashed combinations to the head and body to try to take the fight out of him, brought the battle into the trenches despite the damage he would take there, and held up well to a comeback and several flush shots.

The fight turned out not to be as easy as it looked it would be after Ramirez’s early success. Then again, the fight didn’t start off easy for Ramirez either.

Hart used his superior foot speed in the first round to stay away from Ramirez, making him reset, keeping him from throwing as often. Hart was also able to come in with good right hands, landing a few during those opening minutes. But everything changed in the second round. The southpaw Ramirez threw a right hand that wasn’t intended to hurt so much as move Hart’s head in the other direction — into the path of a left uppercut.

Hart went down, and his legs weren’t wholly underneath him when he rose. The round was only about halfway over. Ramirez sent out a barrage. Hart dodged many, though not all. Ramirez mixed up his offense, targeting the head and body, but wasn’t able to put Hart away. Hart steadied himself in the third, trying to counter. But Ramirez again dominated the fourth, pummeling Hart for an extended stretch of the round.

Ramirez had taken the lead, yet he hadn’t taken Hart out. Hart fought through it, breathing through his mouth and digging down to try to battle back. He moved at times to stem Ramirez’s offense, landed right crosses when Ramirez targeted his body from a distance, and laced uppercuts through Ramirez’s guard when they were in close quarters.

Ramirez had Hart hurt with a body shot in the ninth. Hart had Ramirez momentarily backing up after a short right hand in the 11th. They came out swinging in the 12th and final round and continued to battle as if the fight was on the line. Hart put together several landed hooks and crosses with time winding down, then Ramirez landed a big left hand with seconds left.

The fight was indeed close on the scorecards. Two judges had it 115-112, seven rounds for Ramirez and five to Hart, with an additional point taken from Hart due to the knockdown. The other judge had it 114-113 for Ramirez, six rounds apiece.

Ramirez improved to 36-0 with 24 KOs. This was his second defense of a world title he won from Arthur Abraham in 2016. It was the kind of fight a young titleholder needs. Hart posed an actual physical challenge. Ramirez had to adjust, learn how to deal with someone who has height and speed and can hit you clean and hard. If he’s going to distinguish himself in the 168-pound division, he’ll have to handle opponents who are even better than Hart was on Friday.

And Hart was pretty good. While he suffered his first defeat and is now 22-1 with 18 KOs, he finally stepped up his competition and, well, was competitive. He was dropped and elevated in the same fight. He’ll need to learn from his mistakes and work his way up to another fight against another top super middleweight. Then we’ll see whether he’s good enough to be one of them or if this was as good as he can be.

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