Las Vegas’ Jorge Linares defends lightweight title on Showtime

The king of the lightweight division has called Las Vegas home for almost three years.

Jorge Linares, who has the WBA title and the Ring Magazine lineal crown, reinvented himself when he left Japan in 2014 to join his trainer, Ismael Salas, in Las Vegas.

Linares’ move paid off when he became a three-division champion and gained the perfect rival in Anthony Crolla to raise his boxing profile.

Crolla (31-5-3, 13 knockouts) and Linares (41-3, 27 KOs) will meet for the second time Saturday in a Showtime-televised main event at the Manchester Arena in the United Kingdom. The broadcast will air at 3 p.m.

“I had a great eight weeks of training in Las Vegas, and I’m very prepared to win the second fight,” Linares said in Spanish. “I expect (Crolla) to make a few adjustments, but we’ll be ready for anything, and once we get this second win, we’ll move on for other big fights.”

The well-traveled Venezuelan was a former featherweight and junior lightweight champion before moving his training camp, but struggled to adjust to the higher weight classes and was knocked out three times from 2009 to 2012.

“That was a very difficult period in my life,” said Linares, who lived in Japan for the first 14 years of his professional career. “I never thought I would lose or even get knocked out. But it did happen, and most fighters would have retired from that.

“I needed that experience, and I used that as motivation to become a champion again.”

Linares is on a 10-fight winning streak and has won two 135-pound world titles during that stretch.

The 31-year-old gained many more fans when he defeated Crolla six months ago by unanimous decision and took the Englishman’s WBA title in a thrilling bout.

“It won’t be 25,000 Brits against me this time,” Linares said. “It might be 20,000 rooting against me, but I’ll definitely have more fans there this time. I have no problem fighting in the hometowns of my opponents.”

Linares has fought in eight countries, with his first eight fights in Japan. He still spends a lot of time in Japan.

“I love being in Japan,” said Linares, who can speak Japanese and a little bit of English. “I have friends there who I consider family. I come to Las Vegas to train, and I go to Japan to calm the nerves.”

The first fight with Crolla was a huge success in the U.K., but it was virtually ignored in the United States. That could change for the rematch after Showtime picked up the bout.

Linares hopes a second win over Crolla leads to a unification bout with rising star and WBC titlist Mikey Garcia, who is coming off a devastating knockout of Dejan Zlaticanin in January at the MGM Grand. Garcia will be a guest analyst for Showtime on Saturday.

A match with junior lightweight champion Vasyl Lomachenko could be another route for Linares.

“Jorge has been down before, but I tell everyone, where are the three guys who defeated him? They’re either retired or close to retired,” said Roberto Diaz, Golden Boy Promotions matchmaker and a close friend of Linares. “We haven’t seen the best of Jorge Linares. He’s so much better now.”

Contact Gilbert Manzano at gmanzano@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0492. Follow @gmanzano24 on Twitter.

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