Scorecard: All hail Linares!
Luke G. Williams
Classy Jorge Linares was just too precise and well seasoned for the wonderfully gutsy Anthony Crolla in Manchester on Saturday night as the Venezuelan established himself beyond reasonable doubt as the number one lightweight boxer in the world.
Round 1: Tight opening stanza. Both men look sharp, both with high guards. Both score to the body, Linares looks a little sharper and edges the round. 10-9 Linares
Round 2: Linares is looking confident, hitting and moving well, as Crolla moves forward but struggles to connect. The Venezuelan whips in scoring shots with enough regularity to take another round. Again his work to Crolla's body is impressive, taking advantage of Crolla's high guard. Will body shots undo 'Million Dollar' like they did Liam Smith last week? 10-9 Linares
Round 3: Another Linares round. His hand speed enables him to land several telling combinations. Crolla looks a little one-paced by comparison, but is continuing to cut off the ring and pressurise the Venezuelan, albeit not landing enough shots to win the round. Linares 10-9
Round 4: The two men exchange shots, mainly to the body, throughout the round, Crolla seems to land more and unsettle his opponent for the first time, while Linares is warned twice for straying below the belt. Both calls, without the benefit of a replay, looked pretty marginal to me. 10-9 Crolla
Round 5: Super round. Both men score with hard, sharp shots, most notably Crolla with a big right which appears to result in a cut appearing above Linares' left eye. Crolla backs the Venezuelan up several times to take the round. 10-9 Crolla
Round 6: What a round! A hard, hard round from two hard, hard men. Crolla appears to be wearing Linares down, with the Venezuelan beginning to look weary, only for Linares to burst back into life in the last thirty seconds, hurting the Mancunian with a huge right to the temple and then going for the finish against the ropes, only for the bell to intervene and save Crolla from possibly being stopped or dropped. 10-9 Linares
Round 7: A tight round. Linares is throwing more shots, while it is Crolla who is moving forward and looking like he has more energy in the tank. This time it is Crolla who finishes the round the stronger, landing several hard shots to sneak it on the scores. 10-9 Crolla
Round 8: Good response from Linares, who opts for accuracy over industry, landing hard shots but not throwing as many combinations as earlier. For my money his superior accuracy takes the round. 10-9 Linares
Round 9: Linares looks a little leaden footed and Crolla stalks him. He tries to get his feet moving again in the final seconds of the round but Crolla lands a good overhand right and a couple of decent combinations to hurt the Venezuelan and shade another tight but thrilling round. 10-9 Crolla
Round 10: The quality and accurate work in this round comes from Linares, including a lovely clean right hand which sends sweat spraying from Crolla's head. 10-9 Linares
Round 11: Going into this round I have Linares 6-4 ahead in rounds. Linares is up on his toes, boxing beautifully on the retreat, playing the matador to Crolla's enraged bull. Suddenly, Linares doesn't look tired at all, as he has done several times in the last few rounds, but a man in control of the fight and his destiny. This round just might have settled the contest. 10-9 Linares
Round 12: Linares now fights on the front foot, displaying dizzying hand speed and wonderful determination. He is almost, but not quite, matched by Crolla's immense spirit and endeavour. A cracking end to a wonderful fight. 10-9 Linares
Verdict: A tremendous contest between two wonderful boxers and model professionals. The classier work and the more precise work undoubtedly came from Linares. Crolla mounted an immense, wholehearted effort, and at times made the Venezuelan look tired and ragged, but it was not quite enough. The only time a stoppage looked possible was when Linares had Crolla rocking at the end of the sixth round. A great fight in front of a wonderfully energetic crowd who created an electric atmosphere. The icing on the cake? The fact the judges got it spot on and there was, thank goodness, no controversy. All in all, a great night for boxing and the lightweight division, the ruler of which is now - undisputedly - Jorge Linares.
(Judges' scores 115-114, 117-111, 115-113, all to Linares. BM online had it 116-112).