It has been nearly two years to the day since Jorge Linares was being cradled in the arms of referee Luis Pabon, having been separated from his senses as well as his WBA junior lightweight belt on October 10 of 2009.
For the Venezuelan-born Linares, the end had come at 1:13 of the first round, this after having been dropped once by newly crowned champion Juan Carlos Salgado, who leveled Linares with a brutal left hook around his guard less than a minute into the fight.
The punch thudded solidly on the right jaw of the then-24-year-old Linares, who had enjoyed tremendous popularity in his adopted hometown of Tokyo, Japan. The sudden end silenced what had been a juiced-up crowd at the Yoyogi #2 Gymnasium that was partisan to the hard-hitting Linares, who was looking for his seventh straight stoppage.
Among Linares' victories had been a 10th-round knockout of Oscar Larios for the WBC's vacant featherweight belt, an eighth-round KO of Gamaliel Diaz in defense of that crown; a fifth-round stoppage of Whyber Garcia for the WBA's 130-pound belt, and an eighth-round KO of Josafat Perez in his first defense of that title.
"I've had four fights since then. I know that it was a shot that I thought was lucky," said Linares (31-1, 20 KOs). "That's in the past for me. It was a bad night, but now, I'm only looking forward."
Linares insists that he's back on track, and on Saturday night, he takes a streak of four wins with two consecutive knockouts into his clash with 25-year-old southpaw Antonio DeMarco (25-2-1, 18 KOs) for the WBC's lightweight belt at Staples Center in Los Angeles.
"All of my wins were important, and I do not take anyone lightly," said Linares, whose win streak includes a 10-round unanimous decision over 2000 Olympic silver medalist Rocky Juarez in July of last year. "Juarez was important because it was great to be back in Las Vegas."
Linares landed in Los Angeles on Saturday night after three weeks in Bagiuo Philippines. There, Linares worked with five-time Trainer of The Year, Freddie Roach, and strength and conditioning guru Alex Ariza, and sparred with Manny Pacquiao. who has an HBO Pay Per View-televised defense of his WBO welterweight belt against Mexican rival Juan Manuel Marquez on Nov. 12.
"It is always great to train with a great fighter like Manny. For me, Manny helped in every aspect. The only difference is that DeMarco is taller. But when you're training with the best fighter in the world, you have no choice but to step up your game twice as much," said Linares.
"I helped Manny because Marquez and I are very similar technical fighters. The only difference is that I'm taller and probably twice as fast. Of course, sparring with Pacquiao, you have to be at your best and it keeps you on your toes. I believe that we complimented each other very well for both of our fights. What better southpaw fighter is there than Manny Pacquiao?"
Linares has spent much of this week at Roach's Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood, Calif., alongside Pacquiao, WBA and IBF junior welterweight beltholder Amir Khan and WBC middleweight titleholder Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.
"Right away, when I started working with Freddie, from just the shadowboxing, Freddie started to make adjustments and changing the technical aspects of my game. That's what I needed for someone to step in and do," said Linares, who will be in his first bout with Roach.
"Of course, the idea is to learn more and more and to become more familiar. But not only that, to be more consistent. I am very happy to be working with such a great trainer as Freddie. He has helped me and we will show that on Saturday. Also, Alex Ariza has been great, and I can see the hard work is paying off."
DeMarco has won two straight, one by stoppage, since losing by ninth-round knockout to the late Edwin Valero during a failed bid to earn the WBC belt in February of last year.
"Antonio DeMarco is obviously a good fighter. He lost to Valero in a tough fight, and he wasn't able to get that world title," said Linares. "But I'm hoping to find out his weakness and capitalize on them to position myself for that world title shot."
Linares knows that a win over DeMarco could position him for bigger and better things. That could include Erik Morales, who became the first Mexican-born fighter to earn a fourth title in as many different divisions with a 10th-round knockout over previously-unbeaten Pablo Cesar Cano last month.
"If everything comes out great, I would like to maybe make a title defense. But I've also heard that Erik Morales wants to fight me. I've heard that Morales wants to come down to 135. Of course, if he makes it to 135, then I'll take that fight right away," said Linares.
"Maybe one or two more fights, max, at 135, and then I'll move up to 140. But right now, I am 100 percent concentrating on Saturday and Antonio DeMarco. I have a great deal of respect for Antonio DeMarco, and this fight is very important to my career."
Photo of Linares and DeMarco by Gene Blevins, Hogan Photos
Photo of Linares and Roach by Katsuo "Catch" Miura
Lem Satterfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org