IN A fight that will be sold on name value alone, the fifth ranked super-lightweight Jack Catterall takes on the 38-year-old Jorge Linares in a bout that could be classified as a mismatch if it wasn’t for the veteran’s illustrious track record.
It may still turn out to be, regardless of what the Venezuelan achieved in the increasingly distant past. One must go back to 2018 – five long years ago – for the last time Linares won a fight that was scheduled over the championship distance. We must go back further (to 2017) for evidence of Linares being capable of beating fighters at the level Catterall is deemed to be.
Yet this is Linares, after all. One that every hardcore fight fan will have a soft spot for and one – like all the best fighters at the tail-end of their careers – where we wonder if he has one last magical performance left in him. He was once so good, and such a delight to watch, it’s depressing to think of him getting thrashed in the kind of contest he’d have been heavily favoured to win when in his pomp.
This will be former super-feather and lightweight belt-holder’s fourth appearance on British soil, all of which promoted by Eddie Hearn. The first came in 2015 and, it should be noted, even going into that bout with Kevin Mitchell we wondered if the best of ‘El Nino de Oro’ was old news. However, that thrilling 10th round stoppage win proved that the three stoppage defeats he’d suffered between 2009 and 2012 were aberrations, at least on the surface. What followed that victory over Mitchell was arguably Linares at an even higher level than we’d seen before as he twice beat Anthony Crolla in Manchester, edged Luke Campbell and gave Vasiliy Lomachenko the hardest test he encountered during his peak years.
Though we would be silly to forget what he was once capable of, examining his recent form is of course more valuable when previewing an upcoming contest. Since being stopped by ‘Loma’ in 11 rounds in May 2018, Linares has won three of seven and not won a bout of any description since February 2020, one month before the UK was plunged into lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
There is one outing during that period from which Linares, 47-8 (29), may draw some encouragement. In May 2021 he used all his smarts, slickness and wisdom, to hand Devin Haney a decent examination before losing on three relatively close cards (116-112 twice and 115-113). Though he’s lost twice since, to the promising Zaur Abdullaev (inside four) and Zhora Hamazaryan (over the 10-round distance), Linares does tend to find a way to get ‘up’ for certain challenges and this bout – being broadcast live on DAZN – might be deemed one of those for the veteran, particularly with the threat of another defeat surely removing any relevancy he has left in the sport.
Though Catterall, 27-1 (13), is at an altogether different stage of his career, it would be wrong to label him a man in form. Since Linares last notched victory all those years ago, Catterall has only (officially) won twice himself. Following his November 2020 points win over the overmatched Abderrazak Houya, he didn’t fight again until that by now infamous decision loss to Josh Taylor in February 2022 before returning 15 months later to outscore Darragh Foley. Now 30, and with a serious lack of match practice, Catterall – a southpaw – may find he needs a round or two to find his rhythm.
But Linares is no longer the fast-twitch marksman of old. Six of his eight losses have come inside schedule. He’s looked too easy to hit in his last two bouts. Though Catterall is unlikely to become the fourth man to stop Jorge inside three rounds, a second half stoppage is a decent bet, perhaps via a spiteful blast to the body. But the feeling is that Linares will be in the best shape he can be at this stage of his career, go the full 12 and – keep those fingers crossed – have enough left to make this one moderately interesting.
The battle between the 12-0 (1) Aqib Fiaz from Oldham and Watford’s Reece Bellotti, 16-5 (13), might be a better scrap inside Liverpool’s Echo Arena.
Fiaz, a 24-year-old starlet trained by Jamie Moore, had a scare last time out when he was dropped heavily by the 10-3-2 Costin Ion in round six before he recovered to eke out a 76-75 decision after eight. That was the second time that Fiaz has tasted the canvas in his fledgling career.
This bout with Bellotti, for the vacant Commonwealth super-featherweight title, will be Fiaz’s first scheduled beyond eight. Both talented and flawed, he’ll need to be on his game from the get-go against the rejuvenated Bellotti. Now 32 years old, Bellotti won the same title down at featherweight in 2017 and looked like a star in the making at the time. Wins over Jamie Speight, Jason Cunningham and Ben Jones were exciting and ruthless before he was upset by Ryan Doyle in June 2018. A decent showing against Ryan Walsh, then the British champion, later that year ended in a split decision loss before he lost his way in three consecutive bouts (versus Francesco Grandelli, Jordan Gill and Raymond Ford) between 2019 and 2021.
He’s had two subsequent wins, halting Dean Dodge in April last year before outpointing Youssef Khoumari over 10 this past June.
This is a fight Fiaz can win but we got for Bellotti to draw on his experience and superior punching power to come out on top in the second half.
Elsewhere on the card, Liverpool’s Peter McGrail, 7-0 (5), should be too classy for Colombia’s Fran Mendoza, 17-0 (7) at super-bantamweight and prospects Shanaz Masoud, 11-0 (4), of Stoke-on-Trent, Bolton’s 11-0 (3) Khaleel Majid and Hyde’s Campbell Hatton, 13-0 (5), are all matched in contests they’re expected to win.
THE VERDICT – Linares was once a joy to watch but there’s no recent evidence to suggest he’s the same fighter anymore.