Linares vs Campbell: Victory in Defeat

Luke Campbell came up short in his first shot at a world title as he was narrowly outpointed by defending champion Jorge Linares in Los Angeles, California. Whilst this fight will go down as a defeat on paper, in many ways the Olympic gold medallist emerged a winner.

In a very closely contested fight, Luke had to overcome an admittedly rocky start, having been knocked down and cut beneath the eye in the second round. At this early stage in the fight there was already an element of concern for the Hull fans, and it wasn’t looking unlikely that the Yorkshireman could be in for a punishing night. However, proving he belongs with the elite of the division, Luke kept his composure and used his trademark counter-punching skills to get himself back into the fight. In fact, not only did he get back into the fight, but he actually proceeded to outbox Linares through the middle rounds, catching the champion with sharp shots to the head and body. Unfortunately, the rocky start ultimately cost him the fight as despite Luke’s world class performance to claw it back, Linares showed his class to seal the victory in the last couple of rounds. The final result was a split decision victory for Linares, with two judges scoring the fight for the champion by scores of 115-112 and 114-113, and the third judge scoring the fight 115-113 in Luke’s favour.

Had Luke been totally outclassed in a one-sided fight, there may have been a few considerations for the Campbell camp with regards to which route they should pursue next. However, as demonstrated by the split decision and the very close scorecards, this was no one-sided affair. Luke has proven that he is on the same level as the current number 1 in the division – something he can take away as a positive and build upon. Further to that, the experience Luke will have gained from the 12 rounds with Linares is the sort of experience that you cannot train. In such fights, it can be argued that a fighter learns more within the one night than they have learnt in their previous 5 or more fights. I think this will certainly be the case here, and whilst he didn’t emerge the winner on the scorecards, he should certainly view the experience gained as a win itself.

Taking a more in-depth look at the performance, there are other positives that Luke can take away. Firstly the mistakes he made, albeit very few, that ultimately played a part in his defeat can and should be used constructively. It is fair to say that there were probably two main mistakes that played a key part in the result. The first one is the knockdown. Whilst the knockdown did result from a brilliantly executed right-hand from the defending champion, a very small error on Luke’s part was exposed in order to land the punch. Linares first sliced a left hand to the body which caused Luke to lift his guard for literally a split second. Unfortunately for him, a split second is all it takes for somebody of Linares’ class to find an opening. Although such a subtle observation was barely noticeable to the average onlooker, when mixing with the elite of the division, what starts as such a small and seemingly insignificant error can ultimately be the difference in such a closely contested fight.

The second mistake was that he didn’t let his hands go early enough. Now that isn’t to say that he should have gone in all guns blazing and throwing every punch in his arsenal at Linares, but it seems that Luke may have shown Linares just a little too much respect in the early stages. We often see this in fights of this level – there is a natural acknowledgement of the champion’s credentials which often makes for a cagey start. Unfortunately, in this case that allowed Linares to establish himself early and feel comfortable in a fight where he probably should have been made to feel the opposite. Again, such a small error doesn’t necessarily stand out as a game changer, but these subtle mistakes are often enough to separate fighters who are so evenly matched from a technical viewpoint.

So what does this tell us? Highlighting such mistakes may seem counter-productive or even insulting towards the Hull man. But in reality, it is actually quite the opposite. Had Luke not made such mistakes and boxed a perfect fight, the loss would simply have to be viewed as a man discovering his level. Yet what we have here is a performance that did contain flaws, yet still pushed the number one lightweight in the world close to defeat. Furthermore, a performance that saw the less experienced challenger given every reason to lose hope , but instead pick themselves up and put on a phenomenal display of composure and class against a modern great. What this actually tells us is that we have a world champion waiting to happen. This time around, it wasn’t to be. But now Luke has experienced competing at the very top level, it is almost scary what he is capable of.

The experience of being in the ring with such a talented champion, the mistakes that were made, and even certain events outside of the ring will all play a part in shaping Luke as a fighter. If Luke had come away from this fight with nothing to work on, it would be pretty demoralising even for the most strong minded. But Luke can emerge from this defeat armed with experience, knowledge, and motivation that will ultimately come together to see him through his next world title challenge.

After the fight, Luke revealed the passing of his father just two weeks before he stepped into the ring. If ever there was an excuse to back out, there it was. But like a true champion, he kept training and kept the belief in himself to perform, and perform he did. Before he even entered the ring he had already done his dad proud. But after the display he pulled out of the bag, he can rest assured that his dad would be gleaming with pride. That itself is a victory.

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