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Crolla vs Linares: Fight preview and analysis

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Anthony Crolla takes on Jorge Linares in an intriguing lightweight clash on Saturday.

This Saturday on Sky Sports in the United Kingdom, Anthony Crolla will defend the WBA lightweight title against Jorge Linares in what appears to be an evenly matched and intriguing fight on paper.

Here’s a look at the matchup.

Anthony Crolla vs Jorge Linares

Anthony Crolla

Boxing at Manchester Arena Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Record: 31-4-3 (13 KO) ... Streak: W2 ... Last 5: 3-0-2 ... Last 10: 7-0-3 ... Stance: Orthodox ... Height/Reach: 5'8½" / 67" ... Age: 29

Thoughts: Crolla is on a really good run right now, with knockout wins over Darleys Perez and Ismael Barroso in his last two fights, and really he should have won the decision against Perez in their first bout, which wound up a draw, and he’s undefeated in his last 11, going 8-0-3. The last time he lost was to Gary Sykes back in 2012, and that was a three-round Prizefighter split decision. His last loss in a traditional bout was arlier in 2012 against Derry Mathews, a TKO-6.

Crolla is what you might call a blue collar champion. He’s not an exceptional fighter in any regard, he’s "just" solid and tough. His win over Barroso was an interesting one, as he came out ready to absorb punishment from the hard-punching Venezuelan, then capitalize when his opponent had expended too much energy.

It was a risky strategy from Crolla and trainer Joe Gallagher, but Crolla pulled it off flawlessly. He smothered as much of Barroso’s work as he could early on, though he still took some big shots, and he was cut in the fourth round. But Barroso’s gas tank clearly emptied, and Crolla pounced, knocking him out halfway into the seventh round with a body shot.

Crolla has home field here so you have to be aware that cards could go his way, even though if the fight goes 12, that likely means Linares has outboxed him fairly handsomely.

Jorge Linares

Boxing at O2 Arena Photo by Ben Hoskins/Getty Images

Record: 40-3 (27 KO) ... Streak: W9 ... Last 5: 5-0 ... Last 10: 9-1 ... Stance: Orthodox ... Height/Reach: 5’8" / 69" ... Age: 31

Thoughts: Whenever I think of Jorge Linares, I am reminded of the late, great trainer and analyst Emanuel Steward, a huge Linares fan who would gush — I’ll go so far and say gush — over Linares whenever he had a chance to call one of his fights.

It wasn’t that Steward didn’t see or understand Linares’ limitations, it’s that what Linares does well was so attractive that it could temporarily blind even the most knowledgable. Linares was described by Steward as "a beautiful boxer," a man with skills equal to anyone in the sport today, and it’s true, the Venezuelan has well-honed abilities most boxers simply don’t.

Linares’ fatal flaws are (1) he doesn’t have the best chin, and (2) he has paper-thin skin and cuts very easily. And when he cuts, things tend to snowball. His most recent loss, in March 2012 to Sergio Thompson, saw him stopped on a cut eyelid after going down in the second round. He was coming off of a dramatic loss to Antonio DeMarco in October 2011, too, a fight where he had pretty much over the first 10 rounds, leading 98-92, 98-92, and 99-91 on the scorecards, before DeMarco dramatically rallied and beat him down in the 11th, forcing a TKO.

His other loss, back in 2009, was a 73-second TKO loss to Juan Carlos Salgado in Tokyo. That one was a bit more fluky, but it gave us the first real idea that he didn’t have the greatest punch resistance.

But for as much credit as Linares is given for his skill, how much of it is smoke and mirrors? Listen, this is a man who has fairly quietly won world titles at featherweight, super featherweight, and lightweight. But his record is, in a very modern way, pretty empty despite being a three-division world champion.

What are his best wins, really? Kevin Mitchell in May 2015? A faded Oscar Larios in 2007? Nihito Arakawa? You can make a fairly decent argument that the three best fighters he’s faced -- Salgado, DeMarco, and Thompson — have all beaten him, and not only that, but they’ve all stopped him.

Linares has that skill that can blind. If it can do it to Emanuel Steward to some degree, it can do it to any of our dumb asses. A closer examination (and really, not even that close) reveals some troubling realities about Linares’ résumé. And if he beats Anthony Crolla on Saturday, it will be his best win, without question. It’s been an odd career for Jorge Linares, one where the results both do and do not match his perceived ability. Yes, he’s got three world titles, but AGAINST WHO?! AGAINST WHO?! AGAINST WHO?! AGAINST WHO?!

Matchup Grade: B. A good, solid fight. Nothing wrong with it. Well-matched, pits two of the best fighters in a competitive but not particularly strong division, and is 50-50 on paper. What’s not to like about that? It’s not a great fight, necessarily, but it’s damn good, and that’s always worth tuning in to see. Plus, these are two guys who tend not to leave much in the ring. It could be exciting.