A career took a significant step forward, while one took it's last ones this past weekend on Bash Blvd. At the Forum in Inglewood, California, Giovanni Santillan, turned what was thought to be a closely contested battle of Southland southpaws into a stunning one-sided blowout. Earlier that day at the Echo Arena in England, Jorge Linares lost a lopsided 12 round decision, and then announced his retirement from the ring.
Santillan from the very beginning took control against the streaking Alexis Rocha, striking early and often with a series of hard shots that came from both hands. He bloodied Rocha's nose early, and then just steadily chipped away in scoring an emphatic sixth round TKO.
What was surprising about this attack was that Santillan (32-0, 17 KOs) isn't what you'd call a pure puncher, or one that generally lets his hands go liberally. Five of his last six bouts had gone the distance, and quite frankly, weren't exactly the most entertaining of bouts. He won, but he never did anything that particularly wow'd you.
Golden Boy Promotions
But that certainly wasn't the case on Saturday night as he continually strafed Rocha with right hooks. On this evening, he was an aggressive, pressure fighter. Perhaps you can call it the 'Robert Garcia effect' because he certainly didn't lack for any intensity or purpose.
“I feel good. It was the outcome we were looking for. You never know how these types of fights will go,” said Santillan. “Alexis is a great fighter, and he’s tough. He got up twice and he's never been stopped before! It’s different with all these people here and when you’re the b-side. He brought all his fans and his supporters which makes boxing a great sport. 2024 is going to be a great year for me now with this performance.”
Rocha (23-2, ,15 KOs) tried his best to stay in the fight, but he was simply out-gunned by Santillan, who's punches simply had more impact. The end was near as he was sent to the canvas twice in round five. And then a flurry of punches sent him down again, and the fight was wave off by referee, Ray Corona.
Golden Boy Promotions
It's just wasn't his night. All the momentum of his eight bout winning streak post-Rashidi Ellis just suddenly evaporated. Seemingly on the verge of a title shot at 147, he now has to get back in line, and it will be Santillan in his spot.
“I am sorry to all my fans,” said Rocha. “I will be back.”
Earlier in the day, the crafty Jack Catterall(28-1, 13 KOs) decisioned Linares over 12 rounds by the scores of 117-111 and 116-112 (twice). Catterall, rated sixth at 140 by Ring Magazine is a solid, well-schooled boxer. You could make a strong argument that he should be considered the champion in this division given the way his fight with Josh Taylor played out in early 2022.
Linares was hurt badly in the fifth stanza but used his craft and guile to see the last bell. And according to him it's the last one he'll ever hear as an active boxer.
For the 38 year old Linares (47-9, 29 KOs) his time has come. While he still looked the part externally, like many other boxers who reach a certain stage, they can longer react and capitalize on what's presented to them. His last real good moment in the ring came in the late rounds against Devin Haney, as he had the young talent on unsteady legs at the end of the 10th round of their 2021 meet up.
Unfortunately, he was unable to finish the job, and it would begin this four fight losing streak that has ended what was a highly productive and entertaining career.
I recall seeing Linares for the first time as a very young boxer who was a sparring partner for Manny Pacquiao, as he was preparing for his rematch with Erik Morales. I was tipped off by Macka Foley about this young phenom's exploits. Seeing them spar multiple times at the Wild Card Boxing Club, I can honestly say that during these gym sessions, Linares gave Pacquiao some of his best work. (I refrain from saying he 'won' these sessions, because really, nobody wins in sparring, and 'the Pac Man' was much better in real fights than in the gym.)
Linares was a highly touted prospect, great things were expected from him. And for the most part he delivered as he won multiple world championships (from 126 to 135), and his dazzling skills were always evident. To this day, you will not see many boxers who could execute as many intricate combinations as he could.
Unfortunately, there are no perfect prizefighters, and for Linares what was lacking was punch resistance. He was gifted and flawed, all at the same time. For all his great moments, he had some inexplicable losses ( Juan Salgado, Sergio Thompson) as his chin let him down. To his credit, he was able to dust himself off a few times, and move forward.
The story of Linares isn't just about his talent or physical gifts but perseverance.
He should be fondly remembered by fans.