Jorge Linares took his seat among an estimated 90,000 at London’s Wembley Stadium in April, watching Luke Campbell walk in to Ed Sheeran’s ode to growing up, “Castle on the Hill.”
It seems odd now that World Boxing Assn. lightweight champion Linares, of Venezuela, and England’s 2012 Olympic champion, Campbell, are fighting Saturday night at the Forum.
Campbell (17-1, 14 knockouts) chuckled at finding himself in Inglewood for the most important fight of his pro career, a bout that could make him the first-ever world champion reared in Hull, England.
The isolated, cold, windy coastal locale with its long-suffering soccer fans left to cheer for perennial-underdog Hull City made Campbell the fighter he has become.
“Middle-class … my mom [Gillian] used to struggle every day to give us our dinner money for school,” Campbell said. “My dad [Bernard] was ill, so she taught me I need to work hard. She set the example. So I worked … to be the best.”
Campbell became Linares’ mandatory challenger with a ninth-round stoppage of injured Darleys Perez on the April 29 London card.
It’s the 29-year-old Campbell’s first fight outside England and the sixth consecutive lightweight-title bout for Linares (42-3, 27 KOs).
“This is the time for me,” Campbell said. “I believe in myself. I’m focused. I’m determined. I’ve been looking toward this fight for a long time. You’ll see the best of Luke Campbell.”
Campbell said he’ll call upon his roots and Olympic bantamweight gold while seeking to beat Linares, 32.
“Having to go through the pressure of my life — the Olympics — I saw many others crumble,” Campbell said. “I seem to thrive off that. The attention. The crowd. The cameras are always on in this professional game … so much of it is mind games. I’m in a good place physically and mentally.”
Beyond the fact that the headquarters of Linares’ promoter, Golden Boy Promotions, is based in Los Angeles, there’s an explanation for why the bout is in Southern California.
Linares “is the top lightweight in the world,” Eric Gomez, Golden Boy president, said. “We want to reestablish him in the U.S. [after two fights in England].”
Prior to that, Linares fought in Venezuela, Japan and England again.
Los Angeles additionally represents the toughest moment in Linares’ career, an 11th-round technical-knockout loss to Mexico’s Antonio DeMarco in a 2011 World Boxing Council lightweight title fight at Staples Center.
“I remember, but now I’ve come back to this big moment and I’m a completely different fighter with more experience,” Linares said.
“I’ve actually watched that [DeMarco] fight a lot before this one because Luke Campbell has a similar fighting style, being a tall southpaw. Cuts stopped that fight, but I don’t believe that will happen again. I feel tougher and mentally stronger.”
Linares has resurrected his career with an 11-fight win streak going into Saturday.
The WBC announced that the Linares-Campbell winner becomes the mandatory challenger to current WBC champion Mikey Garcia (37-0, 30 KOs) of Riverside.
AEG President Dan Beckerman said he wants to bring Garcia to Staples Center, so localizing Linares-Campbell helps that.
“I like that fight,” Beckerman said. “After this one, I’ll sit down with [Golden Boy Chairman] Oscar [De La Hoya] and try to make it happen because it’s a good opportunity to make the best fight possible in the 135-140-pound range.”
Linares said: “First, I need to win. … I want to leave boxing with a proud history and a lasting impression.”
Main event: Jorge Linares (42-3, 27 KOs) vs. Luke Campbell (17-1, 14 KOs) for Linares WBA lightweight title
When: Saturday, doors open 4 p.m. Pacific; HBO broadcast begins at 8 p.m.
Tickets: $25-$50-$75-$125 at Ticketmaster and Forum box office
Undercard: Romero Duno (14-1, 13 KOs) vs. Juan Sanchez (29-13, 14 KOs), lightweights; Azat Hovhannisyan (12-2, 10 KOs) vs. Sergio Frias (19-7-2, 10 KOs), super-bantamweights; Abraham Lopez (22-1-1, 15 KOs) vs. Isao Carranza (15-9-1, 9 KOs), featherweights