Jorge Linares had seen a lightweight belt escape him in Los Angeles before, and as that appeared to be happening again Saturday at the Forum, he found a veteran's resolve to remain champion.
In a competitive scrap against younger, lengthier 2012 Olympic gold medalist Luke Campbell of England, Venezuela's Linares retained his World Boxing Assn. lightweight belt by split decision.
While judge Victor Loughlin scored the bout for Campbell 115-113, judges Max Deluca (114-113) and Zachary Young (115-112) saw it for Linares (43-3).
"We worked hard and kept at it," Linares said after squandering the lead that came with his second-round knockdown of Campbell (17-2). "I knew I had to let the dogs out."
After Campbell won at least five rounds on all three cards between the fourth and the 10th rounds, Linares swept the 11th and 12th on the two cards he needed to gain the decisive edge.
"It was experience," Linares promoter Oscar De La Hoya said. "Campbell came out to fight. He made it a great fight and he will be a world champion. Linares wasn't throwing the combinations like he was [earlier]. He started throwing one punch at a time."
His spike of activity and elusiveness in the final two rounds allowed Linares to avoid a repeat of the painful title defeat he experienced in 2011, losing a shot at a vacant lightweight belt to Mexico's Antonio DeMarco.
This time he gains a mandatory shot at a title unification against Riverside's World Boxing Council champion Mikey Garcia (37-0, 30 KOs). Linares said "that's what I want," but De la Hoya cautioned he would review if Linares should remain at 135 pounds and assess "the different options."
Linares, 32, was coming off back-to-back unanimous-decision victories over England's Anthony Crolla and quieted the group of vocal Brits who attended Saturday's fight with the second-round knockdown of Campbell. After peppering some jabs, Linares floored Campbell with a right cross to the right eye, cutting the challenger for the first time in his pro career.
The left-handed Campbell sought to answer Linares' superior athleticism with creativity and counter-punching. His calm and skill allowed him to edge Linares through the ensuing rounds until he sent the fight toward its stretch by landing three hard, impressive left hands in the seventh.
Campbell said he thought he won and caused Linares to miss many punches. Statistics showed Campbell landed 141 total punches to Linares' 140, while also landing more power punches (97-76).
"No one can ever doubt my hard work," Campbell said. "Yeah, I got off to a rocky start … but I had to fight. I had to get focused."