Jorge Linares journeyed from his home country of Venezuela to Japan as a teenager on a recommendation that it was in his best interest as a boxer.
The challenge of assimilating into a foreign culture and language was conquered, strengthening his confidence that he could handle the highest demands of travel.
On Saturday, Linares (41-3, 27 knockouts) is being asked to prove that road toughness once more when the World Boxing Assn. lightweight champion ventures to Manchester Arena in England to try to repeat his September victory over Great Britain’s Anthony Crolla (31-5-3, 13 KOs).
The rematch was written into the original fight contract, and Linares said after edging Crolla by judges’ scores of 115-114, 115-113, 117-111 that “it was a good, close, competitive fight. He deserved the rematch. I would’ve wanted the rematch.”
Linares, who was referred to powerful Japanese promoter Akihiko Honda by the late former WBA President Gilberto Mendoza Sr., now lives and trains in Las Vegas.
Victory could land Linares a title-unification bout there against World Boxing Council lightweight champion and Riverside resident Mikey Garcia, who will serve as a special guest analyst on the Showtime broadcast at 3 p.m. PDT on Saturday.
“The WBC says they want to push for the winner of that fight to fight me. I’m ready to do that. I would love that fight, and I know Jorge would,” Garcia said, speculating that the bout would be fought in the summer barring any injury.
Linares said he expects to conquer any travails.
“Travel has never affected me. When I walk out to the ring, I can’t even hear my song because the crowd is so loud,” Linares said. “It excites me. I’m fortunate because I can absorb that. Not every fighter can. I’ve been able to take it in and enjoy it.”
His first defeat, when he surrendered his super-featherweight belt in 2009, actually came in his adopted home country. When Antonio DeMarco and Sergio Thompson beat him in consecutive fights five years ago, he pondered retirement.
“Thank God for Gilberto Mendoza Sr. He came to me and said, ‘No, you can’t. You’re going through a tough time right now, but you’re going now through the maturity part of your life and you’re going to get a second wind and be better than ever,’” Linares recalled.
Ten consecutive victories have followed, including an October 2015 triumph in Venezuela with an ailing Mendoza in attendance. When Linares captured the WBA belt by defeating Crolla, he took it home to Mendoza’s wife and family.
“[Mendoza] was right. Those losses — that time — gave me the experience I have and I am here now because of it,” Linares said. “I hooked up with my [Cuban] trainer Ismael Salas, we made some changes and adjustments and it’s worked out great. I’m at a very happy moment, the best moment of my career, and I wouldn’t change it at all.”
What does he expect of Crolla on hostile ground Saturday?
“I don’t think he’ll make too many others changes beyond more conditioning, more resistance,” Linares said. “I’m not going to change my style. Toe to toe? No, I’ll use my legs, speed and intelligence. And I feel better than the first fight, when I had a hand injury.”