In an extremely tight fight, Jorge Linares retained the lightweight world championship by split decision against Luke Campbell on Saturday night before 4,125 at The Forum in Inglewood, California.
Two judges scored the fight for Linares, 115-112 and 114-113, while one had it 115-113 for Campbell. ESPN.com also scored the fight 115-112 for Linares, who scored a second-round knockdown. Without the knockdown, Linares still would have hung on to his title, but the result would have been a draw.
Linares (43-3, 27 KOs), 32, of Venezuela, who has also won world titles at featherweight and junior lightweight, retained his lightweight belt for the second time against Campbell (17-2, 14 KOs), the mandatory challenger from England and a 2012 Olympic gold medalist.
"I fought very well. I'm happy with the fight," Linares said through a translator. "He's a tough opponent. Many people said he was very easy but for some reason he's an Olympic champion. Overall, I'm satisfied with my performance."
Linares looked very sharp early. He appeared to outclass Campbell, a southpaw, in the first few rounds.
In the second round, Linares, whose hand speed advantage was very evident, landed a clean right hand to Campbell's face to knock him down with about 30 seconds to go. The punch opened a nasty cut under Campbell's right eye, though his corner did an outstanding job of keeping it closed for the rest of the fight.
"When I got him with the punch and he went down, I didn't feel the power coming out of me," Linares said.
Linares pushed Campbell, 29, back with right hands and looked in control until Campbell began to get back into the fight in the fourth round.
"At the fifth round I started to box him a little bit because I didn't want to get hurt," Linares said. "We had some trouble, but we came out on top. Trust me, I have a great connection with my team and with my trainer (Ismael Salas), so we worked hard and kept at it."
Campbell had several good rounds in the middle of the fight, before Linares came back and fought the 12th round like he had the first three.
"I wanted to knock him out, but I knew it was going to go the distance," Linares said. "But from round 10 on I knew I had to let the dogs out, and that's what I did."
Campbell, who earned the title shot by knocking out former titleholder Darleys Perez in the ninth round in April in a title eliminator on the Anthony Joshua-Wladimir Klitschko undercard, admitted that he got off to a poor start, but he said he still thought he did enough to win the fight.
"No one can ever doubt my heart," Campbell said. "I got off to a rocky start. He hit me with a nice clean shot in the second round. Cut me on the eye, but I wasn't dazed or anything like that. From then I had double vision in one eye for the rest of the fight, but from then I felt I outclassed him. I thought I won the fight. He's a great champion, but I didn't think he was landing any shots whatsoever, and I was catching him with all the clean shots."
According to CompuBox punch statistics, Linares landed 140 of 414 blows (34 percent), and Campbell landed 141 of 524 (27 percent).
"A lot of people saw the fight a lot closer than it was because in the last couple of rounds, he was a lot more aggressive and came forward a lot more," Linares said. "When I first started off, I felt very fast. The only thing he had over me was that he was a very technical fighter. He was very tall and had long arms. I had to adjust to his style throughout the fight."
Campbell, fighting in the United States for the second time, had a five-fight winning streak come to an end. He hadn't lost since stunning split decision upset loss to French journeyman Yvan Mendy in London in December 2015.
With the win, Linares set himself up for potential big business. He wants to unify belts with Mikey Garcia (37-0, 30 KOs), one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world. Garcia fought his last bout at junior welterweight on July 29, when he outclassed former four-division titlist Adrien Broner, and he has said he is willing to return to 135 pounds for a major fight or might remain at 140 pound.
Linares, who won his 12th fight in a row, said he doesn't care which weight they fight at as long as he can get Garcia in the ring.
"Mikey Garcia at 135," Linares said when asked who he wants to face next. "If we need to go to 140, we'll go to 140."