Truth be told, the only reason lightweight world champion Jorge Linares is fighting Anthony Crolla again is because he was bound by a rematch clause after beating Crolla the first time.
In September, Linares traveled to Crolla's hometown of Manchester England, and won a unanimous decision -- the first time Linares had gone 12 rounds -- by scores of 117-111, 115-114 and 115-113 in a competitive, action-packed fight. But there was no doubt as to who the winner was and Linares, the faster, more gifted boxer with a better punch, left with the title.
Linares, from Venezuela, has returned to England and will defend the 135-pound title against Crolla in a rematch at Manchester Arena, same site as the first bout, on Saturday (Showtime, 6 p.m. ET), but with an eye to bigger fights down the road.
"At this point in my career, I've had some good wins. But my goal is to open the market in the U.S., open the doors there, and this fight is a big step because I am on Showtime," Linares told ESPN this week through translator and Golden Boy Promotions matchmaker Robert Diaz.
"I want to put on a great performance and then go out and take the bigger fights and beat those names in America, and then the fans and media will give me the respect I am due. I will keep working hard to achieve that dream."
Linares (41-3, 27 KOs), 31, has had fights in the United States but is mostly known for his 2011 loss to Antonio DeMarco. The two met for a vacant lightweight world title at Staples Center in Los Angeles on the undercard of the first Bernard Hopkins-Chad Dawson fight, and Linares dominated. However, he suffered terrible cuts and DeMarco eventually stopped him in the 11th round of a big upset.
Linares, who has won world titles in three weight classes, lost his next fight by second-round knockout to Sergio "Yeyo" Thompson and was written off by many and largely disappeared from the U.S. scene.
Now Linares has won 10 fights in a row, including two versions of the lightweight title. A hand injury caused him to be stripped by the WBC and sent him into an 11-month layoff that kept him out most of 2016, but he returned to defeat the 30-year-old Crolla (31-5-3, 13 KOs) for the WBA version of the title and recognition as the man to beat at 135 pounds.
"A lot of people wrote Jorge Linares off and thought he was done after those two losses to DeMarco and Yeyo," Diaz said. "But the people close to him knew there was something better to come. I'm glad the U.S. fans can watch him in this rematch and they will see something special."
Win or lose, Linares has typically been in crowd-pleasing fights with drama. He feels that the two losses in row have been held against him for too long and that he is long past those difficult days.
Linares hopes another victory against Crolla will keep him on U.S. television and fighting again in America.
"A lot of people remember the DeMarco fight, which was when I was starting to make a name for myself, but the outcome didn't go my way even though the people saw a great display of boxing that night," he said. "Then came the Yeyo loss, so that blocked me a little bit from opportunities.
"But I came back and I am a champion again and I am very grateful Showtime will be televising this fight in the U.S. and fans can see I am better than ever. I am very mature, very hungry. What can I say? It's never too late if the hunger is there, and I have the hunger."
Linares was a viewed by many as a possible superstar early in his career and Diaz said that perhaps he took his talent for granted.
"We're very happy a network in America picked up this fight, and now he has to perform," Diaz said. "I have known Jorge since he was 17 and the talent has always been there. Now he has maturity -- he has a baby now, a wife -- and he's more dedicated. Not that he wasn't before, but boxing was just something he did and now boxing is his life and he takes it very seriously."
Linares has been a road warrior. He has boxed around the world, in the U.S., England, Venezuela, Japan, Mexico, Panama and Argentina, and will be fighting in England for the third time in his last four bouts. Yes, he is on Crolla's home turf again, but he's happy to be back.
"I have no problem fighting out here," said Linares, explaining that it is tougher to fight at home for him than on the road. "When I fought in Venezuela the last time [in a 2015 title defense], it was twice as difficult. The pressure of defending my title is more difficult there than here.
"The fans are very supportive of their fighters in England, but I have gained fans here. Boxing is a culture here and the fans and the atmosphere they provide is incredible and something to always remember."
Crolla won a world title in 2015 by fifth-round, body-shot knockout of Darleys Perez in an immediate rematch of their majority draw, and then starched dangerous interim titlist/mandatory challenger Ismael Barroso in the seventh round to retain the title. Then Crolla gave Linares a tough fight, but went down to defeat as Linares pulled away by closing strong over the final quarter of the bout.
Linares would have liked the knockout, but said he knew he had to finish strong to make sure the judges couldn't take the win from him.
"I felt comfortable and I was winning and in control of the fight, but you know everything is possible. Everywhere there are bad decisions," he said. "But I have a great corner and a great trainer and we worked tremendously together. So at end of the ninth round when I went back to the corner, [trainer] Ismael Salas told me to go out there and 'let your hands go' and that I have to close the show or they will take it from me. I took the 10th, 11th and 12th rounds so there couldn't be any controversy."
Should all go well for Linares, the clear favorite, he is aiming for major fights against the likes of fellow titleholder Mikey Garcia -- who in January won the belt that had been stripped from Linares -- and junior lightweight titleholder Vasyl Lomachenko, who has talked about moving up to lightweight sooner than later.
Both would be fights well-received by boxing fans.
"I would love to fight Mikey Garcia and Lomachenko," Linares said. "Garcia is the fight I really want because he's a very good fighter, a very good champion and, most importantly, he's undefeated. I would have all the motivation to take that undefeated record from him."
Showtime has been featuring Garcia, who won his title on the network in January and will serve as a guest analyst on the Linares-Crolla II telecast. He has talked forcefully about his desire to unify with Linares should he win.
Lomachenko, the two-time Olympic gold medalist, also interests Linares.
"He is a very, very good fighter, very fast fighter, very intelligent," Linares said. "But I feel I am faster. He fights with very good angles, but I think I can show things he hasn't seen with my angles and my speed. Hopefully, he goes up to 135, and between Ismael Salas and myself we could prepare a game plan to defeat him.
"Those are fights I see myself winning. Am I capable of beating Mikey Garcia and Vasyl Lomachenko? Right now I can beat both of them, but I have to get my job done on Saturday night."