- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
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When Jorge Linares won a vacant lightweight world title -- his third belt in as many divisions -- on Dec. 30, he did so against a Javier Prieto, an opponent with little accomplishment who was a massive underdog.
So when Venezuela’s Linares blew Prieto out in the fourth round of what had been a one-sided fight in Tokyo, which is like Linares' second home, it came as little surprise.
But Linares (38-3, 25 KOs), 29, also a former junior lightweight and featherweight titleholder, is expected to have a much more difficult fight when he makes his first defense, a mandatory, against England’s Kevin Mitchell on Saturday at the O2 Arena in London.
"Mitchell may have hometown advantage but Linares' speed and skill will give Mitchell a considerable challenge in the ring. Make no mistake though: this will be a difficult fight for both Linares and Mitchell and one that is sure to excite."
Oscar De La Hoya
"I am excited and honored to be defending my third world championship title in London," Linares said. “I have had a great training camp focusing on the skills that I need to defeat an opponent like Kevin Mitchell. I know he is a strong and aggressive fighter, and I feel his style of fighting will suit me. This will not be an easy fight."
Golden Boy Promotions president Oscar De La Hoya, who co-promotes Linares with Akihiko Honda's Teiken Boxing, agrees that it will be a tough fight for his man.
“Mitchell may have hometown advantage, but Linares’ speed and skill will give Mitchell a considerable challenge in the ring,” De La Hoya said. “Make no mistake though: This will be a difficult fight for both Linares and Mitchell and one that is sure to excite.”
Linares is riding a seven-fight winning streak since suffering back-to-back knockout losses to Antonio DeMarco in a vacant lightweight title bout in 2011 and Sergio Thompson in a title eliminator in 2012. Mitchell is easily the best opponent Linares will have faced since those defeats.
Mitchell (39-2, 29 KOs), 30, got a lightweight title opportunity in September 2012 but was stopped in the fourth round by then-titleholder Ricky Burns. Since then, Mitchell has won six fights in a row, including an eighth-round knockout of Daniel Estrada on Jan. 31 in the elimination bout to earn the shot against Linares.
Mitchell views the fight with Linares as a make-or-break one.
"This is the making of my career," Mitchell said. “I will win this fight and create a legacy as a world champion. I know Jorge Linares is a three-weight world champion and a classy fighter -- if you allow him to do what he wants to do. But I believe I will shut him down. I've matured. I feel secure with the team around me, and I have left that party boy behind. I am enjoying [boxing] again. There's excitement in me. [Trainer] Tony Sims is getting the best out of me as a result. It's a good feeling. I know I am going to win this fight."
Linares-Mitchell is one of three world title bouts on the card, which is headlined by welterweight titleholder Kell Brook (34-0, 23 KOs), who will make his second defense just two months after his first when he meets British countryman Frankie Gavin (22-1, 13 KOs) in the main event.
Also, featherweight titlist Evgeny Gradovich (19-0-1, 9 KOs), of Russia, will make his fifth defense, a mandatory, against Lee Selby (20-1, 8 KOs) of Wales.
In another notable fight on the card, Anthony Joshua (12-0, 12 KOs), the 2012 British Olympic super heavyweight gold medalist and the No. 1 heavyweight prospect in boxing, will meet experienced American Kevin Johnson (29-6-1, 14 KOs), a former world title challenger, who has never been stopped, in a scheduled 10-round bout.