Former three-division world titleholder Jorge Linares has designs on winning a belt in a fourth weight division, and he got started on that quest in explosive fashion Saturday night.
In his junior welterweight debut, Linares scored two knockdowns and blew away Abner Cotto in a third-round knockout victory in the main event of the "Golden Boy Fight Night" card on Facebook Watch at the Fantasy Springs Resort Casino in Indio, California.
"It's my first fight with Facebook and I'm so happy with that. I'm ready, I'm happy. I feel better and better at 140," Linares said. "I'm ready for the big fights. I want to fight the best at 140."
Linares, who has won world titles at featherweight, junior lightweight and lightweight, was returning to the ring for the first time since May 12 in New York, where he knocked down pound-for-pound king Vasiliy Lomachenko in the sixth round of a highly competitive fight before Lomachenko knocked him out in the 10th round to take his lightweight world title.
After that fight, Linares (45-4, 28 KOs), 33, a Venezuela native fighting out of Las Vegas, decided it was time to move up to the 140-pound weight class after making 135 pounds since 2010. He looked fast, sharp and strong against Cotto (23-4, 12 KOs), 31, of Puerto Rico, who saw a five-fight winning streak come to an end.
Before the fight, Linares said he would consider a return to lightweight for only two fights: a rematch with Lomachenko or perhaps a fight with Mikey Garcia, who also holds one of the world titles.
"I've been hearing Mikey Garcia's name and he's been hearing my name," Linares said. "Maybe we can have that fight next year. I came in very well prepared to fight the best in the division. There's also [junior welterweight titlist] Jose Ramirez or maybe a rematch with Lomachenko -- why not?
"I still want to get this thorn out of my side, which is a rematch with Lomachenko. I recognize that I lost against the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world, but I would love to go down to 135 again to fight him."
After a feeling-out round to open the fight, Linares took over. He blasted Cotto with a right hand to the chin to knock him down with about 40 seconds left in the second round.
Early in the third round, Linares, in his first bout since reuniting with trainer Jorge Zerpa, caught Cotto flush on the chin with another right hand and knocked him down again. Cotto was hurt but he beat the count only to see Linares swarm him and pummel him with a series of body punches.
Cotto looked to referee Raul Caiz Sr., believing the body punches were low -- they were not -- but Linares continued to pound him when he glanced at Caiz. Cotto was hurt again from the punches and tried to tie Linares up and eventually wrestled him to the canvas.
When Cotto got up, his legs were gone and he fell over, prompting his corner to throw in the towel as Caiz was stopping the fight at 1 minute, 31 seconds.
"I came well prepared but he had a hard right hand we weren't expecting," Cotto said. "I'm young and I didn't fight with just anyone. He's a three-division champion. I will sit with my team and see what's next."
According to CompuBox punch statistics, Linares landed 58 of 132 shots (44 percent) while Cotto, a cousin of former four-division world champion Miguel Cotto, who was ringside, was limited to landing only 20 of 103 punches (19 percent). Linares closed the show by landing 18 of 25 power shots in the third round.