- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
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LAS VEGAS -- When lightweight titlist Omar Figueroa suffered a hand injury training for his first defense, against Ricardo Alvarez, Golden Boy Promotions didn't miss a beat.
It had such a deep card planned for Saturday at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas -- headlined by the expected brawl between former junior middleweight titleholder Canelo Alvarez and fellow Mexican Alfredo Angulo -- that all it had to do was pluck a fight not originally planned for the pay-per-view portion of the card and move it up to prime time.
And this one could be a fight just as good as any on the card: the lightweight match between former two-division titleholder Jorge Linares and Nihito Arakawa.
Linares sure sounds as if he's expecting fireworks.
"The battle has already started," Linares said. "We just haven't shot the first bullet yet. But we are both ready for war. We need to be."
Linares (35-3, 23 KOs), a former junior lightweight and featherweight titleholder from Venezuela who now lives in Japan, has been in some dramatic battles -- including his memorable 2011 vacant lightweight title fight with Antonio DeMarco, who was way behind when he rallied to stop a badly bleeding Linares in the 11th round. Linares also lost his next fight, but has since won four in a row and is typically in crowd-pleasing fights.
"It's difficult to knock [Arakawa] down, but it's not impossible," Linares said. "He certainly won't fall with one punch, and that's why I've prepared for 10 rounds of action. I think there is a better chance that the ref stops this fight than it ending in one punch. I'm going to break him down little by little."
Japan's Arakawa (24-3-1, 16 KOs) was unknown in the United States when he fought in a shockingly violent bout with Figueroa in July for an interim title in San Antonio. Figueroa won a unanimous decision, but Arakawa never stopped trying to win and showed the kind of incredible heart that immediately had fight fans asking to see him again.
"I'm grateful to be back in the United States and this time I'm going to win," Arakawa said. "My last fight was a war, but I didn't come out with the win. This time, we'll put on another war, but the result will be different."
The fight with Figueroa was so intense and hard that some took to calling Arakawa the Japanese Rocky. It's a nickname he likes.
"I just did what was natural, which is to fight until the bell rings," Arakawa said. "I didn't win, but I fought my fight. I'm going to fight with the same style and aggressiveness, but this time I will get the win.
"I'm very happy to get the nickname the Japanese Rocky. It's an honor to earn a reputation like that after just my first fight in the United States. It's an honor to represent my country with this nickname. Spirit-wise, I won't change. I will fight until I win. I'll fix my defense and the issues I had against Omar to ensure that I get a win. I have a huge opportunity, and I'm going to take advantage of it."
Said Linares: "I respect Arakawa's game. I respect what he did with Omar, but I'm a different fighter. The Asian Rocky won't last very long on Saturday night."