MANCHESTER -- Jorge Linares had said he could do better than his last fight against Anthony Crolla.
He did just that, as he won a lopsided, unanimous points decision over Crolla at the Manchester Arena on Saturday.
The three-weight world champion floored Crolla in the seventh round and there was never any doubt of him winning his rematch with the Briton as he dazzled with his handspeed and accuracy.
Linares beat Crolla unanimously on points in September, but this was even more dominant as he earned scores of 118-109 on all three scorecards.
Crolla showed great courage to keep going until the end when it looked like his trainer Joe Gallagher wanted to pull him out at the end of the 11th round.
Linares earned applause from Crolla's 13,000 supporters after a successful first defence of the WBA world lightweight title. The WBC Diamond and the Ring magazine belts were also on the line and Linares paid tribute to Crolla's bravery to go the distance.
"Anthony Crolla has a lot of heart and that's why he went into the 12th round with me," said Linares.
"I did what I had to do, now I can go back to the United States and get the biggest fights, I'm ready to fight anybody," said Linares, who was watched from ringside by U.S. promoter Oscar De La Hoya.
Linares -- unbeaten in five years -- is now in line for a mouth-watering world title unification fight with American Mikey Garcia, the WBC champion, for later this year. That fight will decide who is the division's No 1 between boxers who have each won world titles in three weight divisions.
For Crolla, there have been worse setbacks and he can be expected to fight on.
"I got beat by the better fighter," said Crolla. "I'm 30 years old, I'm going to rest, but I believe I can come again, rebuild and take it from there. I believe I was better than ever coming into this."
Crolla has had a rollercoaster career that at one point seemed destined never to go beyond domestic level and then looked to have been derailed by a street attack in December 2014.
Crolla suffered a fractured skull and broken ankle after he was attacked with a concrete slab by burglars, who he had chased from a neighbour's house.
Despite the injuries, Crolla was able to transform his career and after a controversial draw with Darleys Perez for the vacant WBA belt, he then knocked out Perez to be crowned world champion.
After a first defence knockout win over Ismael Barroso, Crolla admitted he deserved to lose the belt unanimously on points to Linares.
But there was little to separate them early on in the rematch -- and little action for that matter.
Both were cautious to unload power shots until Linares found his rhythm in the third round with fast three-punch combinations and a right to the body that hurt Crolla.
Linares, who was stripped of the WBC belt for inactivity due to injury earlier last year, was smiling and picking his shots as Crolla bounced forward.
But Crolla had some success in the fourth round and kept stalking the champion around the ring in the fifth. Crolla's shots lacked the venom of those coming from Linares, who snapped back the Briton's head with a right uppercut in the fifth round.
Linares, 31, was too slick, fast and accurate for Crolla, who was left with blood dribbling from a cut above his left eye from the sixth round.
Crolla could not find the improvement needed to concern Linares, who floored his challenger in the seventh round with a long left uppercut. Crolla drunkenly stumbled before dropping to a knee.
Crolla was up at the count of seven but was nailed by more heavy shots on the ropes until he regained the centre of the ring and bravely began returning fire at a tired Linares towards the end of the round.
The knockdown seemed to shake Crolla into life and he was at his most aggressive in the eighth round.
Crolla was caught by another thudding left uppercut in the ninth but he did not stop chasing Linares, who caught his opponent with some big blows towards the end of the 11th.
There was never any doubt as to the outcome but Crolla courageously kept marching forward as Linares landed stinging blows until the final bell.