Anthony Crolla faces Jorge Linares on September 24th at the Manchester Arena for the WBA World Lightweight title, WBC Diamond and Ring Magazine belts – In the first of a three-part series, we take a look at the journey taken by Crolla to this fight, and the qualities that have kept him steady when others may have wavered from their ambitions.
After being unsuccessful in trying to win a British title at super-feather, Crolla moved up to the lightweight division. It was not long before he would win the British Lightweight title against John Watson in 2011. Crolla with his eyes set to embarking on a world title was to mark his second defence of the belt against Liverpool’s Derry Matthews. Matthews though still twenty-eight, had a career spanning almost ten years and had the scars and markings befitting a seasoned prize fighter.
To begin the defence of his title, Crolla drove towards his opponent with his shield raised, taking the knocks and jabs of Matthews on his gloves as he pressured on his lead foot. Carrying his momentum forward behind short stiff jabs, Crolla timed his punches well and a succession of which quickly drew blood from the nose of Matthews.
Matthews continued circling in the direction of Crolla’s right hand, an eye out for the opportunity to throw a left hook with every pivot. The tactic although played out routinely and becoming predictable, found him more success than he was having in the first and created a more even contest by the end of the second.
The experienced eye of the Liverpudlian sighted its first opportunity, driving a right uppercut between the guard held in place by his industrious left hook, landing Crolla on his back for the first time amateur or pro. Rising unsteady on his feet, Crolla met Matthews’ resumed attack with a typically gritty display of will, fervour guiding the blows he exchanged. The two minutes of intense combat that followed was exhibited across every foot of the ring, Crolla still dazed and both fighter’s still punching.
Now eager to land a blow that would seat Matthew’s, Crolla drove forward throwing with increased intensity, landing several hurtful punches. However, his opponent having tuned the range of his punches well, was countering Crolla’s aggression, leading to a deep cut above the eyebrow of the Mancunian which was tended to twice in the fourth.
Remaining loyal to Matthews’ was his right uppercut, not failing to meet the chin of Crolla when thrown. For all the leather he had received, Crolla remained dogged in his march forward, drawn like a magnet towards Matthews and unwilling to be pushed back.
Throughout the contest, when not being bruised, Crolla had invested in attacks to the body of Matthews. The investment now looked to be paying back as Derry slowed the pace of his attacks for the first time, occasionally sitting on the ropes as Crolla buried more leather into his rapidly reddening sides.
Before the tide could turn, Matthews pivoted once more to his left to check Crolla’s oncoming jab, clubbing Crolla on the right side of his face to send him barrelling into the ropes weary. Another unforgiving uppercut found its mark jolting Crolla’s head upwards. His defence porous, the referee moved in to wave off the fight and bring it too premature close.
Devastated, but unable to accept defeat, Crolla would be fighting for a world title three years after the biggest defeat of his career, and against all the odds.
In the three years prior to his world title bout, Crolla would face troubles both inside the ring and out. Shortly after his latest defeat, he fought and lost for the second time in his career to Gary Sykes, in the semi-final of Eddie Hearn’s Prize Fighter tournament.
Not phased and continuing determined, he immediately won back the British Lightweight title off Kieran Farrell, a fight that caused Farrell to be hospitalised and call an end to his fighting career in the ring. He then fought a rematch with Derry Matthews for the vacant Commonwealth Lightweight title.
Their second encounter would go the full distance, and be just as gruelling as their first. Matthews took the lead in the bout with his long and mid-range boxing, but Crolla soon fixed himself onto Matthews and found more success at short range, unsettling his rhythm again with the jab. By the latter rounds, Crolla surged as Matthews began to sag, a result of ceaseless activity he had maintained throughout the bout.
With the fight reaching its twelve round conclusion, both fighters waited anxiously for the verdict. The judges scored a controversial split draw and Crolla was unable to take revenge.
Five fights later with Crolla having a date secured for his first World Title bout, a sudden disaster would strike.
In an action that testifies to his all of his good qualities, and that would ultimately test his best, Crolla was severely injured when he caught two burglars breaking into his neighbour’s home.
Outnumbered, but true to defend his neighbour’s property, Crolla gave chase to the pair as they fled. The boxer managed to apprehend one of the burglars, only for the other to opportunely lift a concrete slab and in one blow shatter Crolla’s world title ambitions.
The attack caused him to break his ankle in two places, as well as a fractured skull. Fortunate to still be alive, Crolla would need all of the determination and will he possessed to rehabilitate himself, and seize the opportunity that was stolen from him.
His indomitable spirit on display, confident with the knowledge that he had risen from failures before, Crolla would overcome the hardships to fight for the same world title only seven months after the incident.
The opponent facing him as the holder of the belt would be Colombia’s Darleys Perez, boasting a record of thirty-two wins and one loss as well as an impressive amateur career that had seen him fight in the Olympics. Perez fought with a fluid style, able to navigate around the perimeter of the ring and box his opponents with an eye-catching style.
Crolla, finding an inspired start to the challenge, planted a right hook onto the jaw of Perez in the second round, leaving the Colombian rattled rocking on his feet, and grabbing hold of Crolla to see out the round.
By the fifth round Perez had begun working his way back into the contest having recovered, but was matched punch for punch by an insistent Crolla, never wanting to let his lead slip.
In a series of actions that would go on to taint the bout, the Colombian was warned for a punch below the belt of Crolla in the sixth round. The following round, the fighters clashed without their jabs keeping them apart. Toe to toe, Perez landed a right uppercut clean on Crolla who did well to answer back, moving the Colombian onto his heels.
By the tenth, the pair still remained even but with the greater desire being displayed by Crolla, who kept his sights fixed forwards pressing on. Perez remained patient in wait, unlike Hattonesque style employed by Crolla, and eventually found his moment to let go a combination that forced Crolla backwards.
As Perez advanced to capitalise, he seemed unable to refrain from landing another blow below the belt line, receiving his final warning for the illegal action and cooling any initiative he had seized.
However, the warning was in vain, as in the penultimate round Perez again punched low. This time, he would be deducted a point on his scorecard, to the cheers of the Manchester Arena. Seeming to sense that the fight was turning against him, Perez met Crolla on the march and threw his leather with more force, but unable to land he ended the eleventh walking back to his corner to the goading of the crowd.
The final round, Perez let loose a greater number of shots against Crolla than he had previously, another right uppercut landing to force Crolla to keep his distance, not wanting to be caught. On the front foot now, Perez rushed his attacks and again forced the referee’s hand with another illegal punch below the belt, leaving no choice but another point deduction. The crowd sang as they began their celebrations with one minute to go before the final bell, certain of Crolla’s victory.
As the final bell rung, the Arena raised their arms to celebrate what seemed to most observers to be a win for the home fighter. The judges instead scored it 113-113 twice and 111-116, resulting in a majority draw.
Disappointed, but not disheartened, a rematch was quickly slated and the pair fought again three months later. With neither fighter opting to change their approach, the rematch resumed as the last bout had ended, Crolla taking his place as aggressor and Perez fighting more on the back foot.
But as the fight continued, Perez held his feet and begun to trade uppercuts and hooks with Crolla, fighting head to head. Crolla looked to have the advantage as he was able to work better on the inside. The crowd rallied behind him as leather hit the sides of the Colombian, the sound of their support getting stronger with every punch that tattooed his body.
Towards the end of the fifth round, Crolla had reared his man onto the ropes. Raising the guard of Perez with an uppercut followed by a left hook, Crolla seized on the opening and thumped a hook at the unprotected side of his opponent.
Perez held his position momentarily as the thud reverberated throughout his body, before collapsing to the ground unable to inhale oxygen into his lungs. He remained tortured and incapable as the referee counted him out, the stoppage awarding him his first world title.
In what was a remarkable story, Crolla never gave up on his hopes and dreams of winning a world title amidst the setbacks that befell him. He fought on, his positive attitude and grim persistence coupled to keep a returning customer to the ring, finding inspiration the higher he rose.
Crolla went onto to defend his title against undefeated Venezuelan Ismael Barroso, who had won the opportunity by a battering display against Kevin Mitchell.
The southpaw Barroso fought fast behind a jab, noting well that it has been quick boxers who have caused problems for Crolla throughout his career. Aided by his longer reach, he left Crolla unable to close the distance early, keeping a constant yet unpredictable flow of punches coming in his direction.
Crolla always one to relish a challenge, persisted looking to find a gap he could exploit. Instead, he found the tough Venezuelan forcing him to the ropes, the stream of punches now turning to a torrent.
The fast flowing pace that was brought by Barroso did not last for long, as by the end of the fourth he had begun to lose some of his steam. Now with less coming his way, Crolla could inch closer, driving jabs straight through to his opponent to the cheers of the arena.
Manoeuvring Barroso to the ropes, he fed the crowd’s encouragement with a hook-uppercut combination that connected cleanly. As Barroso tried to retaliate with his own assault, he was greeted by a stiff double jab that halted his advance.
Late in the sixth round with Barroso sagging, Crolla landed a series of hooks that struck Barroso into a daze. Struggling to stand, Barroso tangled with Crolla and fell to the canvas before being picked up by the referee. A final assault pinned Barroso to the ropes, but Crolla was unable to find the punch to stop the bout.
Midway through the seventh with Crolla still pressing forwards, he found the punch he was looking for as Barroso had his wind taken from him by a counter right hook, that slashed across the midriff of the Venezuelan.
Sinking to his knees, the agony was clear on his face as he forced his mouthpiece out unable to draw air into his body. Still on his knees at the count of ten, the referee called the bout to a close, and a successful defence of his title for Crolla.
As in his life as in the ring, Anthony Crolla’s dogged determination to overcome and achieve has granted him his success. Now going against his sternest opposition yet in Jorge Linares, he will need all of the traits that have lifted him so far to carry him forward once more.
Being a fighter to the core, as brave as he is honest, as steely as the resolve that drives him, Crolla will have to find the same depths inside of him that he has found before to overcome Linares on September the 24th in the Manchester Arena.
Part two of this spotlight series will feature Jorge Linares and his journey to the bout.
Also featuring on the bill are John Ryder and Jack Arnfield as chief support, Isaac Lowe, Hosea Burton, Marcus Morrison, Conor Benn, Mark Jeffers, and Nathan Wheatley.
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