Anthony Crolla (left) takes it to former junior welterweight titleholder Gavin Rees during their 12-round lightweight fight at Bolton Arena on June 29, 2013 in Bolton, England. Crolla won a majority decision.
The nickname is “Million Dollar” and this particular athlete has a disposition worth exactly that. Indeed Anthony Crolla is so personable and engaging it is sometimes difficult to remember that he can fight like hell.
The Manchester man is a former British lightweight champion who, last month, posted his most impressive win to date over former super lightweight world titlist, Gavin Rees, in a career resurrection.
Crolla entered the ring at the Bolton Arena as a significant underdog, due to an inconsistent run of performances over the previous eighteen months and Rees possessing the vital experience at world level.
The odds were wrong and the statistics insignificant as Crolla, for the most part, boxed an excellent tactical fight and rendered the vaunted aggression of Rees redundant. The jab was the key shot for the Englishman and his counterpunching seized the day in an action packed encounter.
Still, like the majority decision win that he was accorded, things are never easy for the 26-year-old Crolla. He has endured setbacks and tragedy in a rollercoaster professional career and his desire and hunger for the game have been tested on several occasions.
Simply put, this latest victory could not have come at a better time and “Million Dollar” Crolla is back with a vengeance.
The lightweight division is bursting with quality in the UK and Crolla has earned the right to have his name in the mix with the key players. He is trained by acclaimed coach, Joe Gallagher, and the popular Manchester star could very well be poised for a crack at the big time.
RingTV.com spoke to Crolla about his career to date and future plans.
RingTV.com: You’re just off a fantastic win, as the underdog, against Gavin Rees. What was the strategy coming in to the fight and did things go exactly as planned?
Anthony Crolla: Everything went perfectly. Gavin and I were supposed to meet in 2011 so we had begun preparation then and studied his fights. You have to make him fall short and box your own fight and it’s not wise to punch with him because of his strength and speed.
RTV: The last year or so has produced several ups and downs. Two back to back losses to Derry Mathews and Gary Sykes must have been devastating. Where were you at mentally after those setbacks?
AC: I never lost a great amount of confidence. Being honest that was the best thing that could have happened to me and the losses have made me a better fighter. I’m physically and mentally superior and the Anthony Crolla of 2013 beats the Anthony Crolla of 18 months ago.
RTV: After getting yourself together you were involved in a sensational fight with Kieran Farrell, which ended tragically. How have you dealt with what happened personally and did the incident make you even more aware of your own susceptibility within the sport?
AC: It hit me really hard. On the night it was terrible, then Kieran was in intensive care for a few days and then we found out he couldn’t box again. It was awful and I felt responsible. I know it’s boxing and it could have happened to anyone but I was part of a terrible situation. Kieran had trained so hard in his career and I felt like he got punished for pursuing his dream. I still think about it but when fight time comes I must put it to the back of my mind.
[Editor’s note: Farrell was rushed to hospital having collapsed after the final bell and was later found to have bleeding on the brain.]
RTC: Gavin Rees is a former world champion and a top quality opponent. What does a victory over him say about Anthony Crolla and his future in boxing?
AC: Gavin is one of the best fighters in the world at lightweight and to beat a world class opponent you need to put on a world class performance. Not many people gave me a chance but my team knew what I was capable of. This is the highlight of my career and he was the best fighter I’ve fought to date.
RTV: You have been so active in recent years. Is that the way you like it? You never seem to be out the gym.
AC: It’s important to be in the gym because you stay in shape. I could get a call for a fight at late notice and I need to be ready. I won the British title at two weeks’ notice because I was fit and prepared and I believe in being in the gym when I don’t have a fight coming up. You also enjoy the sport a bit more, you try new things and you add more to your game.
RTV: The entire Gallagher crew seems to be on the upswing at the moment. What is the vibe like between Joe, yourself and your stable mates?
AC: The gym is bouncing right now. Paul Smith, Scott Quigg and I all won on the same show and because we’re close friends it made it really special. It was also the best night of Joe’s career and it was great to see him get rewarded for all the hard work he puts in. We also have Liam Smith and Stephen Smith fighting for British titles and Scott Quigg is going for a world title (against Yoandris Salinas) so there are great times ahead. There’s plenty of competition in the gym and we’re dragging the best out of each other.
RTV: A shot at your old British lightweight title against Martin Gethin could be next up. What do you know about Gethin and what’s the latest on this fight? I know you’ve had an eye on him for some time.
AC: Yeah I’ve been looking at Martin for a while. I’ve watched him up close and I think he’s a very under rated fighter because although he isn’t spectacular at anything, he’s solid in all areas. He’s just off a loss in a world title eliminator (against Ammeth Diaz) and there are strengths and weaknesses there that I will focus on when we fight.
RTV: Kevin Mitchell is back in the mix and still holds a lofty ranking with THE RING at 135 lbs. What are your opinions on Mitchell and would that fight interest you?
AC: That fight interests me for sure and I think there’s a great chance it happens down the road. I was in the corner the night be beat my friend, John Murray, and what a great fight that was. I’ve watched Kev since we were kids and he’s one of the best school boy boxers I’ve ever seen. Even as a kid he was knocking people over and you were always looking out for him in those days. He hits very hard and makes great use of his left hand. He is on the comeback trail after losing to Ricky (Burns) and that is definitely a fight that the fans would want to see.
RTV: Your ultimate goal would be a world title shot against Ricky Burns in the future. What are you opinions on Burns as a fighter and as a champion?
AC: I’ve got so much respect for Ricky as a fighter and you couldn’t meet a nicer guy. Last time out, against Chelo Gonzalez, things weren’t going right for him but he still pulled out the victory and most people believe he broke his opponent’s heart that night. That’s the mark of a champion – to just keep digging. Over the last few years the improvement in Ricky has been scary. How many people gave him a chance against Roman Martinez all those years ago? Virtually nobody did. I would be in a similar position, as an underdog, if I fought Ricky but you just have to remember the Martinez fight and how Ricky defied the odds. He’s now a genuine two weight world champion and although he has bigger fish to fry, that is a fight I would definitely take. A Battle of Britain is always something the fans want to see.
RTV: Like Ricky, you’re going to be a dad for the first time next month. How is the prospect of fatherhood mixing with the boxing at the moment?
AC: (Laughs) Yeah, it’s come at a nice time because I’m waiting on a fight date and I can enjoy it a little bit more. I have an added incentive to push on because now I have someone that I have to provide for and it’s our first child. I’ll strive to do more and it’ll give me that extra 10% in my training.
RTV: You’ve spent some time in the States at the Wildcard and did some sparring. Any plans to return to the US?
AC: I was hoping to go over next month but it’s too close to my child being born so it’ll be next year now. Incidentally, I met Raymundo Beltran over in L.A. and I genuinely believe that is a 50-50 fight with Ricky Burns. People may look at the losses on his record but Beltran has been unlucky with the judges more than once and he’s a quality operator. Still, Ricky is too professional to overlook him and he’ll know this is a tough fight. I’d love to meet the winner.
RTV: A huge domestic heavyweight showdown between Tyson Fury and David Haye has been announced. Being that Fury is from Manchester, I thought it appropriate to ask your opinions on the fight?
AC: Tyson has improved massively since he started work with his uncle (Peter Fury). You only have to look at the transformation in his body and I really fancy an upset in this fight. He certainly won’t be intimidated and although he was dropped by Steve Cunningham, he got up and knocked the guy cold. People also forget that there were visa issues in New York and Tyson didn’t have Peter in his corner which was a big distraction. He still came through and that will have made him a stronger fighter mentally. At the end of the day I think size will play a big factor in this fight and I see Fury winning.
RTV: What do you want to get done in the next 12 months with your own career?
AC: In the next twelve months I want to fight for the world championship. I’m like anyone else who wants to fulfill a dream and my dream is to get that title. Since I was 10 years old that has been my goal and I’m close to giving myself a chance to make it become a reality. Ricky, to me, is the best lightweight in the world now that Broner has moved up and to be the best you have to beat the best. If I get the chance then I’ll take it.
Photos /Paul Thomas-Getty Images, Scott Heavey-Getty Images
Tom Gray is a member of the British Boxing Writers’ Association and contributes to various publications. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Gray_Boxing