Anthony Crolla: The rematch avenger is ready for Jorge Linares
“I’m a competitor and a very proud man. If a guy beats me once, he’ll have to do it again to make me believe him” – Sugar Ray Leonard
Overcoming defeat in boxing is a sign of character strength and Manchester, England’s Anthony Crolla has displayed that trait more than once.
The former WBA lightweight titleholder lost as a novice professional to Syrian journeyman Youssef Al Hamidi and reversed the result six months later. He was stopped by Derry Mathews in a British title fight but pushed his Liverpool rival to the limit in a thrilling 12-round split decision draw.
The greatest night of Crolla’s career was a rematch. In July 2015, the fighter known as “Million Dollar” lost out on a dream victory when then-WBA beltholder Darleys Perez retained his title on a contentious 12-round majority draw. Crolla was crestfallen but an immediate return fight gave him the opportunity to right a wrong and, four months later, he sensationally stopped Perez in five rounds.
In his second title defense, last September, Crolla faced former three-time titleholder Jorge Linares. Crolla boxed well – very well – but Linares, one of the finest technicians in the game, earned a 12-round unanimous decision. The Englishman’s WBA title and the vacant RING lightweight championship were on a plane out of the U.K. but Crolla was already plotting revenge.
Make no mistake, however; Linares is not a journeyman; he is not a domestic rival and he is not Darleys Perez. Crolla (31-5-3, 13 knockouts) is fully aware that he requires the performance of a lifetime to dethrone Linares this Saturday in Manchester, England, and was happy to shed some light on just some of the problems he faces.
“The general speed of Linares was even faster than I expected,” admitted Crolla, who is rated No. 4 by THE RING at 135 pounds. “He throws flashy combinations and there were certain shots where he touched upstairs and then stabbed downstairs very well. That was impressive.
“He’s also very good on the eye. When I watched the fight back, there were times when his shots were landing on arms and gloves but they still looked really nice. There was some shoe-shining mixed in with the scoring. He knows how to take breaks and I was really impressed with his ring craft.”
Linares (41-3, 27 KOs) got off to a great start in September and just as Crolla began to battle back, the cerebral Venezuelan hurt his man with a right hand counterpunch in the sixth. Linares followed up with rapid combinations and, even though he fought back gamely, Crolla was woozy when the bell rang to end the session.
“It was the turning point in the fight,” sighed Crolla. “I won the next round on the scorecards but that punch took a bit of zap out of my legs and my own shots. I was having a good round (in the sixth) and was beginning to get a foothold so, for me, that was a huge moment in the fight.
“It was close but I lost to a great fighter in Jorge Linares. I didn’t lose to a Jorge Linares who had an off-night. That gives me comfort and it made the defeat a bit easier to take. Listen, it’s not nice to lose your world title, but it wasn’t one of them where I was feeling sorry for myself. I was motivated to work hard and make the improvements that are required to make sure the result is different this time.”
From ringside, it appeared Crolla was obsessed with emptying Linares’ tank in the first fight. Unfortunately for the Englishman, however, his opponent was piping fit and picked up a second wind in the championship rounds. Linares looked like he could have gone 15 rounds, never mind 12, and in Crolla’s own words, he was “enjoying himself” toward the end.
The challenger therefore promises to implement a more layered and elaborate game plan this Saturday.
“We’ve been working on cutting the ring off a bit better,” Crolla revealed. “We need to be smart in this fight. I applied a lot of pressure last time but there were times when it wasn’t educated pressure. Jorge dealt with that very well and I need to give him something to think about this time.
“There are some shots available that we didn’t throw in the first fight. We’ll be looking for those and some combinations we’ve been working on. There are also times where I need to make him come forward. Jorge is very comfortable moving back, so I need to box a bit more and see how he adjusts. I need to make him fight when he wants to box and box when he wants to fight. You don’t always have to come forward to apply pressure. You can apply pressure by making a fighter come out of his comfort zone. That’s what we’ll be looking to do this time.”
The landscape at lightweight has changed since Crolla and Linares squared off. Mikey Garcia has returned to the fray and looked better than ever when he knocked out the previously unbeaten Dejan Zlaticanin in January. Crolla has been paying attention and was extremely impressed with the new WBC lightweight titleholder.
“Garcia was punch-perfect,” Crolla said with respect. “Zlaticanin is a handful for any fighter and the way Garcia went about that job was clinical.
“He’s mentioned fighting the winner of my fight with Linares and I’ve always believed in taking the biggest challenges possible. With that said, I could never look past Jorge Linares. If I do manage to come through, and Garcia is interested, then it’s certainly a fight I would take. But it’s nice to be mentioned by someone of his quality and it would great to share a ring with him. Even if it meant going over to Vegas, I’m all for it. Right now, though, the only man on my mind is Linares.”
I could have taken Crolla’s cue but friend, neighbor, and potential opponent Terry Flanagan will defend his WBO lightweight title against Petr Petrov on April 8 and I thought it pertinent to ask for his thoughts on that fight. “Petrov will bring pressure but I see Terry moving in and out with the sharper shots,” Crolla said. “A fight between Terry and I will continue to be talked about and it is one of the biggest matchups in the division.”
Crolla sounded uncomfortable talking about future fights and who can blame him? Coupled with being a diligent professional, he is a massive fan of the sport and looking past the superb Linares almost amounts to sacrilege. That said, Crolla is super-motivated to turn in a career-best performance and become a two-time titleholder.
“I believe that with the improvements I’ve made in the gym, that I get the win,” confirmed Crolla. “I’m expecting another hard fight but, whether it’s on points or by late stoppage, I’m a lot more confident of winning than I was the first time.”
Tom Gray is a U.K. Correspondent/ Editor for RingTV.com and a member of THE RING ratings panel. Follow him on Twitter @Tom_Gray_Boxing.
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