Anthony Crolla: The Greatest Hits
Ultimately, Anthony Crolla was a walking contradiction.
The Manchester man was warm, personable, caring, polite and easy-going any time you encountered him. There was nothing fake in his personality, otherwise he would have been smoked out long ago. Crolla wasn’t a superstar with a PR guru telling him the best ways to conduct himself in front of the media, his affable nature was genuine and it never changed no matter what adversity he encountered.
It was Crolla’s occupation that belied his demeanor. He was a prizefighter and a terrific one. In a sport often labeled sordid, disreputable, corruptible and brutal, Crolla, the most pleasant of individuals, reached the top of the tree. Early on in his professional career, when he was outpointed by Youssef Al Hamidi, a Syrian journeyman with a 3-8-1 record, nobody could have saw that coming.
“I think it’s a great compliment when you get called an overachiever,” Crolla told The Ring. “I’m happy when I look back at my career, especially when you consider where I was at one point [laughs]. Saying it was a rollercoaster is probably underselling it, but I loved every bit of it, maybe not the lows, but it all went by so quick. I’ll look at a fight and think it was one or two years ago and it was five years ago.
“All I ever wanted was to get the best out of me, but you also need a bit of luck in boxing. I’ve watched some really talented fighters walk away without getting their big chance. Thankfully I took my chances and I believe I did the best I could with those chances. You could say I wasn’t able to deliver in fights against [Vasiliy] Lomachenko or [Jorge] Linares, but they were simply better than me. I took my chances to get those big fights.”
Crolla (35-7-3, 13 KOs) encountered defeat in all three acts of his story. Whenever he came across that mild inconvenience, he shrugged it off, returned to the gym and worked even harder. As a result, he became British lightweight champion, the WBA lightweight titleholder and he mixed with the very best that the 135-pound division had to offer. While he lost out against Linares and Lomachenko, Crolla posted solid wins over Gavin Rees, Darleys Perez, Ismael Barroso, Ricky Burns and Daud Yordan.
When it was time to get out, on the eve of his 33rd birthday, Crolla fittingly said a polite goodbye to his Manchester faithful with a farewell bout at the arena where he’d made his name. He didn’t look good against the unheralded Frank Urquiaga, a fighter he would have dismantled in his heyday, but he took the 10-round majority decision and walked off into the sunset with a smile on his face.
“I feel guilty when I see other fighters struggle with retirement and say that they miss boxing,” Crolla said. “I’m happy and content. I think it helps that I’m doing a lot of coaching, amateur and professional, and I’m in with [former trainer] Joe [Gallagher] three times a week, so I’m around all my old stablemates.
“I’ve hit the heavy bag maybe three times since my last fight in November. I actually do feel like I could go through a camp and look much better than I did in my last fight (laughs). People say I’ll come back but I won’t. Even coming into the last fight, although I enjoyed the training, I didn’t have the same mindset. I’ve not got the mindset of a fighter anymore.”
In late-March the Manchester gym which Crolla was using to teach promising up and comers burned down. The former world titleholder was “absolutely heartbroken”, but he is currently in the process of securing new premises. Even in this new role, his love for the game remains visceral and he has a bright future both in the corner and as a boxing pundit.
Crolla now looks back at seven of his defining moments:
Date/ Venue: June 29, 2003/ Bolton Arena, Bolton
Titles: Lightweight non-title
“I put pressure on myself because if I didn’t win that fight I’d probably have had to get a job on the side. My partner was heavily pregnant and I wouldn’t have been able to provide for my family on a boxing wage. I’d just had the draw with Derry [Mathews] and if I’d lost to Gavin, I don’t think anyone would be doing me any favors. I was an underdog going in, not a huge underdog, but I was definitely an underdog. You have those nights in your career where you’ve got to grasp the opportunity and I gave it absolutely everything. It turned out to be one of the hardest nights of my career. Gavin’s a really tough fighter and one of the best I’ve ever shared a ring with. It looked like I was [urinating] Ribena afterwards due to dehydration and being pounded round the body. Joe had told me that I was going to have some horrible moments in the fight and I did. Later than night, I watched my mate Matthew Macklin fight [Gennadiy] Golovkin and I felt like a bus had hit me. It’s a hard old game.”
Result: Crolla MD 12
Date/ Venue: April 19, 2014/ Manchester Arena
Titles: Lightweight non-title
“There was some animosity between John and Joe at that time [Gallagher trained Murray for years and the pair had split], but it wasn’t a distraction. I was cool with John and it was just business. John called me out and it was in the Manchester Evening News (local newspaper), so it was a fight I had to take. It was sad in a way that they’d fallen out, but I just left them to it and they’ve made up now which is good. It did add a bit of tension to the camp because if I got something wrong Joe’s temper wasn’t the same. Joe likes to be a winner and even though it shouldn’t be about the opponent and the trainer, he was maybe a bit harder on me than normal. But then again, you get a bit of that in every camp. John brought a lot of pressure and threw the kitchen sink at me but, honestly, hand on heart, I was always confident. I believed in the game plan and I knew that I was slowly taking [the fight] out of John. It was a Manchester derby and it was a really good fight. It brought out the best in me and allowed me to kick on with my career.”
Result: Crolla TKO 10
Date/ Venue: July 18, 2015/ Manchester Arena
Titles: WBA lightweight
“When I look back on the draw now it was just part of the journey. I saw people on social media say that it wasn’t as bad a robbery as the media made out, but I’ve not come across one person, to this day, who said that I didn’t win the fight. He had points off in the 11th and the 12th for hitting me low and that was it then, the job was done. I just thought I’d done enough and it was the perfect ending after everything that had happened [months earlier Crolla has suffered a fractured skull and a broken ankle after being assaulted while foiling a burglary]. I remember thinking I’d won, but I saw [Matchroom’s] Frank Smith say something to [promoter] Eddie [Hearn], and Eddie said, ‘Give over!’ I just picked up on it, and I was saying to myself, ‘Surely it’s not going to be a draw!’ I was thankful to be back boxing at the arena [after the assault], so the disappointment maybe wasn’t that bad. Those nights happen in boxing and I was always hopeful that I would get the rematch. I don’t want to say now that I was robbed, but I did think it was a very, very bad decision.”
Result: Majority Draw 12
Darleys Perez 2
Date/ Venue: November 21, 2015/ Manchester Arena
Titles: WBA lightweight
“Eddie told me afterwards that when he left the changing room before the fight he thought I was going to let the moment pass me by. But I just thought there was no way that I wouldn’t become world champion. I’d watched Liam Smith [beat John Thompson for the vacant WBO junior middleweight title] a few weeks earlier and I remember thinking I want the same feeling my mate had. That night I really believed that I couldn’t lose. In the fight I could see him grimace, and I knew that I wasn’t going to let this one go. I made big improvements and I knew as soon as I hit him [with a left hook to the body] that he was going to struggle to get up. But it was still the longest 10 seconds of my fight. The feeling I had when I won didn’t just come from my first pro fight, it was years and years of hard work and times when I’d been written off. It was like a weight off my shoulders because of all the sacrifices that people had made around me. I could always say that I was world champion, not on an ego type thing, but we did it. It’s one of the greatest nights of my life, without a doubt.”
Result: Crolla KO 5
Date/ Venue: May 7, 2016/ Manchester Arena
Titles: WBA lightweight
“I remember one of my mates saying that winning a title is one thing but going out there and defending it is something else again. When I look back on this fight, it’s probably my finest hour. He was my mandatory, but he’d knocked out Kevin Mitchell so there was talk that I’d swerve him. A lot of people thought I was going to get knocked out that night. I remember Eddie saying, just between us privately, that we could have done with swerving Barroso, but I told him I’d outbox him and stop him as well. He was heavy-handed, but it got my back up that people thought I’d look to avoid him. I remember seeing the confidence around his team at the weigh-in – one of his trainers held up three fingers – and I said to myself, ‘You’re going to be in for a shock when this goes past the fourth and fifth rounds.’ I knew he would tire in a dog fight and that’s exactly what happened. He had the power to put me over, but I didn’t take too many shots that night. The threat of his power kept me sharp defensively and it was the perfect night for us.”
Result: Crolla KO 7
Date/ Venue: September 24, 2016/ Manchester Arena
Titles: Ring Magazine and WBA lightweight
“I don’t ever want credit for pushing someone [in a loss], especially given the job he done on me in the second fight, but the bottom line is, there wouldn’t have been a rematch if the first fight hadn’t been close. There wasn’t a lot in it, but the right man won. To this day, hand on heart, and people might not believe it, but I believe the fight was going exactly the way I wanted it to go. There were little signs that Jorge was giving off where I thought, ‘I’m going to get you late!’ But then he buzzed me, I think it was Round 6, and that punch zapped so much out of me. It also gave him the belief that he’d hurt me once, so he could do it again. I still had success, but I didn’t have the same pop in my shots. The punch he hit me with just took so much from me. I was disappointed, but I’d put so much into it and had just fallen short. I thought I could make adjustments for the second fight but he was brilliant that night [Linares won a comfortable decision in the rematch.]”
Result: Linares UD 12
Date/ Venue: October 7, 2017/ Manchester Arena
“I’ve got a lot of love for Ricky. I knew he had a great jab, so Joe said that’s what we had to take that away from him. I just wish I’d stuck to what I was doing early on through the middle and late rounds because I believe, just my opinion, that I’d have won clearer on the cards. But, and this sounds ill-disciplined, I started to think that it’s me and Ricky and this is supposed to be a bit of a fight. It wasn’t a classic, far from it, but I started mixing it up and I believe that allowed Ricky back into the fight. He came on pretty strong, fractured my nose with an uppercut, which made it difficult to breathe, and I made hard work of it. I’m not talking like I’m levels above Ricky because I’m not, but I believe that if I’d stuck to the plan, I would have beat Ricky a bit more convincingly. Ricky is super-fit, so he’s going to bring the pressure. At the end of 12 rounds I thought I’d done enough to win.”
Result: Crolla UD 12
Tom Gray is Associate Editor for Ring Magazine. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Gray_Boxing