British boxing is undeniably on course towards a golden age with no fewer than eleven world champions across the sport. But one man getting less attention that his heavyweight colleagues is Anthony Crolla – if you haven’t heard the name before you should be preparing to hear a lot more of it.
Manchester’s Crolla has likened the turnaround of his career to that of Leicester City’s achievements this season following his big victory on Saturday to retain the WBA lightweight title.
He said: "Like everybody who loves their football I've been amazed by what Leicester have achieved and you know what, they have deserved it.
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"So have I. I've done a Leicester in a boxing way. I always believed in myself but something has just started going right for me. It's down to hard work, good preparation and then more hard work."
Four years ago Crolla was stopped by Derry Mathews to put his future career prospects in jeopardy. Many felt Crolla was limited to domestic level bouts.
Further doubt was poured onto Crolla’s ambitions when two years ago he suffered a fractured skull and ankle after he was assaulted by burglars after confronting them at a neighbours' house.
'That put everything into perspective,' said Crolla. 'Maybe that was what has re-ignited my career. Certainly I feel a million times more powerful and in control than I did before.'
Against the odds, Crolla earned himself a world title shot to become the WBA lightweight champion last year. He squared off against Darleys Perez (previously 31-1) in which he upset the odds to land a draw before knocking him out in the rematch in front of his fellow Mancunians at the Manchester arena late last year.
Despite his KO victory over Perez, many thought Crolla was out of his depth at world level and so plenty of eyebrows were raised when instead of taking a more comfortable voluntary defence he instead opted to take on undefeated danger man of the division, Ismael Barroso.
Barroso, who only five months earlier had sent his Londoner rival Kevin Mitchell into retirement following a brutal knock-out victory.
In one of the finest nights of boxing, Manchester has seen, a grippingly entertaining matchup unfolded in front of packed 20,000 capacity area. A fight that could be compared to the all-time classic Rumble in The Jungle between Muhammad Ali and George Foremen saw Crolla soak up an unbelievable amount of punishment from the unbeaten Venezuelan who unleashed a tirade of abuse for the first five rounds.
You could feel the crowd collectively wince as the relatively unknown knock-out merchant of the division loaded up. A defiant Crolla had to grit his teeth as his defences were put through their paces. A heavily one sided match up saw Barroso walk through the few and far between combinations Crolla was able to throw. Numerous in play betting sites moved Crolla’s odds to overcome his 32-year-old opponent as high as 18-1 as he struggled to hold on.
It was easy to see why Barroso had won 18 of his 19 professional fights by knockout in the first five rounds, in fact, he’d never gone beyond six rounds and it was about to show.
As the bell rang for the start of the sixth round he looked heavy on his legs, he threw far fewer punches, his footwork became not existent and his head movement had stopped. There was nothing left in the tank, he had boxed himself out.
The atmosphere was flipped on its head as the crowd roared with encouragement. They could smell blood. Crolla, who had done amazingly to stay on his feet until this point, suddenly began to dominate the fight, landing at will.
Barroso slipped to the floor from exhaustion following a failed attempt to tie Crolla up. He climbed to his feet before being caught with a great combination to the body which he initially took well before reeling back from the advancing Crolla to take a count. He looked up at his corner from the canvass on a three count and defeat was written all over his face, it was clear he wasn’t getting up, he could barely stand.
And there a star was born, Crolla’s was clearly overwhelmed by emotion as he embraced the spectacular reception of his home crowd. A classic tale of the tortoise and the hair had unfolded. Crolla’s tactical game plan was perfect, get in the eye of the storm and let him bust a gut before taking him out in the latter stages, it was a risky plan but it paid off.
An electrifying night of entertainment in Manchester will surely set up Anthony ‘Million Dollar’ Crolla with some big fights to help him live up to his alias. WBO lightweight champion Terry Flanagan would be a mouth-watering prospect, with the additional edge of facing a Manchester City supporter off against a Manchester United one.
"We will see," said Crolla. "I'll sit down in due course and consider where to go next with my trainer
"Right now I just want to soak it up. I can't believe what is happening to me. Then again, I bet neither can the Leicester boys."