In a world where champions are only ever one defeat away from being labelled a bum and rated prospects are written off quicker than a heartbeat, Anthony Crolla represents what is truly beautiful about the sport of boxing.
In a career glittered with world honours and headline shows, few have travelled a tougher path on the way to world honours than the affable Mancunian who, in his 43-fight career, has just about seen it all.
Rewind to 5th April 2008; Gordon Brown is fumbling his way through the Labour party, Leona Lewis’ Bleeding Love is flooding the airways, and Anthony Crolla is left pondering his future in the sport after losing a points decision to 123-loss journeyman Youssef al-Hamidi.
Fast-forward 11 years; politicians are still fumbling their way through government, our music taste hasn’t improved, but Anthony Crolla is days away from facing pound-for-pound king Vasyl Lomachenko for the unified lightweight championship of the world.
It’s a remarkable story that has gotten Crolla to this point with career highs & lows typically only encountered in the movies. And just like a Hollywood epic, Crolla is one fight away from the ultimate fairy-tale ending.
A win against Lomachenko would by far eclipse the in-ring achievements of the former world champion. Out of the ring, Crolla’s heroics have been well documented. His near career-ending injury, which occurred after halting a neighbour’s burglary, nearly robbed Crolla of what would be his defining career moment. Largely unfancied against the tough Columbian Darleys Perez – it was Crolla who left the ring clutching the WBA world title belt after delivering a crushing body shot.
Few could have predicted Crolla would go on to win a world title earlier on his career. After stumbling at British level twice to Gary Sykes and a stoppage defeat to Derry Matthews, even the most romantic of boxing fan couldn’t have foreseen Crolla’s rise in the division in recent years.
Seemingly no less motivated to establish himself at the top of the sport and unwilling to ride the wave of ‘easy’ mandatory defenses, Crolla challenged the then lightweight king & 3-weight world champion, Jorge Linares. Twice, the ever-likable Crolla came up short, but was not humiliated against the future hall-of-famer and proved he belongs at world-level.
No stranger to set backs, Crolla again regrouped from defeat and picked up successive victories over 3-weight world champion Ricky Burns, Edson Ramierz & Daud Jordan to earn himself the mandatory spot to challenge for his old title & a third attempt at the coveted Ring Magazine belt.
The only thing that stands in his way is the little Ukrainian, who many people believe to be one of the most naturally gifted fighters of all time. With a 396-1 amateur record and 3 world titles at different weights within 13 fights, it’s difficult to argue against that statement.
Harshly criticised for taking on the fight, Crolla’s unfaltering spirit and immense heart to get to this position should be commended. At 32, Crolla is no fool and is under no illusions about the magnitude of the challenge that awaits him but remains confident about pulling off what would be one of the biggest upsets in recent boxing history – something long-term trainer Joe Gallagher has alluded to.
Depsite the obvious superior skills of his opponent, Crolla is definitely not arriving in LA to make up the numbers and will not be dazzling in awe at the the ‘High-Tek’ magic.
He is arriving in career-best shape and will walk away from the ring knowing that he has left everything he has in the squared circle.
From tasting the canvas at Oldham Sports Center, to topping the bill in Los Angeles against the greatest fighter on the planet, Anthony Crolla is a credit to the sport, and is testament to what makes boxing special.