Anthony “Million Dolla” Crolla gets the chance to exact revenge on Jorge “El Niño de Oro” in Manchester on Saturday night in what promises to be a thrilling second fight between the two lightweight’s. In an action packed first encounter between the two it was Linares that previaled over the distance at the same venue when the judges scored the bout 115-114, 117-111 and 115-113 in favour of Linares who also walked away with Crolla’s WBA lightweight title. Crolla will be determined to put the result right this time around and has left no stone unturned in his preparation. Leading opinion Boxing News give their expert views and opinions ahead of the big fight exclusively for Betsafe.
Anthony crolla seduced the hearts of a nation with a Cinderella Story fit for Hollywood over the course of the last seven years, as he emerged from the apparent confines of domestic mediocrity to become a world force. Along the way the Manchester United fan – whose ‘Nicest Guy In Boxing’ tag was fitted with good reason – rebounded from defeats to the likes of Gary Sykes and Derry Mathews, a gut-wrenching battle which resulted in opponent Kieran Farrell being forced into retirement with brain injuries, and Crolla himself being hospitalised and fighting for his life after being attacked with a paving slab after confronting burglars.
The tale gathered pace in 2015 when he claimed the WBA lightweight title from Darleys Perez, and notched a thrilling first defence when he halted favoured slugger, Ismael Barroso, with a sublime body shot that exhibited his progress under trainer Joe Gallagher. In September last year Jorge Linares – a Tokyo-born Venezuelan with formidable skills – was invited to Manchester to take on Crolla and stretch the feel-good story to its limits.
Though Linares was unbeaten since 2012, and one of the most talented foreigners ever to grace a British ring, his see-saw battle with Londoner Kevin Mitchell during a previous visit led to some believing he was not the fighter he was.
Crolla turned in a wonderful performance but, in turn, Linares dismissed any suggestion he was in decline and unleashed one his finest showings to win a gruellingly close 12-rounder. Few argued with the decision, including Crolla himself, yet it was competitive enough to warrant a return. And here we are.
Crolla’s trainer Joe Gallagher is a man in demand, and spent several weeks in the build-up to the opening Linares showdown forced to spread his attention (for example, stablemate Liam Smith’s shot at Canelo Alvarez came the weekend before in Dallas). This time, Gallagher is delighted with the build-up, having kept Crolla locked up in camp, away from the media, and studying the first bout.
“[My trainer] Joe [Gallagher] reckons he’ll try and do the job inside the distance,” Crolla said. “I hope so, I really hope he does. What he’s very good at is moving, great ringcraft, flashy combinations and I’m expecting a bit of everything from him on Saturday.”
A revealing moment of the first bout was the sixth round when, after starting the session brightly, Crolla was almost finished with a savage body shot.
“One of the things I’ve worked on throughout training camp is being smarter, concentration,” Crolla explained. “I believe last time that punch [in round six] changed the fight a whole lot so we can’t afford to do that again. We felt it was was going our way until then, but we’ve looked to improve and we’ve shown improvements in the gym.
“I feel it’s best I’ve ever been, I’ve just got to go out on Saturday and show it.”
WHILE the first showdown was close on the cards, Linares never really looked like losing. Yes, there were moments when Crolla hurt him – and the Mancunian can certainly take encouragement from that – but from the sixth round onwards, despite some stirring action, there was only one winner. In short, Linares is the superior fighter.
However, Linares is aware of this and, though he’s not the type to take a contest lightly, that presumption that the fight is already won could work in Crolla’s favour.
But it should also be noted that while “Million Dollar” may not have had the perfect build-up last time, few fighters do in contests of this magnitude – including Linares.
“I can fight even better this time,” Linares said. Before the first fight I had a broken right hand and I hadn’t fought for a while. That’s always a factor, you know? Inactivity. I haven’t had any issues physically or mentally, so the preparation has been great. We did 129 rounds of sparring and everything has gone well up to this point.
“Crolla could come better prepared than last time. Maybe he will throw more punches, maybe he will box more, I don’t really know. The most important thing is I hope he has worked really hard and comes in great condition so there are no excuses and no doubts after the fight.”
History also favours Linares, and it’s worth considering here: There are very few examples of a fighter who won the first contest so convincingly – and though it was close, Linares’ triumph was unquestionable (unlike the first Carl Frampton-Leo Santa Cruz fight, for example) – then going on to lose the return. In fact, their superiority tends to become more pronounced.
Possible bets and outcome
ONLY a fool would discount Crolla completely after the obstacles he’s cleared over the years, and when he says he is in the shape of his life, one should only believe him. It is also worth thinking about Linares, his wear and tear, and how frequently he was caught in the first bout. An upset, particularly in Manchester, should not be discounted completely. If Crolla is to win, the likeliest outcome would be via a razor tight and perhaps controversial decision. Thoughts that Linares will fade late and be stopped, while possible, offer too much credence to the favourite’s early career losses. For that to happen now, Crolla would need to be on top from the opening bell, and lead from the front; it is, however, fanciful to expect Linares to start fast and then relinquish victory through exhaustion. Jorge will have respect for Crolla’s staying power having failed to stop him last time, and is unlikely to gamble all on an early finish.
Gallagher has said more than once that he expects the contest, whoever wins, to be over within nine rounds and that is an inviting bet. There is real value to be had in picking a Linares late-rounds win, hedging your bets with singles across each of rounds nine, 10, 11 and 12. But the likeliest outcome, at least from this viewpoint, is another points win – albeit a touch wider this time – for Jorge Linares.
About Matt Christie
Matt Christie is the editor of Boxing News, the oldest boxing publication in the world. Established in 1909, Boxing News’ reputation as the market authority comes from over 100 years of experience in the hardest game.