It is long accepted wisdom that those who speak ill of others often say more about themselves than those of whom they speak. This is especially true when discussing 32-year-old-Manucunian-lightweight Anthony Crolla, a man widely regarded outside of the ring as one of Britain’s most cordial current fighters; and who despite being an ex-world champion and leading lightweight contender remains genuine, personable and accessible, a credit to himself, his family and his gym. He is also the man who in the early hours of Saturday April 12th will attempt the unenviable task of dethroning three-weight-world-champion and current WBA, WBO and Ring magazine lightweight champion, Vasyl Lomachenko (12-1-0).
“I cannot wait for this,” said Crolla, when the fight was confirmed, “These are the fights you are in the sport for. People will say that I have nothing to lose, but I am genuinely going over to LA to shock the world.”
Indeed. And a shock it will be. Lomachenko is 1/100 with most bookies and despite fighting only thirteen times as a professional, he is already correctly considered one of the world’s best pound for pound fighters. He has lost only once – a contentious split decision against Mexican, Orlando Salido, where he was attempting to win the WBO featherweight title in his only his second professional fight – and boasts an impressive resume, with wins over Gary Russell Jr, Nicholas Walters, Jose Pedraza and the experienced, legendary Cuban, Guillermo Rigondeaux.
Crolla has earned this title shot through a combination of fortune (Lomachenko was originally due to face IBF champion, Richard Commey, in a unification contest, but the Ghanaian pulled out due to a knuckle ligament injury) and an active, undefeated and ranking-climbing late-2017 and 2018, where he unanimously outpointed Ricky Burns, Edson Ramirez and the dangerous Daud Yordan.
In Lomachenko, he will be attempting to wrestle back the belt (WBA) he lost to the only opponent that both men share: Jorge Linares. Linares beat Crolla twice in 6 months, both times via unanimous decision, with the second victory being definitive and widely scored 118-109 upon all three judges’ scorecards. In comparison, Lomachenko fought an aggressive, front-foot-fight against the taller and rangier Linares, stopping him in round 10 with a left hook to the body: the final punch of a dazzling combination of hooks and uppercuts which also rocked the Venezuelan champion’s forehead, temples and chin.
It is difficult to overstate the herculean size of Crolla’s challenge here. Lomachenko is also a two-weight world and Olympic champion who won 396 out of his 397 amateur fights, avenging the only loss on two subsequent occasions. His footwork is fluid, unrivalled and mesmerizing, the result of daily childhood two-hour-Ukrainian-folk-dancing-lessons; and his tireless punch output has been honed and forged through infamous 15 four-minute-round sparring sessions overseen by his trainer father, involving numerous rotating partners and with only 30 second rest periods in-between.
However, whilst ultimately falling short, Linares and Pedraza did enjoy periods of sustained success against the Ukrainian, proving his potential fallibility and momentarily displaying the styles required to trouble him. Linares gifted Lomachenko his first knockdown in a decade, using his speed to throw regular, quick, counter-right-hands, as well as wider, looping hooks to the body; and Pedraza oscillated between orthodox and southpaw stances, outthrowing and out-landing Lomachenko over 6 competitive rounds, before the champion further upped the pace and pressure and dominated the latter stages to earn a deserved unanimous points victory.
“He’s a fighter who breaks his opponents down little by little,” said Pedraza when interviewed in the ring following that fight. And it is the cumulative effects of Lomachenko’s fast hands, inimitable footwork and relentless pressure that Crolla and trainer, Joe Gallagher, will have to plan for, navigate and then nullify if he is to emerge victorious.
Anthony has given us some unforgettable nights – winning the WBA lightweight title in the 5th round with a sickening left hook to the body of Darleys Perez and then defending his title with a 7th round KO of the heavy-handed Venezuelan, Ismael Barroso, being the legacy-defining highlights – but he will surely have to extend beyond any of his previous achievements and access inner reserves of talent and will at the very limits of his capabilities to become a world champion once more.
He has already won the respectful support of the British boxing public; but if he wins on Saturday, he will forever cement his legacy as a British boxing great. We at Eat, Sleep, Boxing, Repeat would love to see him do it. And will be tuning into Sky Sports Main Event on April 12th with the hope that he can indeed ‘shock the world’.