‘Million Dollar’s’ Last Dance

This Saturday at the Manchester Arena, Manc favourite Anthony Crolla will step into the squared circle for what will be the very last time as a professional fighter. Fittingly, his last hurrah will happen in the very same venue in which he made his debut thirteen years ago. This swansong sees him take on 13-1-1 Spaniard Frank Urquiaga, in what should transpire to be a comfortable triumph for Anthony.

There is nobody in the sport of boxing with a bad word to say about Anthony Crolla. He’s genuine, welcoming, committed and doesn’t engage in smack talk. He once proclaimed he’d even happily “walk to the ring with his opponent”. What’s more, he is one hell of a fighter. He possesses a terrific jab; an intense pressure fighting style, and a grit and resolve that has stood him in good stead for the rocky road his life has navigated, both in and out of the ring.

In the ring, he’s done it all. He’s won and defended The English Title, The British, The Commonwealth, various Intercontinental titles and The WBA World Title. He’s fought on small hall shows, in less than exotic places such as the Kingsway Leisure Centre in Widnes. He’s also fought in some of the world’s most iconic arenas, such as the MGM in Vegas and the Staples Centre in LA. He’s headlined the Manchester Arena countless times. He’s even fought a small side room show at Old Trafford, the home of his beloved Manchester United when he fought Steve Gethin in 2008.

The alumni on his record make for impressive reading. He’s fought current world pound-for-pound number one, Vasiliy Lomachenko, and twice locked horns with former pound-for-pound star and three-weight World Champion, Jorge Linares. He’s beaten a myriad of world level opposition. There’s Ricky Burns, another three-weight World Champion. Former World Champions Darleys Perez and Gavin Rees. The ferocious knock out artist Ismael Barroso, in what was only his first World Title defence, and the war with World Title challenger and former gym-mate, John Murray.

It’s not all been plain sailing, however, and there have been some horrendous lows. The surprise defeat at the hands of journeyman and ice-cream man, Youssef Al Hamidi, in his ninth fight. The two defeats against Gary Sykes. The knockout by Derry Matthews. Despite Crolla prevailing, there was also the ruthless fight with Kieran Farrell. Farrell collapsed after the final bell and was immediately rushed to hospital with brain injuries, which would ultimately render Farrell unable to box. A cruel reminder of the brutal and unforgiving nature of the sport.

Out of the ring, there was also the well documented fractured skull and broken ankle, which Crolla sustained when heroically trying to apprehend two burglars who were robbing his next-door neighbour. These injuries deprived him of what was to be his first World Title shot, and almost his career. He fought back and was cruelly robbed of winning the World Title in the first fight with Perez when it was adjudged to be a draw. A baffling result, particularly given the fact the Colombian was docked two points and Crolla was on top for most of the fight. Despite the setback, he didn’t take the judge’s decision with any acrimony as he would have been entitled to. Once more proving his class.

It did, however, pave the way for a spectacular rematch. Crolla knocked out Perez with a sickening body shot in the fifth round. In doing so, he realised his dream of becoming The Lightweight Champion of The World. It was a bumpy ride, littered with knocks and hurdles, but he did it, and he did it his way. He tested himself against the very best and never swerved a challenge. A challenge is exactly what he faced in his penultimate bout when he travelled to LA to take on Lomachenko.

Lomachenko is the best fighter pound-for-pound about at the moment, period. There are not enough superlatives in the English language to describe what Loma can do in a boxing ring; he is pure poetry in motion. He’s an elite, elite fighter. When he faced Crolla, a world-class fighter, the difference in levels shown. Crolla was barely able to land a glove on Loma before he was knocked out in the fourth round. Some unfairly criticised Crolla for taking the fight, despite being the mandatory challenger, saying he could never win the fight. However, it is a testament to Crolla that he was willing to take on the greatest and test himself. Yes, he came up short, but he faced the world’s best, was paid well and again proved he has a massive pair of nuts.

Many assumed that was it for Crolla, he had nothing left to prove. People questioned his decision to take one final fight; why not bow out after testing himself against the elite, and coming up short? There is no shame in that.

In reality, the final dance is not about one last payday for Anthony, and it’s not about him trying to make a point after his loss to Loma.

This fight is purely about Crolla saying farewell to the sport he loves, on his terms with the full aegis of his treasured home crowd. After everything he has done for the sport, and the way he has conducted himself throughout his career, if anyone deserves to choose how they go out, it’s Anthony Crolla. When Crolla’s hand is raised at the end of the fight, as it surely will be, and the final curtain falls on what has been a roller-coaster career, he can be proud. He can take stock and rest assured, he has nothing left to prove and should have no regrets.

Rest Of The Card

When the card was announced, it was billed as a triple header with Joshua Buatsi fighting an eliminator for the WBA Light-Heavyweight title, and Katie Taylor attempting to become a two-weight World Champion. Sadly, Buatsi pulled out of his fight with Capellan through injury and was replaced with last-minute addition Martin Bakole, who will fight one Rodney Hernandez.

It will be a welcome sight to see pound-for-pound women’s star Katie Taylor back on a British show when she challenges Christina Linardatou for the WBO Super-Lightweight title. Whilst the fight may transpire to be exciting, I for one certainly would have much preferred to see her rematch Delfine Persoon. The first fight with Persoon was exciting, and many would agree Taylor was fortunate to take home the win that night. Hopefully, Taylor can turn her attention to answering that question mark after Saturday.

Also on the card, Felix Cash defends his Commonwealth title against the lanky Jack Cullen, in which could be the fight of the night. Former GB star Qais Ashfaq fights for his first title when he takes on Scot, Joe Ham, for the World Boxing Association Continental Super Bantamweight Title. We will also see the first fight of Doncaster’s Teri Harper as a Matchroom fighter when she defends her IBO title against Viviane Obenauf, who previously felled Natasha Jonas.

Elsewhere on the card, Gamal Yafai returns in a tick-over fight ahead of his upcoming mandatory European Title fight. Standout amateur Dalton Smith and brother of Kieran, Nathan Farrell, also return.

By Aaron Ludford for SimBoxx🥊

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