Blood, Brains & Balls - Anthony Crolla takes on Vasyl Lomachenko

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Far too many people rolled their eyes when a title fight was announced between Pound for Pound King Vasyl Hi Tech Lomachenko and Anthony Million Dolla Crolla. The chief reason for the apathy was Crolla didn’t seem deserving of a shot! While it’s true Crolla doesn’t have a spotless record (34W-6L-3D, 13 KOs) his record does scream of grit and experience.

Oh and by the way, he does deserve his shot. Let me tell you why. 

Mr. Nice Guy

Ask anyone, other trainers, media members, former opponents, Anthony Crolla is just a good bloke. No one to a man has a crossword to say. For a guy who makes money punching people in the face, ‘Ant’ as he is referred to by fellow Mancunians is a top fella. The kind of guy who wouldn’t make you nervous for your daughter to date and the kind of guy to go enjoy a pint with as well.

Crolla was not born with any silver spoon up his ass and you could say fighting is in the blood, Anthony’s old man Wayne Crolla had a brief if productive pro fighting career.

Everything about Crolla is a blue-collar success story, though not a storied amateur, he won gold in several European based tournaments and was British ABA gold medalist as well.

He turned pro in 2006 and got off to a solid start, scoring five stoppages in his first eight bouts before hitting the first bump in the road losing on points to Youssef Al Hamidi. Crolla rebounded with five wins on the spin before losing another points decision to Gary Sykes. From then on Crolla went on a three-year unbeaten tear. 

In this day and age of padded records and fighters acting like they’re Muhammad Ali because the won a vacant title in a favourable matchup, Crolla clawed and scraped for everything.

Without a highly regarded amateur background, Anthony ‘learned on the job’ like other gritty Brits - the recently retired Tony Bellew and George Groves come to mind. Like them, Crolla is an overachiever. A fighter without any standout skills or accolades but has nevertheless succeeded in a brutal sport seemingly on will alone.

Crolla persevered, some ups, like winning his first British title against Andy Morris in 2010 then some downs, losing it by TKO (still his first and only stoppage loss) to Derry Mathews, a fighter many even in the UK had written off as barely domestic level. And still, Crolla kept coming, kept improving.

By now he was well established at trainer Joe Gallagher’s gym, home to all the Smith Brothers; Liam, Callum, Steven & Paul as well as Scott Quigg and Callum Johnson. 

After continuing a somewhat rocky road Crolla had finally earned a world title shot. He was set to face Richard Abril for the WBA Lightweight title on 23 January 2015 when suddenly and tragically Crolla’s career and life were turned upside down. Less than 10 days before Christmas 2014, Crolla observed two individuals raiding a neighbours house, without hesitating he confronted the men and gave chase. The rest of the story is understandably hazy as it ended with Crolla suffering a broken ankle, possibly while scaling a fence chasing after the assailants and a skull fracture after being struck on the head by either a brick or piece of concrete by one of them. 

The ‘hometown hero’ was lucky to escape with his life however, logically one would assume his fight career would be over after suffering a traumatic head injury and yet a mere eight months later Crolla did step into the ring at Manchester Arena no less, among an adoring hometown crowd to take his moment - with a narrow points win over then WBA champ Darleys Perez. Anthony Crolla was a world champion.

He made two successful defences before running up against a common opponent with Vasyl Lomachenko; Jorge Linares, Linares was arguably at the height of his powers against Crolla and has admitted more than once that Linares was just a level above him in both their matches, but credit goes to Crolla for having the guts to face a man again who so thoroughly dominated him, fighting until the last second of the last round. But that’s Crolla through and through of course.

Climbing Everest

Now Crolla finds himself in a familiar situation. Once again the challenger, a massive underdog in a weight class he’s fought in his whole career against a man with less than half the pro fights he has. 

However, Crolla will fight his 7th fight in three years when he takes on Loma next week. He’s unbeaten in his last three fights with losses only coming from the former WBA champ Linares and Crolla is the #1 ranked British Lightweight and the #3 Lightweight in the world.

To be fair, a Crolla victory seems preposterous. He has several advantages on paper, namely his size of course. He’s two and a half inches taller with an inch and a half reach advantage. He’s a natural Lightweight whereas Loma could make 126 tomorrow if he skipped dinner tonight.

One strike against Crolla is a lack of fluidity in his overall game, he was largely target practice for Linares though that fight was primarily contested at the middle distance and at range. Crolla will have a hard time with the movement, pressure and volume of Lomachenko - you know like every other damn fighter he’s faced.

Crolla is too tough and too proud for his own good though, I don’t see it going the distance, not because Crolla will get knocked spark out, Loma for all his gifts does not have more than one clean KO on his record, that famous highlight reel jaw shattering two-piece combo against Rocky Martinez back in June 2016. I can see Joe pulling Anthony Crolla out between rounds 8-10 after a one-sided master class that we fans have grown far too accustomed to from the Ukrainian phenom.

Loma has come under a heavy degree of criticism himself, nearly proportional to the antipathy Crolla has faced.

Let’s be real for a second. This will only be Loma’s 14th pro fight. Only his third in a new weight class. This is, by the way, no slight on Crolla, but Loma himself preferred a unification bouts with newly minted IBF champ Richard Commey or Mikey Garcia. Commey is injured and unavailable until summer possibly the fall of 2019 and it can be argued Garcia has avoided (I didn’t say ducked, there’s a difference) a showdown with Lomachenko. Garcia won the WBC Lightweight title over two years ago and has made one defence. Meanwhile, he’s chased money fights against Broner and selective in his matchups at 140 pounds. Mikey’s strategy, of course, backfired last month in a one-sided drubbing against Errol Spence Jr and it remains to be seen if Loma & Mikey will ever cross paths for a variety of reasons.

In any case, there is little doubt who the true Champion at 135 pounds is and that is Vasyl Lomachenko. There are a few practical measurements of a champion; 

They do not avoid tough fights.

They fight fairly often.

They address their mandatory challenges.

Check.

Check.

Check.

You can only fight who is in front of you and that’s what Loma is doing, he’s carrying forward the responsibility of a true champion and I’m not sure he’s getting the credit he deserves for it.

While we’re at it, speaking of credit instead of mocking Anthony Crolla, let’s recognize this fight for what it is - Anthony Crolla is daring to be great. He’s about to climb his own personal Everest and unlike some fighters who have recently been exposed because they themselves have stumbled while walking their own primrose path Crolla has been grinding for over a decade and is gleefully charging headlong into a fight he will almost certainly lose, and it will likely be a much better fight than we think for no other reason than the heart of Anthony Crolla.

If you want to think Anthony Crolla does not deserve this title shot I won’t argue with you because deserves has got nothing to do with it, he’s earned it.