The miracle man of British boxing returns to the ring tonight on Sky Sports, as Anthony Crolla seeks to reclaim his WBA lightweight title against the man who beat him for it. Jorge Linares arrived in Manchester last September with a fearsome reputation amongst hardcore boxing fans, and left the city with not only the world title, but with thousands of broken hearts in the process.
Crolla has been a professional boxer since 2006, but for years he looked set to enjoy a successful, but not world class career. The 30-year-old lost two of his first 15 pro bouts, and carved out a status as a tricky boxer, but somebody who couldn’t quite win the big one. Soon, everything changed.
A tight June 2013 victory over Gavin Rees began a spectacular run of performances which included significant local wins against Stephen Foster and John Murray. Then, disaster struck. Crolla suffered a fractured skull and a broken ankle after attempting to stop a burglary, before he recovered to fight to a controversial draw against Darleys Perez in 2015, before finally beating him for the WBA title four months later.
After an inspiring stoppage victory over the previously undefeated Ismael Barroso, Crolla’s run came to end when he met Linares late last year. The two boxers engaged in a technically-savvy and engrossing bout, but there was no doubt that Linares was the better man in the ring. The Venezuelan star had previously earned his stripes with victories all over the world, and came to England full of confidence after dismantling Kevin Mitchell in London a year before.
Linares is seemingly a man who doesn’t feel pressure. He left Venezuela in his teens to learn how to fight in Japan, and he’s been the Michael Palin of the sport ever since, fighting in Japan, Argentina, Mexico, America, Venezuela and England with equal aplomb. 41-3 as a professional, the 31-year-old lost two fights back-to-back in 2012, but hasn’t tasted defeat for over five years.
Only Crolla and Nihito Arakawa have gone the distance with Linares during that time period, who is one of the heaviest hitters at lightweight. Crolla too has developed power in recent years, and his body shots have developed very well. The Mancunian has always been known as one of the friendliest fighters in the sport, but has been extra focused heading into this pivotal rematch.
"Winning it back on Saturday would, without doubt, be the highlight of my career," he told BBC Sport. "There's a lot of people out there who think there's no way I can beat Jorge Linares. Jorge is a great fighter but I'll prove an awful lot of people wrong. I'm a realist. I know it's going to take a career best performance."
Crolla had been leading on two scorecards after nine rounds of their first fight, but faded in the closing stages. Trainer Joe Gallagher has implemented a new training regime, but it remains to be seen if improvement can be made in such a short space of time. Linares will be the same assassin we always see, cool and composed on the outside, but inside a ferocious warrior who is equally comfortable engaging in warfare as he is at sticking to the basics.
The three-weight world champion is the 8/15 betting favourite with the bookmakers, while Crolla is a 2/1 underdog. Crolla does have form in rematches however, as he improved upon initial fights with Derry Mathews and Darleys Perez in their sophomore bouts.
Nearly 20,000 fans will be creating mayhem in Manchester as they support Crolla, but the unfazed Linares has seen it all before. Expect a repeat of their first match, but if anyone can get the job done in the most unlikely of circumstances, it’s Anthony Crolla.
Brian Rose meets Jack Arnfield on an unremarkable undercard, which also includes Katie Taylor’s fourth professional fight. Elsewhere, Martin Joseph Ward and Maxi Hughes meet for the third time as they battle for the British super featherweight title.