As Anthony Crolla bids farewell to boxing, Danny Flexen recalls 5 great nights for the Manchester hero
When discussing a warrior like Anthony Crolla, who engages in his final battle on November 2, it is perhaps a thankless task to pick out his five most memorable wins, given an exemplary record of entertainment and providing thrills. That said, his career in boxing has virtually coincided with mine (albeit my own is rather less valiant and known to the masses) so I feel duty-bound to at least try, if for no other reason than to pay him back for giving people like me so much drama to write about.
KO 3 Michael Brodie, November 2009
Now Brodie was not long returned from a four-year layoff and was not the same world-class operator who should have been awarded the WBC super-bantamweight title. That said, he has risen from the canvas to put away a talented Mark Alexander in his comeback bout and came into the all-Manchester fight (in Wigan) with a degree of confidence, bolstered by Crolla losing a domestic 10-rounder to Gary Sykes just two fights previously. Growing up, Crolla had admired Brodie but none of that warmth was evident in the ring as he punished the veteran, effectively ending matters, and his hero’s career, at the close or round three, with a left hand-right hook thrown from the southpaw stance.
Rsf 9 John Watson, February 2011
Brodie marked the second stop on a 10-fight winning streak, of which this was the seventh. The stoppage of Watson was not just an enthralling contest that brought Crolla his first major title, the vacant Lonsdale Belt at 135lbs, but it was an assignment taken above his natural super-featherweight and at around two weeks’ notice in his opponent’s Liverpool home city. Everything was seemingly against the fearless Crolla, still just 25, but he made a mockery of the circumstances, translating his sparkling form into a superb performance, enduring an early storm before gradually wearing his rival down. A right hook in the ninth put the exclamation point on a great display and separated Watson from his senses.
Rsf 10 John Murray, April 2014
This was Crolla’s fifth pro fight at the Manchester Arena, where he had made his debut and will end his career next month. It was also an all-Manchester battle that had all the ingredients: former sparring partners pitted together in a crossroads fight, after Murray lad left Crolla’s trainer Joe Gallagher in contentious circumstances. Murray was a recent world title challenger with significant miles on the clock but had battered tough Scot John Simpson, in Glasgow, just seven weeks beforehand. Crolla was unbeaten in his last four, having defeated Kieran Farrell, Gavin Rees and Stephen Foster Jr, and looked unlucky to draw with former conqueror Derry Mathews in their rematch. His match with Murray was an absolute barnstormer, and followed the pattern of the Watson fight and one Crolla would employ later in his career to destructive effect. Murray began like a freight train but Crolla took everything he had throughout numerous exchanges, picked his own precise counters and increased his own output in the fight’s second half. This paid dividends in round 10 as, behind on two cards, he dropped a tiring Murray before forcing the stoppage. Like another of Crolla’s adolescent role models, Brodie, Murray had his last pro fight against “Million Dollar”.
KO 5 Darleys Perez, November 2015
Just four months earlier, Crolla had looked exceedingly unlucky not to be crowned the WBA champion, having received only a majority draw with the Colombian champion, Perez. That title shot came only seven months after the have-a-go hero had suffered a fractured skull in attempting to preventing his neighbour’s house being burgled. The rematch, like their initial meeting, took place at Manchester Arena and was thought to be a 50-50 affair. Crolla, thought to be more of a box-fighter than a puncher, turned those predictions on their heads by landing a picture-perfect left hook to the body that robbed Perez of the means to continue in round five. It was a fairytale finish that sealed Crolla’s status as a local icon.
KO 7 Ismael Barroso, May 2016
The previous December, Venezuelan Barroso had looked little short of frightening in brutalising a Kevin Mitchell who had, in the fight before, gave Jorge Linares all kinds of problems. The idea was of course for Crolla vs Mitchell to take place but unbeaten Barroso upset those plans and came into his challenge to Crolla with formidable strength, power and self-belief. It was a particularly daunting first defence for the new WBA champ and a mandatory obligation. The 19-0-2 (18) challenger was a pre-match favourite at Manchester Arena but Crolla had always enjoyed being the underdog and employed his tried and trusted strategy of letting his adversary exhaust his assault before taking over. It was undeniably dicey at times, but Crolla’s ability to land effective and telling blows while mostly under pressure in the early part of a contest is one of his finest traits. He was caught a number of times with heavy blows and cut in the third, but once he recognised Barroso was running out of steam, Crolla pushed on. The South American began to fall apart under this retaliation in the fifth and, two sessions later, a right to the body crowned what may be Crolla’s most memorably triumph.
**The incredible photograph of Crolla vs Barroso used in this article can be bought as an A4 Gloss picture for £15 inc P&P. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.**