By Terence Dooley
Manchester’s Anthony Crolla closed out 2011 in impressive style and now hopes to force a domestic showdown with WBO interim lightweight champion Ricky Burns in 2012. December’s comprehensive decision win over Limond in Scotland was the icing on Crolla’s 2011 cake, his experienced opponent had been described as the British lightweight division’s biggest threat and he was made mandatory challenger for Crolla’s Lonsdale belt despite having not made the weight for two-and-a-half years.
Crolla, though, believes that his 2009 win over former world title challenger Michael Brodie, which took place almost two years to the night of the Limond win, set the ball rolling. A stoppage victory over Andy Morris in 2010 cemented the 25-year-old’s reputation as the division’s danger man.
“Within a few months of joining [trainer] Joe [Gallagher] in 2009 I knew I could win titles,” recalled Crolla. “We boxed Brodie. I knew I was going into a fight with an ex-champion that had a lot riding on it. Beating Michael gave me a lot of belief to push on for titles. A lot was riding on it. If I had lost to Mike where would I have gone? There was a lot of talk surrounding it as we’re two local lads so yeah, it kick started my career.
“But the Morris fight was the most important fight. Andy is a very good fighter – I knew going in that if I pulled through I’d have beaten a good guy. Winning that was one of my proudest moments; I knew it was coming close to my time.
“I believed after beating Andy that 2011 would be my year. It has been perfect. I look back on it now and ahead to 2012. I have to win the European title now to move on. But I know anything can happen, world title shots come out the blue so you never know. I’m only a British champion so I’m not saying I’ll get a world title shot but if one came up I’d take that chance.”
Gallagher took control of Crolla’s career when the youngster was coming off a British super-featherweight title eliminator loss to Gary Sykes in may of 2009, a point’s reverse after a tough tussle.
“I knew it was just a matter of making a few little changes in the [Gary] Sykes fight and I could have won it,” insisted Crolla. “But if I had of won that one then I’d have carried on the same way and the same thing would have happened at some point in my career. I needed that loss. Joe watches a lot of fighters, sees similarities with me and we work on picking up things that can help my style of boxing.
“I want that rematch (with Sykes). I’ve asked for it for a few years. If it ever came up I’d take it to set the record straight – I’d have to fight him if he was offered. In the fight itself I was running on empty after four rounds so I bit down on my gum shield even though there was nothing in my shots. Gary boxed so well that night, the best in his career, but I’m a different fighter now.”
Indeed, Crolla’s enthusiasm and desire to improve has been a double-edged sword during his five-year professional run. The former ABA titlist would finish training sessions at the gym before doing runs on his own during his down time and without notifying then-trainer Anthony Farnell. Naturally burnout soon set in due to this heavy training schedule.
“I live in the gym, really,” he confirmed. “I always like to there or thereabouts so that if a fight ever comes up I’m ready for it – you saw that when I beat John Watson for the vacant title in February. I can take any fight at short notice with confidence. But now I try to chill out a lot more. I love boxing and training but made the mistake of overdoing it before and won’t make it again. But you can’t get away from boxing. I watch it on TV instead of going out.
“I wasn’t listening to my body back then – I was doing things when I should have been resting,” Crolla told me. “It wasn’t down to a lack of dedication, in fact I was doing things when I should have been resting like going for runs after training. Matthew Macklin told me that when you first turn pro you feel like Rocky Balboa, you want to be in the gym all the time then realize after a few fights that you’ve got years of it ahead so need a rest.
“When I met Joe, I told him what I was doing and he told me it didn’t make sense to do all of that. Joe’s the main reason for the change in my career, I say that all the time. He got me believing in myself more in the gym, spent a lot of time with me, made a few little adjustments and I believe that I’m a totally different fighter. A lot of people who wrote me off now come and support me. I remember them and the ones who stuck by me, it gave me extra motivation.”
There is now talk of a meeting with Burns. Crolla has spoken about his desire for the fight, the domestic title-holder is promoted by Hatton Promotions, ‘Rickster’ is guided by Frank Warren, Gareth Williams, CEO of Hatton Promotions, recently told me that they are willing to make the bout if the call comes through from Warren Promotions. Ironically both guys have lost two fights apiece only to prove that losing a fight or two does not spell the end of your career.
“Fighters need to understand that losing an unbeaten record isn’t the end of their career,” stressed Crolla. “There’s been a lot of emphasis in the ‘0’ over here. People get written off after a loss but a lot of fighters lose, look at Colin Lynes winning the British title recently, it is all about how you adjust and come back from defeat.”
“I never thought of quitting after I lost,” his final advice for any boxers who pick up a few losses. “You come through it and it improves you as a person.”
Pick up January’s issue of Boxing Monthly magazine for Crolla’s thoughts on Burns, boxing and his 2011 review.
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