By Terence Dooley
Later today, Liverpool's John Watson tackles Manchester's Anthony Crolla at the Olympia, Liverpool for the British lightweight title vacated by Wales' Gavin Rees. Rees won the title in November by stopping Watson at 2:13 of round eleven after a thrilling seesaw battle.
Crolla has campaigned down at super-featherweight, where he won the English belt by defeating Andy Morris in the seventh round last October. 'Million Dollar' was already in training, preparing to defend the English title against Carl Johanneson, he had no doubts about stepping up a weight to vie for the Lonsdale belt.
Sheffield’s David Coldwell trains Watson; Joe Gallagher coaches Crolla out of his Denton-based gym. Both trainers have differing views on key aspects of the fight; they dissected the contest when speaking to me earlier this week.
The Weight Issue:
“Watson is a huge lightweight, I think he struggles at the weight,” declared Gallagher. “He's only made the lightweight limit twice in his career, against Martin Gethin and Rees, and he was wobbled against Gethin and stopped late by Rees. I think he's too big at the weight and is tight – we'll take advantage of that.
“Rees himself started out as a super-featherweight so I've no worries about Crolla going in against Watson. Anthony is very bullish, all the pressure is on Watson because he's fighting in front of his home fans and people see this as his moment. Anthony has everything to gain and nothing to lose, Watson has got it all to lose – he's expected to deliver the goods.”
Coldwell disagrees, insisting that all of his fighters make weight properly and without weakening themselves. “Mate, it makes me laugh”, says Coldwell. “I've heard this said about other fighters of mine before. People think that when a fighter is big at the weight he must kill himself to make the weight. My fighters don't. They eat properly and hydrate properly. John is strong at the weight, it is not a problem, he did a check weigh-in the other day and it was fine.”
Both made weight without any problems. Crolla came in at 9st 8½lb; Watson was 9st 9lb. Leaving Coldwell and Gallagher to pour over the pros and cons of fighting on your home turf.
“I'm not bothered,” insisted Coldwell when asked if the location of the fight was vital. “John was top of the bill in Wales last time out and that might have got to him early doors but he got used to it and over the course of that type of fight you get used to all eyes being on you. It was new to him before but not this time around. Crolla will have some people there so it will make for a noisy atmosphere.
“It is great to have the crowd urging you on but John wants to do it for himself. He wants it for his fans but he's got that focus after going through the Rees fight. But the support of fans is massive in a hard fight, and we expect a hard fight, so all that shouting and cheering will drive him.”
Gallagher, though, believes that fighting in Liverpool is a benefit to his man. “Crolla has never been beaten there amateur or pro,” he revealed.
“It is a good hunting ground for him. Anthony will bring his own loyal fans over and they'll be plenty of them at ringside cheering him on. There will be plenty of noise from his supporters. Anthony is a likeable kid – he is very pleasant. Everyone in the business wants to see him get a British title, he's becoming a fighter's fighter.”
Any doubts Gallagher had about putting his charge into this type of contest were put to bed during Crolla's win over Morris, the 24-year-old stuck to a game plan in that one, digging to the body in the early going and not losing composure in the face of some intelligent boxing from Morris.
“Winning the English belt gave him a lot of confidence and he fought with discipline when going for the belt. It will be a bit ding-dong at times but it will be a great fight and will make Anthony Crolla. Anthony will win it and look good. Watson will be left searching for that elusive title,” enthused Gallagher.
“Crolla has had plenty of top-level sparring with a big lightweight in John Murray. We used Anthony for the [Gary] Buckland and [Andriy] Kudryavtsev fight, so he handles himself really well against bigger guys. They asked if we wanted this fight with Watson and it took me two seconds to say 'Yes'. Crolla took one second to say 'Yes'. I was ringside for Rees and Watson so I know it is a risk but you sometimes have to take a chance.
“Crolla is an old-era fighter in the modern era, he's always in the gym and is always ready in case the phone goes. An opportunity comes just after Christmas and he was ready for it. We've got the answers for what Watson brings on the night.”
Coldwell maintains that his man had the beating of Rees. Indeed, Watson showed plenty of title promise only to walk onto a big shot. “Experience,” insisted Coldwell when asked what Watson had taken from the defeat.
He added: “John froze in the headlights a bit and it took him a few rounds to get going but once he did get going he was top dog in the fight, those first three or four rounds gave Rees a good start in the fight but John caught up.
“Listen, he proved his fire in that fight and that he can fight at championship level. It was a massive jump up in class but you have to take those opportunities in this day and age. Crolla is doing the same thing in this fight. Watson fought a guy whose only loss was in a world title fight and he had Rees beat. A lot of people thought Rees were done for.
“It was more mental than anything else. It had been such a roller-coaster of emotions during the fight, from negative thoughts and freezing early to getting into it and seeing he had a chance, he got a bit carried away, dropped his left hand when he was lunging in and got caught on his temple.”
Lessons were learned; the Liverpudlian slipped to 13-1 (5) but has now experienced the pressure of fighting for the British belt.
“John trained with conviction this time, he's been there and done it now. Once you've fought at that level you get a lot of experience and you improve from it. He was pestering me all the time for a rematch. John needed that fight again. I told John to be careful with his eating over Christmas and not to over-indulge, he was straight back into training as soon we got confirmation of Rees and he's been working hard ever since,” confirmed Coldwell.
“There's not that doubt any more. I don't care who you are or how confident you are, if you've never boxed at that level before then there's always that doubt. You wonder if you're ready and are going into unknown waters but John hasn't got that now. There won't be any four round head-start this time,” he said when referring to Watson's slow start in the Rees fight.
Clash of the trainers:
Coldwell made headlines when tabling a £400,000 bid for James DeGale's British title defence against mandatory challenger George Groves. Dave, however, was wearing his promotional hat for that piece of business; he has made massive strides in that area through hard work and dedication, traits he has brought to his coaching career.
Gallagher is bringing a number of fighters to the boil; he enjoys pitting his wits against the best in the business, Gallagher’s Gym is currently riding a 41-fight winning streak. Joe hopes to move to 42-0, he is especially happy to be going up against Coldwell, who brought Lee McAllister into a January 2009 British title fight against John Murray. McAllister started brightly in that one before going down to a left hook to the ribs in round eight.
“It is great to pit your wits against Dave,” Gallagher enthused. “I know him, he's good at what he does and it shows in the success he's had. Dave does all his jobs in boxing really well but this British lightweight title seems to be the poisoned chalice for Dave, he went for it with Lee McAllister and then Watson so must be hoping it is third time lucky. It will be a good fight. I'm very confident about Crolla. Watson has struggled on more than one occasion and we have to exploit that on the night.”
“To be honest, I don't give a toss,” replied Coldwell when asked if he enjoys going up against his domestic rivals. “Joe is doing fantastic but I am just happy to get on with my job. Go back a few years and, yeah, I wanted to have the reputation of being a top trainer and all that but look at it this way, people will think you're good and people will think you're shit – nothing will ever change that. It is all about whether the fighters you work with respect you. I'm happy to earn the respect of my fighters above all else.”
Coldwell earned plaudits for his part in Ryan Rhodes's October 2009 win over Jamie Moore, the Sheffield southpaw soaked up Moore's pressure whilst threading home his own counter shots, closing the show with vicious right hands at 2:35 of round seven. Coldwell, however, was philosophical when asked about the big title occasions.
“Of course, I want to win”, he reiterated, “I want another British champion, but I could have another British champion and then every fighter of mine could get beat in the space of a few months and people would call me a shit trainer. It is all about the fighters. I will have a long career and people will judge me but I just want to see my fighters get wins in important fights.
“Ryan winning the British and EBU titles was massive because it was all about redemption. Ryan had been written off before the fight with Jamie and it was about making sure that his career wasn't remembered for losing that fight.
“Who is going to look back and that fight and remember that David Coldwell trained Ryan Rhodes for it? Nobody. Who is going to look at Kell Brook's first British title win and remember that I trained him for it? Nobody. People remember the fighters in championship contests so when my fighters get a major fight the most important thing is that they win the fight and people remember them for that achievement.”
The Fight Itself:
One thing that both men agree on is that we are in for a treat come the first bell.
“I feel really good about it,” smiled Coldwell when asked for his final thoughts on the challenge. “Everyone is looking forward to it. We were training anyway for Gavin Rees and John was really looking forward to that fight. Crolla was training to fight Carl Johanneson so he was in full training and was already getting ready for the biggest fight of his career.
“But you know what, I really have a lot of time for Crolla. I first met him at a Wally Dixon show. Crolla recognised me, he came up and said nice to meet you! Anthony is such a nice kid. He has always been one of my favourite kids in boxing. It is a shame someone has to lose. John is a great kid as well, he doesn't slag anyone off and is a great lad. All that will fly out the window when they step in that ring because they're both tough little bastards as well. When the going gets tough these two will get going. There will be no niceness in the fight, they'll batter the shit out of each other and then it will be all hugs and smiles when the fight is over, it is madness.
“It is like flicking a switch. They'll touch gloves and have a really good fight. That is what is exciting about this fight. This could be fight of the year. I am really confident that John can win this and do a job on him. More importantly, John will make sure he doesn't make the mistakes he made least time. There's been some adaptations put into place and they'll be put into practice.
“Crolla will want to turn it into a fight but I won't be panicking either way because John can win on both accounts. Crolla and Joe will expect to stop John by wearing him down. They might think that they'll walk through John but we've prepared for that. John just has to go out there and do what he did last time without losing focus. John was livid at himself after the loss to Rees, he's a very intelligent fighter and he knows that he let a bit of negativity come into his mind that night – he won't let it happen again.”
For his part, Gallagher feels that Crolla is entering his prime; he was keen to point out that the fighter is looking solid at 19-2 (7). “I think taking this fight shows what Crolla is about,” he stated.
“Anthony lost a British title eliminator to [Gary] Sykes after a close fight and has had six wins since and showed that he can punch. The kid knocked Michael Brodie out with a headshot and stopped Morris, and people say he's a non-puncher. Mark Heffron and the Murrays tell me that Anthony hits hard and he's showing his power now. Anthony is topping a Sky bill for the first time and this night is made for him.”
Sky Sports 1 and HD1 televise from 9pm tomorrow night.
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