By Jake Donovan
Anthony Crolla will make the first defense of his lightweight title versus mandatory challenger Ismael Barroso. Matchroom Boxing, Crolla's promoter formally announced the fight as officially set for May 7 at Manchester Arena in Manchester, England, confirming a news break previously run on BoxingScene.com.
The bout will air live on Sky Sports in the United Kingdom.
It took Crolla - born and raised in Manchester -two tries to claim the crown, the feat capping a heroic comeback tour in 2015. The valiant Brit suffered near-fatal injuries sustained in efforts to thwart off burglars at a neighbor's home.
Ever the warrior, Crolla heroically returned last summer, only to fight Darleys Perez to a disputed draw at the famed Manchester Arena last July. Many believed the resurgent lightweight contender to have landed on the short end of a widely debatable draw, but took matters out of the judges hands in their rematch last November.
It became apparent that his next challenge would come versus Barroso after watching the unbeaten Venezuelan tear through England's Kevin Mitchell last December in London.
Shortly thereafter, the World Boxing Association (WBA) - whom recognizes Crolla as its full lightweight champ and Barroso (19-0-2, 18KOs) as the interim titlist - ordered the mandatory fight. The matchup is part of the sanctioning body's continued efforts to consolidate its number of champions, and a fight the defending lightweight beltholder welcomes with open arms.
“I am under no illusion that this is a tough task but there was no way I was not going to take the fight,” Crolla (30-4-3, 12KOs) said in a statement released through Matchroom Boxing's press office on Friday. “I enjoyed a break since winning the title, but I have been in the gym for a while already and I am in a good place.
“People said I was going to duck him – if I don’t fight him I lose my belt, simple. Of course I am going to fight him, I’ve worked too hard to become World champion to give it away.”
Given the economics involved, it was naturally for Crolla to root for his countryman Mitchell to have prevailed in his aforementioned clash with Barroso. It didn't work out that way, but the Mancunian still gets a terrific homecoming assignment for his first title defense.
“I knew that it wasn’t the best of Kevin Mitchell in there when they boxed at The O2 (Arena in London),” noted Crolla, who had a ringside view for the fight. “He didn’t look himself at the weigh-in and I was worried he was going to struggle.
“That said, Barroso was still impressive and we know he’s a big puncher, so it’s a really tough examination but one that I am really up for.”
Other options were explored, such as a possible unification clash with World Boxing Council (WBC) titlist Jorge Linares. Title unification fights are often accepted as exceptions to mandatory defenses, but those plans fell through when Linares - who conditionally agreed to such a fight after both cleared their plate - suffered injuries during training and was forced to withdraw from his own mandatory obligation versus unbeaten challenger Dejan Zlaticanin.
Absent that, it became a no-brainer to move forward with a stiff first defense of his title.
“Anthony Crolla is jumping straight in with a cracking first defence against Barroso,” said promoter Eddie Hearn. “Barroso is one of the dangerous fighters in the business but Anthony’s continues to improve and right now I believe he is the man at 135lbs – and he’ll prove it on May 7.
“(Crolla) has become one of the biggest stars in British boxing and the following he receives in Manchester is very special. This could be a Fight of the Year contender and will be another huge night for British boxing.”
Matchroom Boxing plans to hold a press conference on-site in the next week or so, at which point undercard details will also be revealed.
Tickets go on sale to Matchroom Fight Pass members at midday on Saturday March 12 priced at £40, £60, £80 and £100 and VIPs at £200 from the Fight Pass area at www.matchroomboxing.com.
Tickets go on general sale at midday on Tuesday March 15 with tickets in the £40 to £100 bracket available from www.manchester-arena.com or by calling 0844 847 8000. VIPs are available exclusively through www.matchroomboxing.com priced at £200.
Tickets for May 7 are also available from http://www.stubhub.co.uk/matchroom-boxing-tickets.
Jake Donovan is the managing editor of BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox