Anthony Crolla is known fondly as a ‘Mr Nice Guy’ in boxing, and it’s not hard to see why. Having met him on a number of occasions, he is always very welcoming to his fans, and the interview he conducted with me provided an insight into just what goes on in his mind.
Although he is the nice guy in a tough sport, that does not take anything away from the fact that he is one very good fighter. With his second world title fight looming against the experienced Darleys Perez, Crolla will be looking to leave the niceties in the changing rooms.
The ‘Million Dollar’ Crolla story is an emotional roller coaster, which one day could grace a Hollywood screen. With a maiden world title challenge looming against former champion Richar Abril, his dreams were left in tatters after one fateful night. Whilst defending his neighbours home, Anthony was struck on the head with a paving stone, striking him centimetres away from what would have been a life ending blow. But that wasn’t the end of the story for the popular Mancunian.
The remarkable Crolla came back to controversially draw with new champion Darleys Perez in Manchester, although many people including myself thought he did enough to win the fight. The rematch was immediately sanctioned and he now has a second chance at world glory.
Anthony’s incredible journey in the sport started like so many others – through his family. “My Dad was an ex pro boxer himself and when I was younger I also used to watch great fighters from the past. My Dad had retired by then but he still used to go to the gym to stay in shape and because there was never anybody to mind me, I used to go down and do a bit with him. My first night at the gym they were already looking at me a lot because I picked up a lot of the basics from my dad.”
With his Dad an ex-professional, the young Crolla was thrown right into the deep end in the gym. “I remember my first spar, it was against a bigger kid. I did well for my first spar but I remember he was stronger than me and he wasn’t holding back at all. I’ll always remember that I sparred him again a few years later and I got my own back!”
The Mancunian had a very successful amateur career, with victories in a number of national competitions. “I won the school boy championships. For me it was like winning a world title at the time. The highlight for me is winning the senior ABA title because I think you’re joining an elite class when you win that. It was huge for me and my coach as well, because he had two fighters winning the ABAs that year.”
After an ABA success, the obvious choice for Crolla was to take the plunge into the professional game. With a record of 18-2 after his first twenty fights, he earned a shot at the English title. “Ideally I wanted to stay as an amateur a little bit longer but at the time Frankie Gavin was understandably the main kid, and I thought it was time to get a good start in the professionals. I enjoyed turning pro but I feel like I was overtraining myself. It was nothing to do with the trainer I had at the time but I was training for a four rounder like I would for a twelve rounder, and then when I got in there I just felt a bit flat.”
In his twenty-first fight, Crolla won his first title as a professional, becoming the English super-featherweight champion by beating Andy Morris via a seventh round stoppage. This success immediately led to a shot at the vacant British title, but it meant a step up to lightweight to face John Watson. “At the time I had been in the gym and making super-feather was a bit tough to make. I still debated going back down to super-feather for a few years but I was in the gym still fit and the opportunity came up at lightweight. I was feeling strong and I was sparring well with John Murray at the time, so I jumped at the opportunity. I only took the fight at two weeks notice but I was ticking over anyway so I took it.”
Moving up the five pounds in weight brought some benefits to Crolla, “I certainly feel that I am a lot stronger now. I think for my first few fights I was still a bit of a super-featherweight, but I feel that I am growing into a lightweight and I proved that last time out. I’ve showed I can handle myself at the world level now at lightweight.”
Crolla’s most recent loss previous to the Perez fight, came at the hands of Derry Mathews in a defence of his British title. Although a stoppage victory can affect a fighter in a very negative way, ‘Million Dollar’ didn’t see it that way. “It didn’t affect me at all at the time to be honest. I’ve said it a few times but really it was a blessing in disguise. At the time it felt like the end of the world to lose my British title on pretty much home turf, but looking back at it now it was a blessing. If I hadn’t of lost that fight the wheels would have came off further down the line so I had to re-evaluate myself. The fight just made me very determined to become better.”
A third fight with Mathews is on the lips of many British fans and is looking increasingly likely with Derry Matthews holding the WBA interim world lightweight title. When asked about his interest in the fight, Anthony gave the response you would expect any fighter to give. “A third fight certainly interests me. The second fight was a candidate for fight of the year at the time. If I come through the Perez fight I think Derry will be made mandatory if he beats Barroso which results in a third fight between us.”
After the Mathews defeat, Crolla decided to enter the controversial Prizefighter tournament, which has divided the opinion of both fighters and fans alike. “The tournament didn’t really work for me but I think it’s really exciting. It’s three rounds so it’s very fast paced although I didn’t think I lost my fight on points. The format has given a lot of lads big breaks and opportunities and I’m always for creating opportunities for other fighters.”
Being involved in many domestic match ups, it would be hard to pinpoint just one contest as his best victory. With wins over the likes of Gavin Rees, John Murray and Stephen Foster, Crolla has certainly shared the ring with some very good fighters. Speaking on his best victories he said, “For me it has to be the win against John Murray or Gavin Rees, they are both pretty equal. With the Rees fight I was a pretty big underdog in that fight, and even though he was coming off a defeat to Adrian Broner there is no shame in that. With John, it was a big Manchester derby and it was a big win for me as well. It is really hard for me to separate the two wins.”
On the verge of his first world title shot, Crolla suffered the aforementioned accident defending his neighbours home from burglars. The whole incident was a life changing experience. Despite being centimetres away from death, Crolla pulled through and defied the odds to climb back between the ropes for a shot at the WBA world title.
We touched on what it felt like when it was announced he’d be fighting for the title in Manchester in front of his beloved fans. “It was at the press conference really that it hit me. Even though I knew before it, as I was speaking I though ‘Bloody hell it’s happening.’ Even though I knew it was happening seeing the fight poster and having the media really hit home.”
Emotions play a big part in boxing, and to walk to the ring after what had happened must have been an unbelievable experience for Anthony. With the Manchester arena packed to the rafters surely there was some emotion in the Mancunian as he emerged from his dressing room to make his long awaited ring walk. “Honestly there was no emotion. I was told time and time again that I can’t let my emotions get to me and I just enjoyed every moment of it. That ring walk is one that I will remember forever and one of the best moments of my career.”
Being in the arena the night of Crolla-Perez 1, I certainly felt that Manchester should have had a new world champion. Crolla for me just edged it even without the point deductions, but the judges didn’t see it that way and the Mancunian was left empty handed. “At the time, I thought I had nicked it by one point without the point deductions. With them, I think I won the fight by three rounds. At the time, I struggled to see how I didn’t get the decision to win, and I think a lot of people in the arena did as well.”
Being in the gym with the likes of Scott Quigg and the four Smith brothers must give a fighter the best working environment they could wish for in the build up to a big fight. The sparring available for Crolla in the build up to November 21st with the likes of Quigg and hot prospect Zelfa Barrett, has ensured he has had the best preparation possible.
Behind every fighter is a dedicated trainer, and Crolla is fortunate enough to have one of the best in the business by his side. Joe Gallagher has built a stable of world class fighters over the years, and is now reaping the rewards of this. With Scott Quigg and Liam Smith being current world champions, just what is it like to train with these guys day in and day out?
“Being in the gym with all of the lads, there is a lot of friendly competition and it brings the best out of everyone. Being in Liam Smith’s corner when he won the world title has inspired me to want to be in situations like that myself.”
Speaking on November 21, at the end of the night, Joe Gallagher may have three world champions on his hands. “The gym is absolutely flying at the moment. I do believe that Joe will have three world champions, Stephen Smith’s negotiating for a world title fight and next year, Joe will add to that. It just shows how hard Joe is working.”
Predictions for this fight have varied massively. Some are predicting an early Crolla stoppage with others predicting a wide Perez points decision, but Anthony is being as professional as always. “I will be preparing for twelve hard rounds as always but I do think that the stoppage can come. I am feeling stronger and I am punching harder so hopefully I can rock Darleys Perez with some of my shots and I will have him in a bit more trouble. I certainly won’t be looking to go out there for the stoppage though.”
We then began to talk about the future. If Crolla is to get past Perez, a mouthwatering unification fight with WBO champion Terry Flanagan could be on the horizon. Although being with rival promoters, a deal would be possible and Manchester would be divided once more. “It is certainly a possibility if we can sit down at the table together. It’s certainly something that we are both up for. I like Terry and his team and we do get on. We both know that if the money is right then I am sure friendship can be put aside, politics can be put aside and Manchester can have a unification fight.”
There was only one fitting way to end the conversation, and that was with a prediction. “I am confident that I will come away with a world title. I am very confident. That’s not cockiness in any way but I believe I will be an improved fighter from the first fight. Along with everyone else I think I did enough that night but I plan on really making sure this time. I am expecting a tough fight but I am confident that I can come through it.”
Quick fire question round:
Favourite fighter growing up: Salvador Sanchez
Favourite glove: Grants
Best ever round you’ve seen: Corrales Castillo round 10
Best ever fight you’ve seen: Barrera Morales 1
First fight you ever went to: Michael Brodie against Willie Jorrin (it took a good few minutes for Anthony to remember!)
Best punch you’ve ever received: A right hand I got hit with in the second Derry Matthews fight, it probably hurt me more than the uppercut that put me down.
Craziest thing you’ve seen in boxing: I don’t know where to start I’ve seen a fair few! As an amateur boxer I once saw a young lads mother get a punch of her sons opponent. That’s definitely the maddest thing I’ve seen.
Funniest personal moment in boxing: It’s hard to say I’ve hard so many. There’s one a lot of people don’t know though. I changed my socks three times in the changing rooms before my last fight because I couldn’t decide which colour socks to wear to match my kit. I glad I had my priorities in line and I was worrying about the right things!
Best fight you’ve seen live: It’s a toss up between Brodie against Chi or Froch Groves 1