Manchester holds few things dearly to them, United, City, Oasis and boxing. Anthony Crolla has earned his riches and his retirement after going out with a win, albeit it controversial, in front of his home fans at the arena he made his boxing debut. Born in Manchester, grew up in Manchester and made in Manchester, Crolla owes it all to his parents.
“My mum and dad worked a lot of hours to make sure we had everything we needed and that’s something I’ll always be grateful for. You know when you become a father yourself how tough a job it is. They sacrificed a lot to make sure me and my brothers never went without. I grew up in a happy home, I certainly didn’t have it hard because of mum and dad but if they didn’t work so hard it could’ve been a lot tougher. The area I was from, it was easy to go down the wrong path but my mum and dad always kept us in line and they always took me training. They would work extra hours so we could go to those sessions. There was times where my dad would have to work so my mum would jump on a few buses to get me from the gym. They always supported me, I’ll never be able to repay them.
“My dad was an ex-professional boxer, at the time he had retired, my dad had some keys to the boxing gym at the time. There was some pros but mainly amateurs, I remember Michael Brodie when he just turned professional was starting there. Its brilliant because my dad would drop Michael off a few times and then we ended up fighting [each other] nearly twenty years later. It’s mad you know. I was mad into my sport so if I wasn’t running I were playing football and I’d get took to the gym because there was no one to mind me and I picked up real quick the basics of boxing at about the age of eight for a year or so. Just before I was eleven I went back to the boxing gym and within a few months I were having my first fight.”
Crolla made his maiden ring walk through the MEN arena in October 2006 as he prepared himself to face fellow Mancunian, Abdul Rashid as Anthony strolled to a points victory on the undercard of Joe Calzaghe vs Saiko Bika. Soon after ‘Million Dollar’ was 8-0 before coming unstuck against a still active, journeyman in Youssef Al Hamidi losing a decision over eight rounds. A loss which Crolla went on to avenge winning his next five bouts all on the scorecards, before he became unstuck once more. Undefeated at the time, Gary Sykes had taken home a points win over the Mancunian in Stoke-on-Trent. After losing to Sykes a change was needed, Crolla joined forces with Joe Gallagher and the change was made and neither man looked back.
“I first met Joe when I was twelve or thirteen years old in the area final of the school boy championships. I was boxing one of Joe’s fighters and I beat him, Joe came into my changing room after and said ‘you’re a good kid, you’ll go far.’ I remember him saying I had a good jab and great basics and that I’ll be hard to beat. I got to the national finals that year, a bit unlucky not to win them really, but I would always see him at the amateur shows. In school holidays I would go down to Joe’s [gym], John Murray had just turned professional at the time and I had always stayed friendly [with Gallagher]. I respected him massively as a coach and it seemed like the normal step for me to go professional with him but at the time I ended up going professional with Anthony Farnell and I am grateful for what he done for me and then the time had come where we had to separate, I needed a change and it made total sense to hook up with Joe again. I always say this with Joe, I would never be able to repay him for what he’s done with my career, the way he turned my career around.
“When I joined Joe I had two defeats in fifteen fights and there were people who never thought I’d ever reach the heights that I have. I wouldn’t nearly have reached it [without Joe], people didn’t think I would win an area title at best. Joe is the main reason for my success. He got me believing in myself, I’ve always had a good engine but Joe was like there’s no gears to the engine and Joe got me going forward again, fighting on the front foot because I had forgot how to go forward [in fights].”
Crolla now under the wing of Joe Gallagher went on a winning streak which stretched over ten fights claiming the English super-featherweight and British lightweight titles along the way. Losing his British title to Derry Matthews in what he was hoping would be his eleventh straight win followed by a second defeat to former foe, Gary Sykes. Doubling his loss tally to four where was left for Anthony to go? First he stepped back to claim the English lightweight title which started another ten fight run unbeaten, this time with three draws and a world title shot against Darleys Perez.
“I wasn’t as disappointed as maybe I should’ve been but because of everything that had gone on outside the ring I was just thankful to be boxing again and I felt like the luckiest person in the world that night to be fighting in my hometown at the arena I grew up watching as a kid when I’d saved my pocket money to be sat in the upper tiers so to be fighting for a world title and getting the reception I got it was very, for me, just great to be back there and it wasn’t until a few days after that the disappointment of not getting the decision my way sort of sunk in. I’ve not seen one person say they thought Perez won that night still to this day. I went from the boxer who was attacked by burglars with all these injuries to become the boxer who was robbed of a world title so it was hard. I knew because of the controversy around it I could get the rematch.”
The loveable, Crolla did get his rematch against Darleys Perez and it was once more for the lightweight world title on a night he and boxing fans will never forget. It became an iconic night in British boxing, near on legendary, that this humble young man who had been told he wouldn’t make it, who had lost four times at domestic level had been crowned and it couldn’t have happened to a nicer man.
“As soon as it was confirmed that I was going to get the rematch I knew that was my last chance it was almost in a way third time lucky. I knew then I had decided then don’t be crying over a decision that didn’t go your way get in the gym, work harder than ever and make sure you take the opportunity in the rematch.
“You saw the reaction, it painted a picture. I was crying with joy, it was what had gone on in the past twelve months not just what had gone on since the rematch. That was like there was so many emotions rolled into one, the dedication, the sacrifice, the sacrifices from the people around me like my family they put up with a lot, the team, Joe [Gallagher] and it felt like I’d repaid them with this world title in a way. I’ve achieved a childhood dream. It was one of the greatest nights of my life.”
The champion went on to defend and defeat Ismael Barroso, stopping him in the Manchester Arena in front of his home fans once again before taking on his biggest challenge to that point, Jorge Linares. The Venezuelan who plied his trade in Japan was coming to town seeking his fourth world title and he did obtain that fourth belt snatching it away from Manchester. Crolla found himself in yet another world title rematch looking to take back what was once his but the quality of Linares was again too much for Crolla as Linares won a second unanimous decision.
In a must win fight Anthony Crolla faced-off against Ricky Burns. With home advantage for the sixth fight in a row Crolla found himself in familiar territory at the Manchester Arena. The victor once more the former lightweight world champion, Crolla wanted one more crack at the big time. After beating Edson Ramirez and Daud Yordan it was time to be the underdog once more in his career, written off and nothing to lose Anthony headed to Los Angeles in search for greatness. It turned out that greatness was Vasily Lomachenko.
“Ive been involved in a lot of hard fights, there’s no denying that. There is no doubt Lomachenko is the best fighter [I have been in the ring with], the Gavin Rees one was a gruelling fight I came out of that fight peeing blood, the Daud Yordan fight was another one where the urine sample was almost purple but obviously Lomachenko was the best. The first Linares fight was close but the second fight for the first time in my career I was beat convincingly. As for the Lomachenko fight that was hard in the sense that I trained so hard, I had done everything perfect. I always knew it was a big ask but I genuinely believed going over there I could shock the world and I think its right thats how I should’ve been thinking.
“After the fight and even during the fight what was hard to take was the moment he went through the gears slightly I were in trouble. I’ll be honest I remember landing a decent body shot and it didn’t hurt him but it was the worst thing I could’ve done because after that he started moving through the gears a little bit and when he was doing it its the first time I thought that there’s nothing I can do, I have to wait until he stops before I can compose myself again and I’ve never had that [before], even in the second Linares fight I felt comfortable going forward trying to get my shots off but in the Lomachenko fight the pressure he put me under it was very, very hard to deal with. It was just too much, obviously my pride was hurt after getting knocked out for the first time in over twenty years. I think what made me feel better is that Lomachenko is an all time great, you have world level, you have elite fighters but he is an all time great, Lomachenko and maybe now looking back I was a bit delusional thinking I could cause an upset but that was the attitude I had to have. Look at what he has done in his amateur career, look at what he’s done in his short professional career there were just levels between us and I got well beat off a truly great fighter. Some people gave me criticism but how could I pass this opportunity up and give up the mandatory [position] and give up the chance to fight Lomachenko just because people didn’t agree with it. I said time and time again I wasn’t handed the shot I had a few good wins against Ricky Burns and Daud Yordan, I beat good fighters to get that shot and I certainly have no regrets whatsoever.”
The world got to see Crolla get his well deserved farewell fight, albeit winning controversially in many fans opinions, back once more at ‘home’ in the Manchester arena as he faced off against Frank Urquiaga who tried his best to rip up the script against Anthony. Now in early retirement it is coaching that will keep Crolla busy.
“With Dylan [Evans] I’ve always helped out at my old amateur gym and Dylan was probably the first person I took on the pads. He turned professional but due to work commitments he had to give up but just before Christmas he told me he wanted to get back into it and would I be interested in training him. He’s a family friend as well and at the time I wasn’t sure how serious he was going to be whether or not he was doing it for the right reasons or if he just wanted to get fit again. I said to him ‘listen, do six weeks in the gym then come back to me if you’re serious about it.’ Eight weeks later he was still there, working hard and I gave the lad my word. It was to help out and I ended up getting a lot more involved than I thought. He came out to LA, he trained out there and the week I got back I started training him as a professional in the gym. I’m just trying to help the lad out, what I get out off it is learning as a coach. If I can help him in anyway whatsoever, which I think I am, I’m just trying to make him a better fighter that’s all.”