By Alex Beard (@alex_beard17)
Manchester’s own Anthony Crolla will be fighting in front of his adoring public at the Manchester Arena for the fourth consecutive time on Saturday night when he takes on fearsome Venezuelan Jorge Linares.
Crolla seems intent on pursuing the toughest possible challenges in the division, having beaten Darleys Perez to claim the WBA lightweight title and then defending it against the big-punching Ismael Barroso in May.
That seventh-round stoppage of Barroso was a masterclass in taking heed of your trainer’s gameplan and executing it to perfection. There is no doubt that Joe Gallagher will have a plan in place for Linares, and Crolla will look to put on another scintillating display to prove he’s the best lightweight in the world.
Linares (40-3-KO27) is a three-weight world champion and an exceedingly classy operator. He is best known on these shores for his war with Kevin Mitchell, when he recovered from a fifth-round knockdown to stop Mitchell in the tenth.
Linares is no joke, he hits hard and has a lot of heart, which was demonstrated in that Mitchell fight. Crolla (31-4-3-KO13) has managed to break his past two opponents, wearing them down before finishing them off with heavy body shots. Although Linares has courage, he can also be hurt and Crolla will look to exploit this.
‘Million Dolla’ has rebounded from a topsy-turvy start to his career that included losses to the likes of Gary Sykes and Derry Mathews to become arguably the finest lightweight on the planet. In addition, he is one of the most likeable characters in British boxing and deserves all the success he is having.
His crowning moment – when he won the world title in November 2015 – was backed up by that defence against Barroso, and a superb 11 months can be completed with a second defence of his belt against a fantastic fighter in Linares.
This fight is a true fifty-fifty between two of the best in the division, but the partisan home crowd could hold the key to a Crolla victory. His best performances have come at the Manchester Arena and he will hope for more of the same this weekend.
If Crolla does emerge victorious, it will surely be time to make the all-Manchester match-up between two lightweight world champions in Crolla and WBO holder Terry Flanagan. One can only imagine the atmosphere in the Arena if that fight gets made.by