This weekend Anthony Crolla seeks redemption when he takes on the man who took his WBA lightweight title last September. Jorge Linares was the clear winner that night, as he produced an exemplary display to see off the rugged Manchester man. The immediate rematch was granted and now we’ll see what adjustments Crolla can make.
This fight is once again key in a riveting lightweight division. WBO champion Terry Flanagan remains an enticing opportunity for Crolla in particular, while a Jorge Linares vs. Mikey Garcia unification matchup is one of the best fights that could be made in the sport today.
But back to this Saturday’s encounter. Crolla was decisively beaten at the Manchester Arena last time out, and he and trainer Joe Gallagher will need to cook up a gameplan that takes into account the various strengths of his opponent and the narrative of the last fight. So let’s take a look at what Crolla can do differently next time out…
Cut the ring better
The positive moments that ‘Million Dolla’ had in the first fight came largely when he was able to pin Linares on the ropes and go to work. This is something that has been a real strength for Crolla of late, as he’s managed to out-grind more naturally-talented opposition.
Linares’s movement in the first fight was superb, not just with his feet but with his upper body too. He rarely gave Crolla a stationary target and therefore Crolla needs to make Linares static himself. He needs to move away from the relentless, plodding style that has served him so well recently.
Crolla must utilise his own footwork to position Linares on the ropes. He cannot simply follow Linares around the ring hoping for him to slow down, he needs to trap his opponent along the ropes and force him to stand and trade there. This will give Crolla a significantly better chance of victory.
More head movement
Linares is too good an opponent, too savvy with his punch variety and selection for Crolla to simply charge forward with minimal to no head movement. That strategy allowed Linares to uncork lead uppercuts and body-to-head combinations, before moving out of range and leaving Crolla flat-footed and bemused.
Crolla was able to beat Ismael Barroso in his fight prior to the Linares contest largely through his ability to withstand the Venezuelan’s punches until he gassed himself out. But keeping a high guard is not enough against Linares if he’s not going to move his head as well. Linares will be able to slip punches through and around Crolla’s gloves because he’s that classy an operator.
Linares is the technician in this bout, but that doesn’t mean Crolla should resort to the role of straightforward grinder. This is one of the key adjustments that he must make if he is to emerge victorious from the Manchester Arena.
Double up on punches
Too often Crolla would wade forward with single shots, mostly a looping body shot or a straight jab. Obviously the jab will be vital for Crolla in pinning Linares down and setting up his other punches, but he can’t just throw out one at a time hoping that’ll be enough to deter Jorge from firing back.
Linares’s combinations were dazzling throughout the first fight, often stealing rounds from the hard-working Crolla. It’s likely that Linares is going to land the better quality punches, which is all the more reason for Crolla to increase his already-high output.
When your opponent is hitting you with lightning-fast combinations and solid uppercuts it’s easy to become discouraged, but Crolla must continue to double up the jab or back that punch up with more powerful efforts. Crolla is by no means a one-punch knockout artist and therefore he must throw more punches than ever before in order to beat a fighter as slick as Linares.
Improve punch variety
As alluded to previously, Crolla heavily favoured body shots in the first fight. It makes sense, he has excellent stamina and his gameplan was to outwork and wear down Linares – with body shots being key to that strategy.
However, he was too often guilty of stumbling into exchanges with a wild body shot. It’s a punch that has been key to his career renaissance, most notably in the Darleys Perez rematch, but it’s not good enough on its own against a guy like Linares.
By no means am I saying that he should abandon going to the body, but he needs to set it up better – either with feints or on the end of a jab rather than as the lead punch. This will increase its effectiveness, as well as ensuring that Crolla is less predictable second time round.
In the aftermath of the first fight it was difficult to imagine how Crolla would prevail in a rematch with Linares. But there is plenty to work on for ‘Million Dolla’, who can take encouragement from the fact that the first fight wasn’t a whitewash despite the fact he was off his game.
He remained competitive throughout the contest, and if he and Gallagher have drawn up a gameplan based on his mistakes in the first fight – then he may just be able to pull off the upset and reclaim his lightweight title.by