Tonight the Manchester Arena plays host to a rematch of one of the better fights of last year. Home boxer Anthony “Million Dollar” Crolla (31-5-3, 13KOs) will attempt to regain the WBA lightweight title from the man who defeated him at the same venue six months ago, Venezuela’s Jorge “Golden Boy” Linares (41-3-0, 27KOs).
Before their scrap in September I leaned towards Crolla getting the win as Linares was coming back from injury and despite his abilities I doubted if he could get through a tough contest without succumbing to cuts or other fight related injuries. Added to this Crolla had shown significant improvement in his previous two outings, stopping world rated opponents with excellent body shots on both occasions.
What transpired was Linares, using his speed advantage to land lightning combinations, building a large early lead on the scorecards. “Golden Boy” also demonstrated amazing spacial awareness to frustrate Crolla, he was never in the pocket when Crolla wanted him there, and ironically it was the Venezuelan who was using attacks to the body as part of his game plan.
The second half of the fight was closer as Linares boxed in a more economical fashion. He was never in danger of losing in my opinion, on the night his fluid punching, back foot boxing and overall classy technique was a joy to watch. The judges awarded Linares a deserved unanimous decision via scores of 115-114, 115-113 and 117-111. These cards will be mentioned later in the article.
Boxing history tells us that rematches are usually won in a more convincing fashion by the more gifted boxer. Will Crolla vs. Linares 2 become another example of this or will the English fighter find a way to win?
Having already shared a ring with Linares for twelve rounds Crolla knows how tough the task ahead is. It is absolutely vital that he starts tonight’s fight positively. Easier said than done when facing a world class foe but Crolla must utilise body punching in the early stages if for no other reason than to take Jorge’s legs away from him should the fight go into the late stages again. If Crolla can find his range and get his body punches home in the first four rounds it could be a very interesting evening.
In order to deliver these body shots Crolla is somehow going to have to find a way to effectively cut the ring off. If he can achieve this he can set traps by varying the rhythm of his punch output to keep Linares in the pocket for the split second longer it takes to deliver a vicious body shot. It will take patience, precision and perfect execution to pull this off.
“Million Dollar” acknowledges that it will be difficult to win but is confident the adjustments made during his training camp will enable him to do so. He spoke to the media on Thursday, “I’ve got to be cutting off the ring quicker this time. I’ve got to respond in bunches a little bit more. There are so many obstacles that are going to be put in front of me from Jorge Linares, but I believe I will have an answer for every one of them.”
Linares goes into the rematch as the firm favourite in the eyes of most observers. The experienced pro is taking nothing for granted though: “I know once again I have everyone against me in his backyard. I’m not coming in here feeling like the champion. I know I have to win very clear to go back home with a win. It’s going to be a different Crolla this time,” Linares noted, also on Thursday.
These quotes from Linares suggest that should the opportunity for a stoppage present itself he will be ready to take it. He may need to. The earlier mentioned scorecards from September would indicate a close fight with two of the judges awarding Linares the bout by the thinnest of margins. To my eyes the 117-111 card was the most accurate.
Being reasonable regarding the judges here, it must be very difficult to shut out close to twenty thousand people roaring their approval when the home fighter has some success. They are only human after all. Linares realises this will be an issue tonight which is why I expect him to sit down more on his shots as the fight wares on. This added wrinkle to the proceedings adds an extra element of excitement and intrigue to tonight’s rematch.
As usual with boxing there is a what’s next question to ponder moving forward. In this case the answer is already known. WBC 135lb champion Mikey Garcia awaits the winner; the prospect of a unification fight with one of this era’s best boxers is yet another motivating factor for both men gloving up tonight.
The action will be beamed into our homes via Showtime (USA) and Sky Sports (UK). This is a must watch fight for boxing lovers.
As majestic as Linares’ win in Manchester was last time out I get the feeling that to once again leave as the victor an even more impressive showing will be required. Crolla desperately wants his old title back and to move forward to test himself against Mikey. All I am willing to predict here is that Anthony Crolla and Jorge Linares will once again combine to give us a brilliant boxing match. Who will prevail? We will know soon. It’s almost fight time.