I had mentioned recently in my Anthony Crolla vs Jorge Linares pre -fight analysis that boxing was booming in Britain. My explanation for this statement could have given the impression that it was solely predicated on the caliber of opposition and the gargantuan tasks faced by some of the nation’s boxers in some big fights recently.
Looking back, I now realize that I had forgot to qualify my opinion further by also mentioning the input of the UK fans and level of atmosphere they bring to these types of big fights that are helping with the sports success in the country.
A level of atmosphere that was also on display at last-night’s lightweight super-fight between Jorge Linares and Anthony Crolla that prompted one guy to tweet: “the world of boxing must be watching these UK shows an think these Brits are crazy. You don’t get these atmospheres in the US or Germany”, just at the point the chorus of Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” was blaring through the Manchester Arena’s speakers and echoed along by a large rapturous contingent of those in attendance in the 20,000 odd seated venue, who were awaiting eagerly for the arrival of both fighters to enter the ring.
Some may balk that it’s a bit of a “cheesy” song perhaps best reserved for wedding receptions or all-inclusive holiday cabaret, rather than intro music to a potential boxing slug-fest where two warriors at their physical peak are about to engage in battle.
But who cares, the crowd loved it and it added to the atmosphere, which was electric to say the least.
With-that-in-mind – Linares also added a bit of his own ‘color’ to the occasion’s music choice, by coming out to what sounded like a score from one of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies(?). And like some of the qualities inherent in the films eccentric main character, Linares would later exhibit a similar Jack Sparrow-esque trickiness and craftiness, albeit in the ring, to ensure a victory and steal the Million Dollar Crolla’s loot in the form of the WBA title, in addition to grabbing the Ring Magazine belt and claim as the best lightweight on the planet.
The crowd and build-up to the event delivered, and as expected, so did the fight itself, with Round 1 starting off with both fighters being understandably cagey and respectful working behind their jab with Crolla pressing and stalking his man cautiously and Linares moving around the ring measuring up his opponent.
The highlight of the round only coming in the form of a few body shots. A section where Linares just ‘pipped’ his man to the punch to claim the opener.
From rounds 2-4, it was mainly all Linares, who used his jab to great effect as a range finder to gauge his opponents distance in order to set-up his hurtful right-hand shots and blistering combinations to the head and body.
Crolla, for most of these early rounds, seemed content and patient to allow Linares to box and to soak up his opponent’s blows on his arms. (No doubt with the intention to come on stronger as the fight progressed.)
But, it wasn’t until Round 5 that Crolla really started to come alive(as I expected), taking the fight to Linares and having some success with his own jab and opening up on the Venezuelan with solid combinations. However, the good work of the tough Mancunian was slightly marred in the round due to two debatable low blows that were thrown by the south american and some suspect refereeing.
The first alleged low-blow appeared to prompt Crolla to complain to the referee, who, at the time the shot was thrown, didn’t appear to be in a position to see the claimed illegal blow, but took Crolla’s word for it anyway and gave his Venezuelan adversary a warning.
The second low-blow never appeared illegal either and seemed a legitimate shot, which was also voiced by the Sky Sports commentary team of Paula Malignaggi and Carl Froch who both agreed in accordance that the second shot looked legitimate and that the ref seemed a bit excessive in admonishing the talented Venezuelan.
In the following round Crolla seemed to be coming on a lot stronger, backing his man up and starting to dominate, but then lost his traction a little near the end of the 3 minutes when Linares found enough of a resurgence to spoil what would have been an otherwise convincing round for the Million Dollar man.
Round 7 is where it appeared that Crolla’s strategy of wearing his man down with educated pressure was starting to pay dividends: with the Million Dollar man applying hurtful piercing jabs, while whipping in some solid hooks to the Venezuelan’s head and body, who at that point appeared to be feeling the pace and also the heaviness of the shots directed at him.
The next few rounds would see Crolla maintain this pressing strategy, causing his opponent to slow down and adopt more emphasis on his boxing ability, which he did by utilizing a kind of timid range finding jab to the head that he would follow up with a sharper and more solid blow to the body to try and maintain some semblance of distance between him and the determination of the man in front of him, as it looked by this point that the movement he had employed earlier was either not an option or he was trying to reserve his energy.
Round 10 is when the fight appeared to shift back into Linares’s favor and a round that would see a “second wind” appear for the masterful Venezuelan, and a return of the movement and angles that he had employed to great effect earlier in the fight. By now Jorge was starting to become more and more successful with hurtful rights and uppercuts.
With-that-said, it wasn’t all one sided, and Crolla, although still taking some meaty shots at this point, was still seemingly in the fight and fighting back with his own shots.
However, round 11 was where Linares took-over, looking more relaxed and showing his class by catching his opponent – who by now was looking tired and slightly subdued – with flashy combinations and single shots.
The last round would see both men dig deep and trade exchanges that adumbrated the high-level of mental and physical durability both men possess; with the ‘Golden Boy’ just nicking the round with the flashier combination work.
At the end of the contest, judges at ringside declared Linares the winner of the bout with scores of 115-114, 117-111 and 115-113.
I was surprised at the judge who scored the contest 117-111, as I personally thought the fight was closer than that, and had it myself at 7-5 rounds in favor of Linares. Mainly due to the south american starting so well early on and taking rounds 1 -4 and then coming on strong in the later rounds from 10 – 12, with Crolla taking the rest of the rounds midway through the fight.
After the bout, Matchroom’s shrewd and outgoing fan-friendly promoter, Eddie Hearn, made it clear that there would be a rematch(which answered any questions about Linares’s next step now he was in a prime position to dictate the course of his career, due to holding the WBA and the prestigious Ring magazine belt.)
Hearn, in addition, also mentioned(and played a little too much) on the debatable low-blows that had happened in the earlier rounds, by reminding the press after the fight that if Linares had been deducted points then the outcome might have been different.
Personally, I think his position is debatable here and even a little bit petty. Crolla, showing a bit of class, played down the low-blow(s) incident and didn’t seem too fussed to focus on it, as did his vastly experienced trainer, Joe Gallagher, who admitted that he personally had his man down by a round or two. But, Hearn, ever the promoter, is doing what he does best…. Promote. And while he’s also sticking-up for his man with that particular protest, he’s also conditioning fans for the rematch by “planting a seed” in their minds with the insinuation that a draw or Crolla victory might have just hinged on a matter of poor judgement mid-bout and not necessarily on overall performance alone, which no doubt will help add extra justification for the return, while bolstering interest and support.
For me, there was periods in the bout where I thought that Crolla had some success that will give him positives and encouragement for the return. Especially in the middle-rounds, where I got the impression that the mental strength, determination and pace set by Crolla was starting to take its toll on Linares and seemed to indicate that it might just be possible to overwhelm the south american’s talent using the above factors alone.
Crolla, might be kicking himself now that he never forced the above a little bit more and earlier in the fight.
But, with-that-said, it wouldn’t surprise me if the strategy of the Linares camp was to have their man start out strong, countering and using movement in order to evade the Mancunian’s pressure; then to take a breather midway by substituting or slowing down that movement in exchange for more emphasis on his jab to get him out of harm’s way and maybe even to soak it up a little, then to come on strong again in the later rounds with some “gas in the tank” and legs underneath him?
It will be interesting next time around to see what strategy the Gallagher camp employ and how they will to deal with the excellent defensive ring-craft and movement that the Venezuelan showed in this fight, i.e. the head and lateral movement and pivoting of at an angle anytime his back appeared to touch the ropes, which negated any designs Crolla may have had to pin or trap the Venezuelan to get off his own hurtful head and body combinations.
Crolla, in the rematch, will have to find a better way to cut the ring off.
As will he have to find a way to deal with the South American’s jab(which was the key punch in this fight for me), a punch that Linares likes to pepper his opponents with and shows variance in terms of power and how he switches it from head to body.
It was a tool in Jorge’s arsenal that Crolla seemed to acknowledge was a problem, when in a post-fight interview he mentioned that he was “surprised” by his(Linares’s) jab.
Judging by last night’s performance, I personally think that Crolla has only two options to have a chance of victory in the rematch: either go in fitter than previously and press the action at a relentless pace from round 1-12, reminiscent of what fellow Mancunian Ricky Hatton done when he challenged Kostya Tzyzu(a risky strategy that could also see him vulnerable to a fresh sharp counter-puncher such as Linares, who has also now proven that he can hurt the Manchester man with body shots or rights to the head) or to try and box early, maybe nicking the rounds and somehow emptying the tank of the south american that way,while pulling him away from his comfort-zone of counter-punching on the back-foot, which appears to be more natural to him, and perhaps employing more leg and head movement to evade the peppering jabs and blistering combinations that the new WBA champ is capable of producing when coming forward, with the overall intent to pile on the pressure when opportune: either midway or late on in the fight.
I am looking forward to the rematch, but at this point, I still envision a similar outcome as was witnessed in this fight, unless Crolla can find an answer to the qualities of ‘El Nino De Oro’ that I mentioned above or if Linares somehow shows up to the rematch not as prepared as he should be.
In the meantime, Jorge Linares is the best lightweight in the world without question, and judging by what was on display on Saturday night could be for a while to come if he so chooses to be.