MAYBE Anthony Crolla didn’t deserve the 10-round points victory he received over the unfaniced Frank Urquiaga inside the Manchester Arena.
He wouldn’t have wanted any help from the judges. He wouldn’t have wanted to win a fight many felt he lost. And true to his honesty and his acute sense of pride, he struggled to celebrate with any conviction as the majority decision (via scores of 95-95, 98-92 and 97-93) was announced in his favour. Without doubt, if he watches the fight back and feels he didn’t deserve to win, the sense of injustice will bother him.
But Anthony Crolla – a true British hero – deserved every cheer and round of applause he received inside the Manchester Arena. He deserved to hear Michael Buffer call his name one last time. More importantly, after a lacklustre bout, he can now retire without a single doubt he’s doing the right thing.
Rarely has the onset of a boxer’s last fight been met with such a wave of good feeling. And it’s not because anyone is pleased to see Anthony Crolla leave, it’s because they’re delighted to see him leave at the right time. If there is such thing as a right time, that is.
When a fighter announces it’s the end before they step in the ring there’s always a danger that the mind isn’t quite as it should be during those final exchanges. By admitting it’s time to walk away they’re admitting something they never wanted to admit: That they’re not the fighter they used to be, that by fighting on they’re putting their futures in jeopardy.
Such a realisation is a dangerous one to take into a boxing ring, irrespective of the opponent.
They not only see the punches coming, punches they could once evade and block, they watch them land. Openings that were once so inviting close before they can get in position to take advantage of them. And every time they get hit, they question the decision they made to have this final fight. This fight they’re still in the midst of. This fight they’re now having with themselves.
Miguel Cotto – adored in world boxing the way Crolla is in the UK – made a similar vow before he stepped in with Sadam Ali in 2017. With one eye on retirement, he lost sight of the job at hand and was well beaten over 12 forgettable rounds. In the end, the farewell party was a something of a non-event.
Crolla’s finale was similar. There were flashes of the hunger
that Crolla once had in spades, of the energy and work-rate that was too much
for all but the very best. But when the end has come in boxing, flashes are as
good as it gets. It’s what those flashes remind us of that are the important
thing, and with Crolla, a fighter and man who seduced an entire nation, they should
remind us of a career that exceeded all possible expectation. A career that won
titles at every level and saw him challenge some of the best fighters of his
From the moment Crolla realised his ambition of becoming British champion in 2011, knocking out John Watson in nine rounds to claim the super-featherweight title, the Manchester United fan has been living the dreams he’s been enjoying since he was a youngster. An upset loss to Derry Mathews in 2012 would have persuaded plenty they had reached their ceiling. For Anthony Crolla, though, it persuaded him to aim even higher. It should also be noted that he never once considered leaving his trainer, Joe Gallagher – the man who should be credited with guiding Crolla towards the top.
By the end of 2015, 12 months after his skull was attacked by concrete-wielding burglars and left him hospitalised and his career in tatters, Crolla won the WBA lightweight title. He followed it by dismantling the unbeaten Ismael Barroso the following year. Behind the scenes Crolla was going out of his way to help his community, to develop young boxers and, as ambassadors for boxing go, few can claim to have done a better job. Every single member of the British media said only good things about him. He was just as generous with his time when he was at the top of the world as he was when he was on the way to the summit. Very few boxers can say the same.
The likes of Jorge Linares and Vasyl Lomachenko – who violently stopped Crolla in four rounds last year and persuaded the Mancunian that the end was nigh – were steps too far but the Briton went into those contests because he wanted to fight the best. They were not his only options.
But now, after a struggling to a 10-round win over a boxer he would likely have dismantled at his peak, retirement is his only option.
He may not have deserved to win tonight. But in a sport that takes so much from so many, it was heartening to see a man like Crolla walk away from it with his pockets full and his health intact.