When Anthony Crolla was hospitalised whilst confronting a pair of burglars on the eve of a world title bout with Richar Abril back in December, it seemed that his shot at the big time had slipped through his fingers.
The much-documented assault occurred when Crolla pursued a pair of crooks he saw leaving his neighbour’s garden, only to be hit over the head with a paving stone.
He was left with a fractured skull, a badly broken ankle and the possibility of having his career ended just as it was reaching its zenith.
In the words of his trainer, Joe Gallagher, the consensus was: “Well there’s Anthony’s opportunity gone now, forever.”
But just seven months later, Crolla is once again on the verge of contesting for world honours, with Darleys Perez the opponent on July 18.
Not only that, but the 28-year-old lightweight has transformed from a likeable and admired boxer, to a national hero and media darling.
And whilst Crolla described the hype surrounding his comeback as ‘crazy’, he insisted that he was comfortable with the attention and grateful for the public’s support.
“I’ve been overwhelmed by it all, the well wishes of some people, I’ve been humbled by them,” he told MM at Gallagher’s Gym’s impressive headquarters in Gloves Community Centre in Bolton.
“They mean the world to me and my family.”
It’s hard to believe that Crolla’s character had room for extra humbling – listening to him speak it is hard to imagine that he is a member of the same sport as iconic money-hoarders such as Floyd Mayweather.
When asked about the honour of speaking to Sir Alex Ferguson following his injury (Crolla is a passionate Manchester United fan) he replied with a tale of an elderly woman who had told him earlier that week that she had followed his career in the local papers and that she was ‘just so happy’ that he had made his recovery.
“That honestly meant the world to me, just as much so,” he said.
Further evidence that the Mancunian is one of the genuine good guys of British sport came when he was discussing his ambitions after the Perez fight – if he was to pull off what would be the biggest performance of his life.
“I’d never look past Perez,” he insisted.
“But if I come through that, I’ll just look to fight the best in the division, pay my mortgage off and look after my family, that’s my aim.”
Although expressing admirable aims like that may win him fans, Crolla will need more than goodwill when he steps into the Manchester Arena ring in just under two weeks time.
Perez is a dangerous puncher who carries power in both hands – “and that’s no good for the nerves let me tell you,” Gallagher deadpanned.
Another modest and unpretentious character, Gallagher has amassed an impressive stable of athletes, including Crolla, fellow Mancunian WBA Regular Super-Bantamweight champion Scott Quigg and the Liverpudlian Smith brothers, of whom Callum in particular has been tipped for greatness.
He is also refreshingly honest.
“If the truth be known I’d rather Anthony would have fought Abril,” he admitted.
“I thought that was an easier job – Perez is a bigger puncher than Abril.
“But listen, it’s a fight for a world title and nobody can accuse Anthony Crolla of doing it the easy way.”
Crolla was more ambivalent on the subject, saying he was ‘happy to fight either of them’, although he did accept that he is likely to be the underdog in the eyes of the bookmakers.
One thing that he does have going for him is the location – Gallagher believes home advantage could play a ‘key role’ in a tight fight, and praised Matchroom promotions for securing the Manchester Arena as the venue.
As for Crolla, he is understandably delighted to be fighting in front of his home fans, and is hoping to put in a big performance to thank everyone for the support they have shown him during his recovery.
“People go on about Madison Square Garden or Las Vegas but there’s nowhere in the world I’d rather win the title than in Manchester,” he said.
“It’d mean the absolute world to me, it’d be a dream come true – a dream that I’ve had since I first laced on a pair of gloves at the age of 10 or 11.
“It’s going to be a special atmosphere and I’m very lucky and blessed to have the opportunity to be a part of that.
“I’ll be forever thankful for that, and to go out there and win it would be the perfect way to say thanks.”
Again, this is indicative of the man; no posturing, no vainglorious proclamations or arrogant self-promotion, just a talented individual who wants to thank his fans and provide for his family.
Whether it was fate or coincidental bad luck that got in Crolla’s way seven months ago, it certainly feels like it is now gearing itself up to even itself out.
“I have a feeling that the stars are aligning and that July 18 will be the day for Anthony Crolla,” Gallagher said.
There are people all around the country who will be watching keenly on that day, praying that he is right, and that this story of a remarkable sporting role model can have a fairytale ending.
Main image courtesy of Matchroom Boxing via YouTube, with thanks.