Crolla steps up for shot at Lonsdale belt

By Gary Shaw

Manchester’s Anthony Crolla is confident he can overcome the odds and defeat Liverpool’s John Watson in an intriguing British lightweight title fight this evening.

Few boxers step up a weight division to win a domestic title with just two weeks notice, but ‘Million Dollar’ Crolla believes he has all the attributes needed to do just that in what promises to be as good a Manchester-Liverpool showdown as any seen on a football pitch.

Watson is certain to have the backing of the majority of the 1900-capacity Olympia in his home city, but Crolla remains undaunted about the venue, the step-up in weight – at 9st 9lbs the lightweight division is five pounds above super feather – or the apparent short notice.

“I sell a lot tickets,” Crolla said at the weigh-in yesterday, “so will be taking down plenty of support myself. I was an ABA lightweight champion and I’m used to sparring with John Murray, who is the best lightweight in Europe, so the weight wont be an issue either.”

Neither does the Moston 24-year-old give much credence to the view that two weeks notice isn’t sufficient time to prepare for a potentially daunting battle for the coveted Londsdale belt.

“I’m the type of fighter who’s always in the gym so I’m always prepared for opportunities like this,” he said. “I’ve always wanted a Londsdale belt, even when I was an amateur. It’s one of the most prestigious belts in boxing so when I got the opportunity to fight for it – even at two weeks notice – it was just too good to turn down.”

This latter view is one shared by his trainer, fellow Mancunian Joe Gallagher. With a host of top names seemingly queuing up to join the Denton-based coach he agrees that, despite the obvious difficulties, when the chance came his way Crolla had to take it.

He said: “Anthony was preparing for [Carl] Johanneson [British super-featherweight title eliminator] but when this opportunity came up, it would have been silly to turn it down. John Watson will be a big favourite and he’s having to step into the lion’s den in fighting in Liverpool but everyone has been so impressed with the way Anthony has come on. I am confident in his ability. He lives and breathes boxing. He’s always in perfect condition and ready to fight.”

In contrast John Watson believes that home support and his bigger natural size will be key factors in his favour. “With me having the extra height on him and the extra weight, I think I will be naturally the physically stronger and more powerful,” said Watson.

Having sparred Crolla in the past, the 27-year-old, himself a former ABA champion, admitted to knowing what to expect as well as anticipating a hard battle ahead should he emerge victorious and put his 2010 loss to former world light-welterweight champion Gavin Rees for the same belt firmly behind him.

“I’ve watched Anthony’s last couple of fights and he has improved since he fought Gary Sykes [British title eliminator in 2009]. It’s going to be a good fight. Home advantage is a big plus for me but he’s already been in training so will be ready,” he said.

Watson’s penultimate round stoppage loss to Rees in the latter’s backyard in Newport last November was a contender for domestic fight of the year, but the stylish Liverpudlian and his trainer Dave Coldwell are keen to stress the loss only served to make him a better fighter.

“Losing just made me more determined to work on mistakes and put things right,” Watson said. “I’ve got to keep to my game plan and not let Anthony get in the fight. He’s a busy fighter so I must match him but I’m looking to start this as I started the seventh, eighth and ninth rounds of the Rees fight when I boxed at a high tempo. I want a knock-out.”

Coldwell likewise feels the loss has made Watson even more determined. “Although John suffered defeat last time, it wasn’t a loss that has left any scars. What it has done is show John that he is championship material and belongs in this class,” said Coldwell.

Keen Manchester United fan Crolla admits the role of underdog is one he relishes: “All the pressure is on him. It’s worked well for me in the past and hopefully it will again. Maybe if I win this one, people will stop looking at me as an underdog.

“It says everything about the quality of fighters I’ve been in the ring with that they were considered favourites.”

Nor does the atmosphere in what is sure to be an intimidating and formidable scouse arena deter the current English champion at super-featherweight – who hopes to watch his younger brother William compete in the ABA quarter-finals in Birmingham the following day.

“I know the crowd will be against me because of the Liverpool-Manchester rivalry, but it doesn’t scare me,” he said. “A lot of people get intimidated by it, but I love it. It’s only going to be me and him in the ring when the bell goes.”

Anthony Crolla v John Watson for the vacant British lightweight title – LIVE on Sky Sports 1 tonight at 9pm

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