By David Sergeant
Most imagined that the concrete block dropped onto Anthony Crolla’s head, fracturing his skull, would put a cruel end to both his career and his dream. Even his biggest believers surely could not have envisaged the character and heart with which he would respond.
Just one month before the night Crolla had spent his whole career battling for, he saw the head of a burglar pop out from the window of his neighbour’s house. He gave chase, resulting in an ankle broken in two places, a fractured skull and his fight for the World Title cancelled.
What would your response have been? I know mine – fury and despair. Crolla’s was very different. Looking at his fellow patients, some coming toward the end of their lives he was just grateful that things for him had not been worse. As for the men who had smashed a slab of concrete into his head? He had this to say: ‘The two lads who done it, those people, listen I forgive them. I’m in a better place now than what I’ve ever been and I really hope that they are too. I hope they’ve managed to turn their lives around.’
For Crolla, these events were simply a minor setback. Crolla’s surgeon was compelled by the fighters desire to recover: “Anthony’s recovery was remarkable after the attack, and he had a very, very positive, upbeat attitude.”
From the start of his career, Crolla has been a boxer, increasingly unique in his refusal to posture or bad-mouth his opponents. He has let his boxing do the talking and without hesitation, given his time and genuine appreciation to any fan who has made the effort to offer him their support. It would be nice to believe that the old saying: ‘you catch more bees with honey than you do with vinegar, remains, at least in part accurate. Hearn battled to secure his man another shot not because he had his eyes on another implausibly shiny Italian suit, but because he realised that Crolla genuinely deserved his opportunity.
And so it was, 7 months after it all seemed finished, Crolla was given his world title shot in his Manchester hometown against Colombia’s Darleys Perez. Could this be the fairy-tale ending? His whole city was united, willing the ‘nicest man in boxing’ toward his destiny.” Crolla’s performance was majestic, out-boxing Perez. Yes, the fight was competitive but with Perez deducted two points for low-blows there could only be one winner. The judges, somehow saw it differently. The fight was judged to be a draw and Perez retained his World Title. Again, for most, crushing disappointment and anger at dodgy-judging would be instinctive. Crolla hugged and credited his opponent. Some pundits and fans voiced in public that Crolla had missed his chance, many more thought it privately. Crolla however, true to form, remained convinced that this was not how it would end: “When this opportunity came I was never going to give it up. But I promise everyone that I will win the world title.”
On Saturday November 21st 2015 that’s exactly what he did. Urged on by a crowd desperate in their desire to see their hometown boy achieve his potential. A brutal 5th round, ‘Hatton esc’ body shot led to a count from which Perez could not stand. I’d followed Anthony for a considerable time, but, while hoping and longing, even I did not fully believe when I walked into the Manchester Arena, that Anthony Crolla would make the short journey home not just as a great man but finally as the WBA Lightweight Champion of the World.
Since that night, Anthony has demonstrated his true ability in his stunning, gritty and tactically astute demolition of Ismael Barroso and narrowly lost to the classy Jorge Linares. His career undoubtedly holds many more fantastic occasions.
Crolla shows that in life and in boxing, a sport in which some believe trash-talk and aggressive press-conference stunts are the only way to get attention, that decency, kindness, attitude and hard-work are the ultimate measure of success.
Anthony is now both a great man and a great boxer. However, even if things had been different, had he lost his rematch or had his career ended by that slab of rock, I believe he would always acknowledge that being the former will always be worth more than the latter.
I’ll personally remember that cold night in November for the rest of my life. Not because it was the best, most exciting fight I’ve ever witnessed but because Anthony Crolla is my sporting hero, and a working class hero is something to behold.