Crolla v Linares Fight Preview
By Neel Khagram
20th September 2016

Anthony Crolla heads into this Saturday’s fight with the chance to become the best lightweight (135lbs) in the world. Crolla, the WBA ‘Super’ World Champion will face the excellent Venezuelan Jorge Linares who has captured world championships in 3 different weight divisions.  If Crolla were to pull it off he would add the WBC ‘Diamond’ title and the prestigious Ring Magazine belt to his collection in what would signify one of the greatest turnarounds by a British fighter. 

Just four years ago Crolla’s career was at a crossroads having been stopped by Derry Matthews and losing the Semi Final of Prizefighter to Gary Sykes.  Victory in a win or bust English title fight against Kieran Farrell along with eye catching scalps over former World Champion Gavin Rees and John Murray saw Crolla go from a position of absolute obscurity to landing a world title shot against the highly skilled Richard Abril.   However, the fight with Abril never took place as Crolla suffered fractures to his ankle and skull following an attempt to halt burglars who broke into his neighbour’s house.  
In a twist of irony, having nearly lost everything this may have been the extra drive Crolla needed to achieve his dreams.  The popular Mancunian went on to stop Darleys Perez in a rematch which most observers thought he won first time round to win the world title, and then successfully diffused the much vaunted southpaw puncher Ismael Barroso in his first defence.

Crolla will have to produce another career best performance if he is to beat Linarez this Saturday night.  There is no doubt that momentum is with Crolla, however Linarez will not be intimidated by the prospect of fighting in front of a partisan crowd at the Manchester Arena having already successfully won on these shores when halting Britain’s Kevin Mitchell.  Linarez is technically a very accomplished boxer with excellent ring generalship but a fractured hand has seen him fight only once since beating Mitchell early in 2015 and Inactivity may have an impact on the fights outcome.  Crolla can also take heart from the fact that his opponent can be hurt, with all 3 of Linarez’s loses coming by way of knockout / technical knockout.  

An Anthony Crolla victory would spark scenes in Manchester reminiscent of Ricky Hatton era.  Whilst Crolla does not yet have the national following Hatton once did, his popularity and stature as the man of the people is ever growing.  To overlook the threat of Jorge Linarez would be a mistake though, in what looks to be a real pick’em fight for all of boxing’s marbles.

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Braehmer vs Cleverly  Fight Preview
By Neel Khagram
26th September 2016

Nathan Cleverly travels to Germany this Saturday night in a bid to dethrone WBA Light Heavyweight King Juergen Braehmer and become champion at the weight for a second time.  Whilst the Welshman enters the ring having lost two of his last three fights (against arch rival Tony Bellew at Cruiserweight and Andrej Fonfara in a fight of the year contender,) the bout with Braehmer sells given the history between the pair.

In 2011, the then undefeated Cleverly was set to challenge for the WBO version held by Braehmer before the German pulled out during fight week.  Braehmer was then stripped of his belt and Cleverly upgraded from ‘interim’ to full World Champion status.  

In spite of achieving his ultimate dream, Cleverly was denied the chance to rip the title away from the belt holder and gain legitimacy as a true World Champion.  It also meant he had won vacant titles at British, Commonwealth, European and World level.  The irony is therefore not lost in fact that his chance to avenge this record comes in the face of Braehmer.   

Braehmer, now 37 years of age is a very solid champion and has not lost since 2008.  Whilst arguably not facing the best opposition in the division over the years, the Southpaw once again has home advantage on his side and is a strong favourite.   

Cleverly will go into this fight knowing the difficulty in gaining a decision in Germany.  However, he cannot be reckless and must use his boxing ability to cut the ring off in an educated manner before unloading on the home fighter.  Perhaps the greatest question surrounding Cleverly is over how much the crushing knockout suffered at the hands of Sergey Kovalev, the move up and down from the Cruiserweight limit and the war with Fonfara have all taken out of him.  Whilst Cleverly will outwardly dispel any doubt and come into the contest in great shape, Braehmer may just feel in waiting five years he is catching his opponent at the right time.​​​​​
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Crolla vs Linares – Post Fight
By Neel Khagram
25th September 2016

Anthony Crolla suffered heartbreak on Saturday night losing a unanimous point’s decision to Jorge Linares.  The three judges at ringside scored the bout 115-114, 117-111, 115-113 in favour of the Venezuelan who in victory is now universally recognised as the lineal Champion of the Lightweight division.

Crolla, who was making the second defence of his WBA title came into the fight brimming with confidence after back to back career best performances against Darleys Perez and Ismael Barroso. However, the Mancunian ran into a resurgent Linares who arguably put into one of his best performances in recent years to earn a second victory on British shores in as many years after stopping the valiant Kevin Mitchell fourteen months ago.

The difference in speed was evident from the off as Linares started the fight very sharply, throwing combinations to both head and body in an effort to breakdown the tight Crolla defence.  Whilst Crolla was catching a lot on his hands and gloves, it was the visitor who was putting in the more eye catching work with enough getting through to win the early rounds.

Crolla’s tactics were clear though.  Reminiscent of his fight with Barroso, the plan was to catch and block much of Linares’s firepower in the first half of the fight without taking undue punishment before raising the tempo in the home straight.  There was evidence of this in round 4 with Crolla upping the pace and letting his hands go as he stalked his opponent down.  An overhand right in the 5th drew blood from the Venezuelan’s left eye as the man from Manchester finally started to make an impression on the bout.

Round 6 proved to be a big turning point in the narrative of this unification contest. Crolla was starting to land with more frequency as Linares looked visibly discomforted at the pace.  However, just when it seemed the tide was turning in favour of the home fighter, Linares connected with a big right hand with twenty seconds left of the round.  Whilst Crolla did well to survive, the nature of the shot took a lot of his snap away for the rest of the fight.

Nevertheless, Crolla continued to try and hunt Linares down with educated pressure in a desperate attempt to find a breakthrough.  In an absorbing contest, the general consensus going into the championship rounds was that Crolla needed to win both rounds 11 and 12 or put Linares on the canvas to force a decision in his favour.  Neither happened as the stylish Linares used his impressive ring generalship to pot shot his way to the final bell and a deserved victory.

Linares proved to the world that he is anything but a washed up force and why he has won world titles at three different weight classes.  Whilst many would be intrigued to see him in against Dejan Zlaticanin or Manchester’s other 135lbs World Champion Terry Flanagan, promoter Eddie Hearn stated that a rematch clause is in place giving Crolla the immediate chance to avenge defeat. 

Manchester will certainly turn out again for Crolla as boxing fans look forward to seeing two of the sport’s good guys share the square circle again early next year.
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