Anthony Crolla is hoping for a fairytale ending to what began as a nightmare scenario when the likeable Mancunian challenges Darleys Perez for his WBA lightweight crown on Saturday night.
The 28 year-old was put in hospital after chasing burglars near his Manchester home in December and in the process lost out of a scheduled fight with then world title holder Richar Abril. Following the WBA’s decision to strip Abril and award the title to Perez, Crolla’s promoter Eddie Hearn set about fulfilling a promise to Crolla whilst he was recovering to eventually get him another shot at the championship.
Low and behold just a couple of months later, and after a remarkable return to fitness by the determined Crolla, Hearn came through and revealed that ‘Million Dollar’ would have a second chance against the hardened Colombian.
The pair collide this weekend in Crolla’s hometown at Manchester Arena in a real date with destiny and the Briton is adamant that despite the hardships faced, he’s even more focused now than he was before the terrible incident happened.
“I believe I am mentally stronger without a shadow of a doubt,” Crolla told World Boxing News this week.
“I’m not just mentally stronger as a boxer, I’m mentally stronger as a person. I took nothing for granted as the injuries were serious, but I know how much worse they could have been.
“Everything that’s happened in the last four months has put me in a better place for this challenge on Saturday.”
Having to prepare for a completely separate fighter hasn’t fazed Crolla either as trainer Joe Gallagher has all bases covered and whipped his fighter into the best shape and frame of mind for what is his first world title fight.
“Stylistically there have been a few things we’ve changed as they are different fighters, but as for the camp we only made a few tweaks. We cut out any of the distance running and I feel miles better for that. I’m still doing some track work, but I feel a lot better for not doing the long runs.
“Obviously with the ankle injury it wouldn’t have been ideal to be pounding concrete every other day and because of that in a strange way I think it’s benefitted me. I certainly feel more exposed and it’s certainly not affected my engine in any way so we’ve made little tweaks with a bit more strength work. All in all I’d say I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been.
“I’ve got no worries about the head injury either as if there was I wouldn’t be able to box. The boxing board passed me medically fit to box and there have been no worries ever since. Never once have I looked back as there’s never been any after effect.”
Asked about his opponent’s strengths and the task that currently lies in front of him, Crolla added: “He’s a very good fighter. His pedigree goes all the way back to the amateurs where he was a Beijing Olympian so he’s a very good fighter – world class.
“What I’ll need to do is put in a career best performance to beat Darleys Perez. I’ve studied him, the team has studied him, but obviously I don’t want to give too much away. I know I’ve got to be at my very best to beat him.
“To win this title, honestly I can’t put into words, it’d be a dream come true. A dream I’ve had since being a little boy of being a champion and to do it in Manchester in front of my home fans after everything that has happened, you couldn’t write it better.”
Big domestic fights loom on the horizon for Crolla if he can come through Perez and seal his place as Britain’s fifth world champion, although the challenger is typically not going to look past such a difficult and challenging test.
“Yeah certainly there are fights with the likes of Kevin Mitchell and a third fight with Derry Mathews,” he said. “Honestly, I think both of them are very good fighters and I’d happily fight either one of them as they are both good lads and I’ve got a lot of respect for both of them.
“But I’m not sure what the situation would be with the mandatory. They might say that (Derry, the WBA interim champion) is my first defence, but I’d be a fool to look past Darleys Perez.
“That’s all I’m focused on at the minute, but come through it either one I’d be happy fighting,” added Crolla.