Anthony Crolla looking to shock the world against big favorite Vasiliy Lomachenko
By John J. Raspanti
Former WBA lightweight champion Anthony Crolla has a pretty good idea what he’ll be facing when he steps in the ring April 12 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, CA.
“I’m fighting one of the best fighters on the planet-in many people’s eyes the best fighter on the planet,” said Crolla at a press conference last week.
Vasiliy Lomachecnko engaged in 397 amateur fights. He lost once. He captured Olympic gold in the featherweight and lightweight divisions. He won a world title in his third professional fight.
Lomachenko picked up his second championship belt three years ago by scoring a highlight-reel knockout over Roman Martinez.
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One of Lomachenko’s most anticipated fights was when he threw hands with dangerous Nicholas “The Ax Man” Walters in 2016. Walters had no answers. His axe was dulled in seven one-sided rounds. He hasn’t fought since.
Lomachenko toyed with fellow gold medalist, Guillermo Rigondeaux, of Cuba. Rigondeaux had dominated all 17 of his opponents. Lomachenko took over in the opening round. Rigondeaux searched for answers, but eventually decided to exit halfway through the fight. The win over Rigondeaux marked the fourth time in a row a fighter has quit against Lomachenko.
Last May, Lomachenko moved up in weight and fought WBA lightweight champion Jorge Linares. The fight was intense from the get-go. Both fighters threw lighting fast combinations. Lomachenko’s reflexes and athletic ability couldn’t keep him away from a Linares right that dropped him in round six. Up quickly, he rebounded to stop Linares with a bodyshot in round 10. After the fight, it was reported that Lomachenko had suffered a torn labrum.
Back in the ring after shoulder surgery, Lomachenko looked sluggish at times, but still knocked down bigger WBO champion Jose Pedrazo twice-en route to unifying the titles.
Lomachenko, who started his career in the featherweight division (126 pounds) before moving up to lightweight (135 pounds), knows that fighting in a heavier weight class sometimes puts him at a disadvantage, but that doesn’t stop him.
“The lightweight weight-class is my maximum for now, and sometimes I don’t even think I belong here as the guys I am fighting are much bigger in size,” said Lomachenko a few weeks ago in a story by Jack Figg of www.thesun.co.uk
Fighting Lomachenko is tough, but five years ago Crolla, 32, was almost counted out permanently. Returning from training for his first shot at a world title, Crolla heard an alarm going off at his neighbor’s house. Investigating, he encountered two burglars. Crolla caught one but was blindsided by the other who cracked him over the head with a slab of concrete. Bloody but conscious, Crolla was eventually rushed to a hospital.
Doctors discovered that Crolla had suffered a fractured skull. The consensus (his ankle was also broken) was his career was over. His trainer, Joe Gallagher, was devastated.
“He was in bits in the hospital," Gallagher told BBC Radio 5 live. "His world title dreams are in tatters. The more I think about it, he is lucky to be alive. Unbelievable."
Crolla recovered quickly. He ignored talk of quitting. His dream was to win a world title and there was no way he would be denied.
’’If the concrete slab had hit me two inches either side, it could have killed me,’’ Crolla told The Associated Press in 2016. ’’But some things in life happen. Although it wasn’t a nice time, I wouldn’t change it. It’s made me who I am today.’’
Nine months after nearly dying, Crolla fought WBA lightweight champion Darleys Perez at Manchester Arena in Manchester, Eng., on July 18, 2015. Many fans were disappointed when the bout was judged a split draw. The controversial decision forced the WBA to order a rematch.
The sequel went down in November. Crolla took the decision out of the judges’ hands by knocking out Perez in five heats. The title was his.
“I’ve dreamt this dream since I was 10 years of age,” Crolla told Sky Sports.”I didn’t know it would be this good, honestly. It’s even better than I dreamt."
Crolla made one defense of his title before losing it to the much quicker Linares. They fought again seven months later with Linares winning again by decision, though the fight was closer than the first one. The determined Crolla has won three fights since, all by decision.
Though he doesn’t know that much about Crolla, other than his fights with Linares, Lomachenko (12-1, 9 KOs) is looking forward to the fight.
“He is the mandatory challenger and wanted to fight me,” Lomachenko said. “That is why I accepted this fight.”
Crolla (34-6-3, 13 KOs) watched Lomachenko very closely in his last two bouts.
“His last few fights, he’s been hit more than what he has throughout his career,” said Crolla.” I’ve got to take something from those last two performances, what both Linares and [Jose] Pedraza did, but at the same time I’m a very different fighter to them.”
Yes, he is, but heart alone won’t beat Lomachenko. Crolla is a good fighter, but he’ll need the fight of his life and hope the man nicknamed, “The Matrix” has an off-night to win.
One thing you can bet on. He won’t stop trying.