Frontline Diary: Diamond life as Linares proves smooth operator
Chris Williamson reports and reflects on all the goings-on in the ring and ringside on a heady Manchester night last Saturday when Anthony Crolla collided with Jorge Linares ...
During the run-in to a show billed 'Two Worlds Collide', similarities to the iconic Tszyu v Hatton fight, contested in this arena in 2005, were evoked. Ricky was present of course, and fist bumped Sky Sports Head of Boxing Adam Smith as he entered the arena. Hatton and old foe Paulie Malignaggi shared touching moments with Hatton's son, Campbell. 'Magic Man' appears to be universally liked in his role as analyst and commentator for Sky Sports.
Ricky's brother, Matthew, was allocated seats in the media area. This provided a moment of either comedy or drama depending on your point of view, as Matthew mock-confronted a colleague, claiming: "I thought I'd had a good career until I read that article you wrote!".
"What article are you talking about, Matthew?" the colleague asked.
"The one in the run up to Alvarez vs Smith," replied Matthew, stone faced, as my friend relied on fast-talking to turn Hatton around. Matthew was in good spirits and now owns his own gym.
'The Ring' UK Editor, Tom Gray, had responsibility for guarding the magazine's championship belt, to be awarded to the winner. Boxing Monthly wondered why Ricky Hatton's light-welterweight championship had been used at the press conference.
"We couldn't get one shipped over in time," Tom explained. "These things cost $500 just to ship over from the US!" Tom smiled while declining to reveal how much each belt costs to make, before suggesting the mooted James DeGale vs Badou Jack unification bout may be for the vacant super-middleweight belt. Heavyweight champion Tyson Fury is likely to be afforded some leeway while addressing health problems.
Marcus Morrison entered the ring to the sound of James Brown's 'The Boss'. Billed by ring MC Craig Stephen as "Sweet M & M", perhaps an Eminem track would be more appropriate. As his opponent, the heavily tattooed Frenchman Matiouze Royer, complained a first round KO came due to a rabbit punch, perhaps 'Guilty Conscience' would have been suitable.
Lyndon Arthur made his debut and evoked Chris Eubank Jr in certain elements of his style. Arthur dropped Andy Neylon towards the end of the fourth round with head and body shots before settling for a decision victory.
Jeff Powell, veteran boxing correspondent of the Daily Mail, was present the day after picking up an award at the British Boxing Board of Control (BBB of C) awards. Journalist and voter Glyn Evans attended and told BM he had, for the first time, won the raffle and a stay for two in the same hotel. Glyn revealed he'd yet to inform Mrs Evans, joking it might be best kept a secret until such time as he found himself "in the doghouse".
Hosea Burton entered the ring to one-time Evander Holyfield manager MC Hammer's 'U Can't Touch This', which may have been a reference to a British title belt he has yet to defend. Frank Buglioni was originally scheduled to challenge Burton before pulling out injured.
World Heavyweight Champion Tyson Fury made a dramatic appearance at ringside to support his cousin (Burton), just days after his rematch with Wladimir Klitschko was scrapped. Tyson looked healthy on the surface, albeit he is rumoured to be suffering from health problems. BM wishes him a speedy and safe recovery.
Burton's opponent Fernando Castaneda was dropped heavily twice and mercifully stopped by the referee in the third round. The Mexican complained bitterly.
Ring girl Hannah Elizabeth was back in 'action' after a stint on something called 'Love Island', while her partner Sara Beverley Jones worked a final Matchroom show, which promoter Eddie Hearn referred to, with tongue firmly in cheek, as "retirement".
'Turbo' Terry Flanagan arrived dressed in a smart grey suit just as the 'Big Ben' chimes announced the ring-walk of young Conor Benn. It's exciting for the fans, but I doubt 19-year-old Benn wants to be in quite such dramatic bouts at this learning stage of his career. It remains to be seen if a style copied from his father is suitable given an apparent lack of comparable, crunching power.
Liam Smith looked relaxed in a black 'hoodie' a week after losing his 'world' title to Saul Alvarez in Texas. Smith is, of course, a gym-mate of Crolla.
Another friend of Anthony's, Wayne Rooney, was famously floored by Phil Bardsley during what might be described as 'kitchen boxing'. Fresh from being dropped in the more traditional football sense last Saturday, Wayne made an appearance at ringside with wife Coleen. Security flanked the Rooneys' front and back, until they took their seats next to Eddie Hearn.
A BM colleague told how he'd recently holidayed in the Dominican Republic and bumped into Miguel Cotto at the hotel pool. Apparently Miguel is very likeable in person, although it's perhaps not good for the ego being sat around the pool with a ripped three time 'world' champion.
Scottish MC Craig Stephen did an excellent job connecting with the Manchester crowd, as he'd done in London two weeks previously for Golovkin v Brook. Unlike that occasion, where Michael Buffer stepped in for the main event, Stephen MC'd the entire show. Although the crowd created an electric atmosphere, much of the upper-tier was curtained off.
For this article, BM undertook painstaking research suggesting that Venezuelan women are the most beautiful in the world. Linares' country of birth boasts more winners of the 'big four' (it's not just boxing) beauty pageants than any other country, with seven Miss Universe titles, six Miss World, six Miss International and two Miss Earth titles. A total of 21 wins is a record and Maths is an exact science, folks!
Even by Venezuelan standards, the visiting fighter's model wife is exceptionally beautiful. Michelle Linares was seated next to a friend wearing a red cap, although it wasn't confirmed whether the word 'WAR' was present anywhere on this garment. There was a poignant moment at the end of the main event when a Team Crolla member and Mrs Linares, holding the WBC Diamond belt, exchanged touching gestures of respect.
As Linares entered the ring he still looked dry, as though he'd not gained very much fluid since the weigh-in. The atmosphere was electric during the national anthems. As Linares was introduced, sadly to boos, Crolla actually clapped the Venezuelan himself. Incredibly, the WBA only have one belt in circulation at lightweight, with no interim, regular or super to be found.
The 'Golden Boy's sharp shooting was incredible. Crolla applied plenty of pressure and kept Linares working, but the South American made a mockery of 5-1 odds for a points decision. Truly a joy to watch, the Venezuelan, who'd never previously boxed 12 rounds, underlined his superiority during the last two championship rounds. Boxing Monthly online scored 116-112 for the visitor.
There's a farcical and very funny scene in the 1997 movie 'Austin Powers', where a group of henchmen led by 'Dr Evil' decide "one million dollars" isn't nearly enough. Well, on Saturday, 'Million Dollar' Crolla produced an almighty effort which wasn't quite enough against an elite fighter.
Although the early signs point to a rematch next year, for this observer at least, it's hard to imagine a reversal of a clear result on this memorable Manchester night.