Frontline diary: Linares masterclass subdues Crolla and Manchester
Danny Winterbottom reports from ringside in Manchester as Jorge Linares produces a masterclass against Anthony Crolla and Oscar De La Hoya expresses his admiration for a starstuck Tony Bellew...
Moments after his second victory over Anthony Crolla in the space of six months, Jorge Linares took to the mic inside a subdued Manchester Arena and proclaimed: “I love it here, I love Manchester!”
A smattering of polite applause rose from the quickly emptying seats as the North West fight fans, who had sung their hearts out in support of Crolla, recognised the Venezuelan's brilliance. And he was brilliant on the night, a perfect balance of grace and grit that Anthony Crolla simply had no answer to.
The scorecards, a trio of 118-109 tallies (BM scored the bout 119-108) were largely irrelevant given the WBA, WBC Diamond and Ring Magazine lightweight champion's dominance of the 12-round contest. No wonder he loves coming to Manchester!
Crolla had told me in the April issue of Boxing Monthly that he was better prepared for Linares' speed and timing this time around, but on the night 'El Nino de Oro' stepped up another level to which Crolla, for all his industry and guts, just couldn't reach. The Manchester man was dropped in round seven by a lethal uppercut, a punch Linares used to good effect on several occasions, and the 30-year-old was on the verge of being pulled out of the fight by trainer Joe Gallagher after the eleventh round. Crolla pleaded with Gallagher to let him finish the fight and he deserved to. There is no shame in losing to one of the best fighters in the business but Crolla wanted to go out fighting, and why not?
There was mention after the fight that Crolla, not a particularly big lightweight, might make a move to the 140lbs division (perhaps a fight with Ricky Burns if the Scotsman can defeat Julius Indongo in April?) but the natural fight to make would be against his Manchester rival Terry Flanagan in the summer. 'Turbo' has a dangerous assignment against the in-form Petr Petrov in two weeks time though, and Eddie Hearn's slightly optimistic demand that Frank Warren pay Crolla £1 million could also be a stumbling block.
Tony Bellew and Carl Froch were on punditry duties for Sky Sports on Saturday night and during any break in the action there were constant shouts of "Tony!" and "Carl!" from fight fans close to the inner ringside section that housed the press row and TV area as they waited for that elusive photo or autograph.
However it was Bellew who was the most star struck of all the fans, for the WBC cruiserweight champion and conqueror of David Haye has a new admirer, none other than 'The Golden Boy' himself Oscar De La Hoya, who was in town with his fighter Linares and came over to embrace the Liverpudlian, leaving Bellew awestruck. “Oscar De La Hoya knows who I am!” Bellew enthusiastically told colleague Jamie Moore, shaking his head in bewilderment. It was a brilliant moment.
The chief support to the main event was billed as 'The Battle of Blackpool' as old friends Brian Rose and Jack Arnfield were matched in a 'loser leaves town' contest set for 12 rounds with Arnfield's WBA International middleweight title on the line. Sadly the contest failed to ignite despite some pushing and shoving at the weigh-in and Arnfield, 27 and now 24-2, won a decision with scores of 115-113 twice and 116-112. In truth it was a dull contest that struggled to keep the attention of a restless audience.
A few years back I was a regular at the Winter Gardens in Blackpool covering Steve Wood shows for Boxing News and Rose and Arnfield would often accompany each other to the ring for various fights so I found it strange when the pair, who once shared a house together, signed to fight, but as one veteran Blackpool hack told me: “Money talks!”
Back in 1978 former room mates Monroe Brooks and Bruce Curry fell out over a girl and waged a nine-round war to settle their differences. Rose and Arnfield's fall-out is a little less romantic and apparently involves anonymous late night phone calls and trainer Bobby Rimmer's pigeons! We'll just leave it at that!
It certainly isn't easy to watch a highly thought of young prospect lose his unbeaten record after taking a thorough thrashing at the hands of a wily veteran, but that is exactly what occurred when middleweight Marcus Morrison simply couldn't cope with Jason Welborn's pressure tactics and dropped a unanimous points decision over 10 rounds on the undercard.
Morrison, who had blasted out a handful of his 14 victims coming into the fight, dropped Welborn in round two but the Tividale native gritted his teeth and declared war on the Manchester man who showed defensive frailties as soon as Welborn began to let his punches fly.
Perhaps it was the blood covering Morrison's face that skewed my perception of the fight but personally it became a difficult spectacle to watch after seven or eight rounds and I was surprised that referee Victor Laughlin chose to allow Morrison to continue when it became obvious he was cooked.
Even Carl Froch, who was involved in a few wars of his own, had seen enough to prompt him to turn to press row and say, “The fight should have been stopped, he's only a kid”. This was one of those fights that can have a terrible effect on a young fighter, but let's hope Morrison can have a long rest and come back stronger than ever.
Olympic Gold Medallist Katie Taylor continued to prove that she is a terrific exponent of the sweet science as she defeated Milena Koleva on points over eight rounds to improve her perfect start in the pro ranks to 4-0, 2 KOs.
Taylor, fighting in the super featherweight division, was given a rapturous welcome by the Manchester fight crowd but the contest fast became too one-sided with Taylor doing as she pleased, and the crowd lost interest. When the bell sounded to end the fight only a smattering of appreciation could be heard from the stands.
The general consensus from ringside is that Taylor needs a rival to build interest in her fights beyond her obvious skill level. Could that be Liverpool's 2012 Olympian Natasha Jonas, who lost to Taylor in London, and has been training at Amir Khan's gym in Bolton under the guidance of Joe Gallagher?
The only thing that caused jaws to slacken quicker than the entrance of Mrs Linares at ringside was debutant Lawrence Okolie's stunning post midnight 20-second KO of Geoffrey Cave. The big cruiserweight detonated a right hand that put Cave to sleep instantly but, unfortunately for Cave, Okolie had already began to let another right hand fly and it crashed against his jaw sending him crashing face first into the canvas.
It was a brutal knockout to witness live, although a quick check of Twitter revealed that the Sky broadcast finished before the fight began which seemed a bad decision on the face of things considering the build up Okolie had been given by the broadcaster, although Live TV is governed by strict time constraints, of course.
Thankfully, referee Victor Laughlin was quick to call for medical help which was administered to Cave in a timely fashion and the big man left the ring under his own steam. Okolie was quickly added to the Burns-Indongo card in Glasgow on 15 April and will surely feature further up the running order after this stunning victory.
Manchester's Hosea Burton returned to action in an eight round contest following the loss of his British light heavyweight title to Frank Buglioni by final round stoppage back in December. Burton faced Tamas Kozma and had the visitor on the floor from a body shot early in the contest but was forced to travel the full distance here.
Martin J Ward defeated Maxi Hughes for the second time in their trilogy of fights, against one draw in 2014, when he scored a unanimous decision victory in defence of his BBBofC super featherweight title. The judges' cards read 116-112, 116-113 and 118-111 whilst BM scored the contest the same as John Keane, 116-113 in favour of Ward. Victor Laughlin's 118-111 card for Ward seemed too wide for me and didn't give a true reflection of the nip and tuck nature of some of the early rounds.