Linares vs Crolla 2 preview: repeat or revenge?

Luke G. Williams
23/03/2017 12:05pm

Jorge Linares is the current consensus ruler of the lightweight division - but Anthony Crolla is targeting revenge this Saturday, while the likes of Mikey Garcia and Terry Flanagan are also lurking menacingly in the wings. Luke G. Williams previews a contest which will help clarify one of the sport's most intriguing weight classes...

The rematch has been an integral part of the history of prize fighting since the sport's early bareknuckle days, when Daniel Mendoza and Richard Humphries arguably initiated the concept of the multi-fight rivalry with a memorable trilogy that captured the national imagination.

The old boxing adage goes that rematches usually tip in the same direction as the original contest, a view for which there is some statistical evidence. Interestingly enough, though (in an exception that may prove the rule or, more likely, prove nothing at all) I feel duty bound to point out that Mendoza lost his first fight to Humphries, only to then win the next two.

More recently, Leo Santz Cruz proved, in ceding a memorable first encounter to Carl Frampton but winning the second showdown, that rematches can indeed end in 'revenge' rather than 'repeat'.

Nevertheless, the idea that once a boxer has established superiority over a rival it is hard for the psychological pattern to be reversed remains a compelling thesis.

Majority opinion surrounding the second meeting between Venezuelan craftsman Jorge Linares and Englishman Anthony Crolla has certainly swung firmly towards the notion that the rugged Barinas-born boxer is likely, on Saturday, to repeat his memorable triumph of last September, when he silenced the home crowd and subdued Crolla's spirited challenge by way of a unanimous points decision that was refreshingly free of controversy.

Currently bookmakers make Linares in the region of an 8/15 favourite, while the home town fighter is rated as a 13/8 outsider. 'Million Dollar' Crolla, unsurprisingly, begs to differ with such an assessment. The 30-year-old has made a habit of upsetting the odds and proving the doubters wrong with unlikely triumphs, so why should he stop believing in himself now?

Back in 2012, after losses to Derry Mathews and Gary Sykes, Crolla's career ledger stood at 24-4 and the idea that he might eventually become a world-title holder looked outlandish in the extreme. More seriously, after the Manchester-based pugilist was brutally assaulted by two burglars in December 2014, suffering serious head and ankle injuries in the process, it looked 50-50 whether he would ever compete again in a professional boxing ring, let alone go on to lift a world championship.

On both occasions Crolla proved the doubters and the sceptics wrong and he is adamant he can do so again.

In an interview with Danny Winterbottom in the latest issue of Boxing Monthly, the 30-year-old insisted of the Linares rematch: "I will need to be a little smarter, cut the ring off quicker and there will be times when I need to move my feet in the fight, but I've been working hard in the gym and I really do believe that I have made enough improvements to get the win this time."

It's a theme Crolla returned to this week in conversation with the BBC, claiming: "My speed's improved, my variation of shots has improved. I just think I'm a bit more clever in the ring. I've had to be a little bit selfish and miss out on a few things, like training kids at the old amateur club. But I certainly feel the benefits of being locked away a bit more this camp."

By being a bit more 'selfish' with his outside the ring commitments and tweaking his game plan, Crolla clearly believes he can edge the contest his way. However it will be no easy task, for Linares is an extremely wily operator, an expert counter-puncher and, truth be told, a superior technician to Crolla.

Last time around I tipped Crolla to prevail and was proved wrong. However, this has been a year in which boxing's thrilling capacity to produce unexpected results and performances has been more evident than ever.

Call it a hunch, but I believe that Linares is more shopworn than Crolla and also possesses less punch resistance. If Crolla can make a faster start this time (in their first contest I scored the first three rounds for the Venezuelan) then I think he can channel the passion of the crowd and his own insatiable hunger for revenge sufficiently to unsettle Linares, perhaps even knock him down, and snatch a close but deserved decision after 12 intense rounds.

Whichever way the contest goes there will be a host of intriguing options for both men - Mikey Garcia's hugely impressive slaughter of Dejan Zlaticanin earlier this year sees him currently top Boxing Monthly's rankings at 135lbs and both Linares (BM ranked number two) and Crolla (BM ranked number five) would doubtless be keen to pit their wits against the hard-hitting 35-0 Californian.

Crolla's fellow Mancunian Terry Flanagan (BM ranked number three), should he negotiate his 8 April WBO title defence against Russian Petr Petrov (BM ranked number nine), would also be a fascinating match for either man - particularly Crolla, given their city rivalry, while the talented and unbeaten Robert Easter Jr. is also lurking in the mix.

Interesting times at lightweight, then, as it is in so many of boxing's weight classes right now.