Source: The Evening Standard

Saturday marks the final chapter in the career of Anthony “Million-Dollar” Crolla, (34-7-3, 13 KOs), who boxes Spaniard Frank Urquiaga (13-1-1, 1 KO) on the undercard of Katie Taylor’s attempt to become a two-weight world titlist in Manchester.

Looking back on the career of Crolla he enjoyed early success in his career competing in the amateur scene. In 2004, he picked up a silver medal in the Chemnitz City Cup in Germany losing in the final to Marcel Herfurth. A year on from his silver medal performance and Crolla went one better by claiming the gold after defeating Marco Lebeda.

In 2006 Crolla claimed the biggest amateur accolade on the British amateur scene as he won the ABA national championship, overcoming Chris Pacy in the final. Crolla then repeated this a year later by grabbing the gold medal in Chemnitz.

After the successful amateur career the decision to turn professional was made, and Anthony signed with Frank Warren’s Queensbury Promotions in 2006, making his debut on the undercard of Joe Calzaghe’s world title defense against Sakio Bika.

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The first eight fights went by with relative ease before Crolla was matched against against tough journeyman Youssef Al Hamidi (3-8-1, 1 KO). In a shock defeat, Al Hamidi picked up the victory only by a single point. Crolla bounced back from this early defeat with a win over Robin Deakin (1-10, 1 KO) on points; Crolla would then go on to rematch Al Hamidi (4-10-1, 1 KO) this time beating him on points.

The next significant bout in the career of Crolla was against Gary Sykes (11-0, 4 KOs) in a British super featherweight title eliminator. Sykes was also an up and coming prospect on the British scene and entered the fight with Crolla as the betting favourite. Sykes went on to beat Crolla by decision over the ten-round distance.

Crolla’s next important bout was against the former WBC title challenger Michael Brodie (36-3-1, 24 KOs). At this point in time Brodie was on the comeback trail after taking three years away from the sport having been involved in two wars with In Jin Chi. On fight night Crolla stunned the crowd at Robin Park Centre in Wigan by stopping Brodie in the third round of a scheduled ten.

After racking up three more wins, Crolla was given his shot at the vacant belt against Andy Morris (19-3, 7 KOs). Crolla came through with a seventh-round stoppage of Morris to claim the vacant English super featherweight title.

After securing his first professional title in the sport, Crolla then got his first main event slot in his very next fight as he moved up in weight to fight for the vacant British lightweight championship. Anthony was matched up with John Watson (13-1, 5 KOs). Watson, prior to the bout, had only ever tasted defeat once in his previous 14 outings, that defeat came at the hands of former WBA world champion Gavin Rees (33-1, 16 KOs). Crolla would go on to stop Watson in a mild shock to claim the vacant British belt.

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Crolla would then come across another stumbling block in his career as he was matched with the popular Liverpool fighter ‘Dirty’ Derry Matthews (29-6-1, 15 KOs). Derry and Anthony would headline the show in Oldham, and it would be the Liverpool man who would pull out the victory handing Crolla his first-ever stoppage defeat by halting the Mancunian in the sixth round.

In a bid to push his career on Crolla entered the recently formed Prizefighter tournament. In the quarter-finals, Crolla defeated Stephen Jennings (5-1-1, 2 KOs) by decision over three rounds. Crolla would then meet former foe Gary Sykes (20-2, 5 KOs) in the semifinal but went on to lose over the tournament’s three-round distance.

Crolla would then go on to win the English lightweight Title. He handed unbeaten Kieran Farrell (14-0, 3 KOs) his first defeat on points, but tragedy would occur after the fight after Farrell was rushed to hospital with a suspected bleed on the brain. Farrell would on go to recover from this and although his boxing career had ended the pair who had shared twelve hard rounds would go on to become great friends, with Crolla a regular supporter and ringside observer at Farrell’s promotional shows in Manchester

The next two bouts would be a big turning point in the career of Anthony Crolla as he picked up victories over former foe Derry Matthews and former WBA champion Gavin Rees, this for a fighter who was not expected to get past English title level. Crolla was given yet another step up in opposition against fellow Manchester native John Murray (33-2, 20 KOs) who himself was looking to propel himself back into world title contention having failed to beat Brandon Rios in 2011.

Crolla found himself being outworked and outboxed by Murray but pulled out a come-from-behind knockout victory over the former world title challenger. Crolla got Murray out of there in the tenth round to claim a major win; this would be subsequently John Murray’s final outing as a professional as he retired after the contest.

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Many felt after the Murray win that Crolla was ready for a shot at a world title and after two more victories the opportunity came knocking only to be thwarted by tragedy

It was announced by Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Boxing that Anthony Crolla would challenge for the WBA world Lightweight title against the current champion Richar Abril (19-3-1, 8 KOs). Whilst in training for the bout Crolla would suffer a fractured skull and a broken ankle as a result of pursuing two burglars who had attempted to ransack his neighbor’s property. After managing to catch up to one of the offenders, Crolla was hit over the head with what he described as a concrete slab. After undergoing surgery Crolla was told by doctors that is was unlikely he would ever box again and that he was lucky to be alive.

In what was truly a magical chain of events, Crolla returned to training and was presented with the opportunity to challenge WBA world lightweight champion Darleys Perez (32-1, 20 KOs). On that night the noise inside the MEN arena was deafening and not since Ricky Hatton had dethroned Kostya Tzsyu in 2005 had the arena created such an atmosphere for its new hero.

Bearing in mind Crolla had not had any warmup fights ahead of the title challenge he boxed superbly, causing Perez all sorts of problems and seemingly had done enough. As the final bell went Crolla dove onto the ropes and was lauded with admiration from the Manchester crowd. The fight was ruled a majority draw. The result was a bitter pill to swallow for not only Crolla but the whole of Manchester who turned out in droves. Crolla, however, took it in stride, like a true champion.

The immediate rematch was confirmed within weeks of the first fight taking place, and when fight night rolled around the anticipation was in the air, with many asking could Crolla repeat his feat from the first fight. The fight was a close affair, and it seemed that the crowd would be in for another nail-biting night. However, in the fourth round Crolla landed a stunning left hook into the solar plexus of the Colombian’s body to put Perez down. Perez would not beat the count and Manchester would have one of the most memorable wins in recent British boxing history.

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Crolla’s first defense of his WBA crown would come against dangerous, hard-hitting Venezuelan Ismael Barroso (19-0-2, 18 KOs). Many had predicted this to be one of the toughest nights of Crolla’s career and if he was able get past Barroso, he would have a great shot against anyone in the division. Crolla would have to sustain heavy pressure in the opening rounds. However this new, reinvigorated version of Crolla was seemingly much smarter and took his time before he unloaded on a tiring Barroso taking the unbeaten man out in the seventh round.

Over the course of the next 12 months Anthony Crolla dared to be great as he twice took on three-weight world titlist Jorge Linares (46-5, 28 KOs). This appeared to be a step too far as he was twice beaten on points having shared twenty four rounds with the Venezuelan maestro.

Seven months after his defeat at the hands of Jorge Linares, Crolla got on the comeback trail by beating former three-weight belt-holder Ricky Burns (41-6-1, 14 KOs) in what was a close knit contest. After two wins against Edson Ramirez (18-2-1, 8 KOs) and Daud Yordan (38-3, 26 KOs) Crolla would be made mandatory for the WBA lightweight title which was held by the formidable Vasiliy Lomachenko (12-1, 9 KOs).

The fight would be for Lomachenko’s WBA and WBO titles. Crolla was written off by experts and was listed as a major underdog for the fight and understandably so as Crolla was knocked out by the Ukrainian in the fourth round.

Crolla is widely regarded in the UK as one of the nicest guys in boxing and Saturday provides the Manchester and UK fight fans with one more opportunity to see their hero of recent times have one more hurrah in the ring, and bring to an end a career which was predicted to only have got to English title level.

Whatever the result on fight night, Crolla can ride off into the sunset having achieved his dream of winning a world title and sharing the ring with some of the sport’s great pugilists.