In the first Crolla/Linares match up back in September the pair treated the Manchester crowd in attendance to a solid night of boxing action. By no means a ‘Fight of the Year’ contender but an all round, old-fashioned, hard fought night at the fights.
In the end it would be Jorge Linares who lifted the WBA Lightweight title via a deserved unanimous decision. With Mancunian hearts momentarily broken talks of a rematch were immediate:
Linares vs Crolla first fight:
Here we are little over three months later and March 25th has been officially pencilled in. Once again the Manchester Arena will play host to the newly crowned champion and the home town hero.
The original encounter, though thoroughly entertaining to watch, followed an unchanging script over the course of the twelve rounds: Crolla took the front foot looking to pressure the taller and lengthier Linares with his trademark jab, while Linares, willingly taking the back foot, looked to fire off counter shots and combinations as Crolla moved forward.
Perhaps Crolla’s mistake was to cover up whenever any serious offence was coming his way and to allow the more aggressive opponent to potentially tire himself out.
The only issue here was that Linares’ tank lasted the full 36 minutes, racking up points as the fight progressed, ultimately costing Crolla the title.
It seemed to be a similar tactic he employed against Ismael Barroso which turned out to be a fantastic display of tactical discipline from Crolla, earning him an upset victory in one of British boxing’s proudest moments of the year. Considering how well it worked on this night, who can really blame Crolla or his team for sticking to their guns?
Looking forward to March 25th it’s easy to see what sort of a game plan Jorge Linares and his team will probably try to employ. The first time round it was obvious the Venezuelan held the edge in speed.
His counter shots and combinations are what grabbed the eyes of the three scoring judges, even if they were mostly for show and didn’t cause any serious damage, when compared to Crolla’s persistence and faith in his jab.
The one time in the fight Crolla did find himself rocked was from a lone right hand – a singular, stand-alone shot which seemed to shock even Linares, who jumped on Crolla but couldn’t finish the job.
These quick-fire combinations are a proven way to earn points on the scorecards for Linares who I imagine would prefer to stay at long range rather than risk being caught by one of Crolla’s now legendary body shots. Chances are, if he produces a carbon-copy performance, we will have the exact same result. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it, right?
Crolla, on the other hand, will have to make some drastic changes to his arsenal and style of approach if he has any hope of taking his belt back from his classy opponent.
This we know for certain: Linares can be stopped. For all his skills and admirable boxing attributes Linares has been badly hurt and stopped on multiple occasions by opponents who, on paper, probably shouldn’t have caused many issues.
Recently here in the UK we saw Kevin ‘Mighty’ Mitchell take Linares to the limit in their fight, stunning and dropping the more skilled Linares, before ultimately being stopped himself in a cracking war.
Many speculate Crolla is the most improved British fighter of this era, but perhaps it’s the Crolla of old who would be the most dangerous man in the ring.
The Crolla who wasn’t afraid to lunge in to land the big shot, even if it did put himself at risk of getting KO’d. Maybe it’s this man we need to see if Crolla wants to take advantage of the vulnerable Linares and really test his questionable chin.
Or, on the other hand, maintaining the tight high guard and picking his shots might still be the way to go for Crolla, as long as he is able to successfully neutralize the speedy combinations of Linares.
As unthinkable as it sounds for a hard-boiled warrior like Crolla, taking a step back when Linares goes for broke isn’t the worst idea in the world – it eliminates the risk of taking a heavy shot and gives the judges nothing in terms of shots landed – then giving Crolla the opportunity to jump back into the mix unexpectedly and push his man back to the ropes, which is where his best chances of landing a big shot lie.
There’s still plenty of time to speculate which way the rematch will go. Early betting odds are showing Linares as an undeniable favourite, and with good reason. He’s an impeccable talent.
But, if there’s one man in the world capable of bouncing back against all odds and producing an upset victory it’s ‘Million Dolla’. Comparing his recent performances to those from five or even three years ago you’d swear you were looking at two different fighters.
Even with so many belts on the line, the prize for the victor could be some of the biggest names in the sport. Some of whom are worth more than the gold they carry.
Will Linares march onward as expected? Or will we see yet another emphatic spanner in the works from the defiant Crolla?
More to follow as the Linares vs Crolla rematch draws closer. Stay tuned.