Anthony Crolla v Jorge Linares: Manchester fighter suffers defeat in rematch
Anthony Crolla was outclassed in his bid to regain the WBA lightweight title as talented Venezuelan Jorge Linares produced a superb display at Manchester Arena.
Crolla - unanimously outpointed when the pair met in September - was rarely able to get close enough to his opponent to cause damage and was dropped by a stinging Linares uppercut in the seventh round.
Though he responded admirably, roared on by around 15,000 in the arena, Crolla always looked at the mercy of Linares' variety of shots and even when pockets of promise arrived for the home fighter, he often quickly faced blows in return.
The pair embraced on the bell, Crolla sporting a look of frustration as his opponent's hand was raised with the scores 118-109 on all three scorecards.
- Relive Crolla v Linares as it happened
- Listen to the fight again here (from 06:00 BST on Sunday)
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The hope was this boxing cauldron could witness a Manchester fighter memorably upset the odds some 12 years after Ricky Hatton stunned Kostya Tszyu here on a night those present still talk glowingly about.
The reality was that Linares' combination of pedigree, experience and will to trade with ferocity if needed, proved too much.
A world champion by 21, Linares has held world crowns in three weight divisions. The 31-year-old's 14 years as a professional showed as he picked his shots with guile, the uppercut finding its target on several occasions as his upper-body movement consistently opened up the shot.
Crolla, who admitted he "lost to the better man", deserves credit. His career has been a rollercoaster from the moment he suffered a fractured skull and broken ankle when trying to apprehend burglars in 2014. A draw and victory against Darleys Perez saw him claim a world title within a year, only for Linares to take it in what was Crolla's second defence.
The rematch was never the same contest. Though those in attendance sang passionately for their fighter - a heavy underdog - they could not shake a man who looked ice cool and has now contested 41 of his 45 fights outside of Venezuela.
He will now seek a Las Vegas payday against WBC champion Mikey Garcia, while Crolla will likely need to rebuild domestically if he is to come again at world level.
How the fight played out
As Tony Bellew screamed "show no respect Ant, make it ugly" from ringside, Crolla embarked on a workmanlike opening two rounds. His guard was constantly high, Linares by comparison confident to lower his own when not at close range.
It meant Crolla was unable to get up close to his opponent as Linares' free hands were piston-like to keep his man at distance. His shots were blisteringly quick, a two-shot combination ending with a right uppercut in the third.
Crolla gutsily stepped forward to close ring space - a feat he claims he let slip late in the pairs' first meeting - and he finally smothered Linares in the fourth, landing two uppercuts at short range. But Linares snapped the home fighter's head back with a sublime uppercut of his own in six, dipping his body to the left before launching the shot with thrust.
It drew a collective grimace from the crowd. Linares - at times tip-toeing with grace and constantly exuding confidence - dropped his man with the same shot in seven. Crolla rose and pumped his hands in defiance as the crowd tried to lift him but as both men walked to their corners, Linares sported a grin of satisfaction.
Now cut above his left eye, Crolla responded with the grit which has endeared him to so many in recent years. A left hook to the jaw and later the body landed in the 10th but he was never able to find a pace or land the shots which could fluster an opponent of such class.
'I am so sorry, Manchester' - what they said
"He's a great champion," Crolla said, speaking on Sky Sports.
"Manchester, I am so sorry I couldn't do it for you. Your support means so much to me. He caught me but before that I thought I could get to him. I got beaten by the better man - no excuses.
"I am 30 years old, I am going to rest, but I believe I can go again."
In an interview with BBC Radio 5 live, Crolla added: "I could just not pin him down. I was pleading with Joe (Gallagher) to let me go on (for the last round), and you still believe you can land a shot.
"I'm gutted I couldn't do it in front of these fans."
Crolla's trainer Joe Gallagher told BBC Radio 5 live why he wanted to take Crolla out of the fight after the 11th round.
Gallagher said: "I thought we were not going to win this, but Anthony pleaded and said 'let me go on'. He wanted to go out on his shield.
"Linares was very good and everyone could see what a great world champion he is. You have seen one of the best pound for pound fighters in the world."
Promoter Eddie Hearn told BBC Radio 5 live: "I thought after the first fight Jorge Linares would not perform a career-best performance and he did. He was absolutely brilliant.
"It is so hard when Anthony Crolla comes up to you and says 'I'm so sorry'. You lost on points to one of the best pound for pound fighters.
"We will choose an easier world title. Anthony Crolla will be back 100%, he is an ultimate professional and a credit to himself."
Heavyweight world title contender Hughie Fury on BBC Radio 5 live
Crolla has the heart of a lion. He tried his best to fight him, box him, out-think him, but Linares had too much skill, too much movement.
There is nothing worse than when you miss the shots and then get hit. It is demoralising. He didn't look hurt in there, but he was out-skilled and out-boxed.
BBC Radio 5 live boxing pundit Steve Bunce
The crowd cannot perform miracles and Linares was a magician in there. When you lose to a man like that, there is no shame for Crolla.
BBC Radio 5 live boxing commentator Mike Costello
Linares was simply too good and too classy for the game and the brave Anthony Crolla.