Former lightweight world titleholder Anthony Crolla’s nickname might be “Million Dollar,” but that is only because it rhymes. There is nothing flashy about Crolla, who spends his free time watching his beloved Manchester United football team.
Crolla seems too polite, humble and friendly to be a professional fighter, but on Friday he faces the world’s best in unified lightweight world titleholder Vasiliy Lomachenko at Staples Center in Los Angeles (ESPN+, 11 p.m. ET).
The Englishman has not gotten this opportunity by being nice in the ring. He once held one of the two lightweight belts Lomachenko will put on the line.
“I’m not the most talented, but what I don’t have in talent, I make up for in hard work. I’m certainly one of those fighters who work for their success. You also need a bit of luck.” Anthony Crolla
“It’s a tough fight, but it’s a fight I can’t wait for,” Crolla told ESPN after finishing one of many sessions studying footage of Lomachenko in action.
Crolla (34-6-3, 13 KOs) is one of England’s most popular boxers outside of heavyweights Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury.
One story perhaps explains Crolla’s appeal beyond just boxing fans in the U.K. and why he gets support from the likes of former Manchester United and current DC United soccer star Wayne Rooney.
In December 2014, just when his career was at a breakthrough moment, Crolla suffered a fractured skull and a broken ankle while stopping a burglary at a neighbor’s house. Crolla had a concrete slab dropped on his head and ankle by the burglars, who were trying to escape over a wall after the boxer had chased them off.
Crolla, 32, was hospitalized, a world title shot had to be scrapped and he was left fearing his boxing career was over.
Mainstream media in the U.K. latched on to the story, which took a happier turn for Crolla when he was given the all-clear to box again, landed a world title fight against Darleys Perez, and after a draw in July 2015 won the rematch by a fifth-round knockout in November of the same year.
Since the incident, Crolla has relied on swimming, yoga and an exercise bike to get fighting fit rather than the traditional method of roadwork.
“I can’t run, but there are other ways,” Crolla told ESPN.
Crolla has been unable to run in training since the street attack. He needed a metal plate to mend his ankle ahead of the points draw with Perez.
“I broke my ankle in two places and had a plate fitted, so I’ve had to work around it. And I certainly feel the benefits of the swimming,” Crolla told ESPN. “It’s less impact than running.”
Crolla has needed to be resilient through his career to recover from defeats, injuries and incidents like the one four and half years ago.
“Without a doubt, all that has happened has made me stronger,” Crolla told ESPN in 2015.
“Obstacles are put in front of you, and I’ve overcome them. I thought my career was over at one point, but I’ve become a much stronger person mentally. I’ve got to move on, and I hope the attackers have as well, that they are healthy and they are in a better place than robbing people’s houses. There’s no point in being bitter or really angry about it, building anger up inside you, because I will never find out the answer to who did it. It doesn’t do you any good.”
His name comes from his Italian ancestry. Crolla’s dad, a postman, is a descendant of Italian immigrants who arrived in Manchester, England, in their ice-cream van.
Crolla married his longtime girlfriend, Francesca Sanderson, in 2018, and the couple have a 5-year-old son, Jesse. Francesca supported Crolla when he suffered the attack, as he lay in the hospital for three days.
He was lucky — doctors told him he could have died. The then-Manchester United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, called Crolla when he was in the hospital, and forward Rooney arranged for a shirt to be signed by the team. These gestures certainly lifted Crolla’s spirits, and he made a quick recovery, as he challenged Perez for the lightweight world title seven months later. Although Crolla came up short in that majority draw, he took the belt in the rematch
By this time, Crolla had become a headline act in his home city of Manchester, which has also produced world champions Ricky Hatton, Tyson Fury, Scott Quigg and Terry Flanagan. Flanagan went to the same school as Crolla, St. Matthew’s in Moston, and he held a different version of the world lightweight title at the same time as Crolla held his. But they have rival promoters and never met in the ring.
This will be the first time Crolla, who started boxing at age 10, has been in a main event in the U.S. In 2011, he performed on the Floyd Mayweather-Victor Ortiz undercard in Las Vegas, where he scored a split-decision victory over Juan Montiel. Everything was going in the right direction.
But it took four years for Crolla to get his breakthrough. After he won the world title from Perez, he made one defense of the WBA belt before losing it to Jorge Linares in 2016.
Single-minded determination and resilience are qualities that have gotten Crolla this far in a career that began in October 2006 and has seen him lose six times. He lost to Linares twice on points and also on the domestic front earlier in his career to Derry Mathews, Gary Sykes (twice) and Youssef Al Hamidi.
Losses can be quite humbling in boxing.
“There was one time about six years ago I thought about having to take a job to provide for my family. Now I’m in the best part of my career, but there have been times when it didn’t look so good,” Crolla told ESPN.
“I’m fighting one of the best fighters on the planet. If you said what is going to happen after I lost the second fight to Linares, not many people would have taken you seriously.”
So, why did Crolla get another chance to fight for a world title? Is he the best challenger out there in the lightweight division for Lomachenko, boxing’s pound-for-pound No. 1?
“I’ve been boxing at world-class level for a number of years. Since losing to Linares, I’ve had two wins over world-class opponents, former world champion Ricky Burns and former world title challenger Daud Yordan, and if you are around at that level for long enough, big fights can happen,” Crolla said.
“To be fighting the best fighter on the planet, it shows that if you keep working hard, it does pay off. I’ve had defeats in my career, but I’ve come back, and now I’ve got the biggest task of all.”
Crolla is ranked at No. 4 in ESPN’s latest divisional rankings.
“I’m not the most talented, but what I don’t have in talent, I make up for in hard work,” Crolla said. “I’m certainly one of those fighters who work for their success. You also need a bit of luck.”