Anthony Crolla lost his WBA belt and missed out on the chance to become a unified lightweight champion following a points defeat to Jorge Linares on Saturday night (24 September). 'Million Dollar' produced a typically determined and valiant performance in front of a raucous hometown crowd at the Manchester Arena, but ultimately found himself outclassed by a superior fighter and was defeated 115-114, 117-111, 115-113 on the judges' scorecards.
Golden Boy's Linares, a highly-rated three-weight world champion who had surprisingly never been taken the distance in 43 previous professional fights, had the better of the early exchanges and caused problems with his lightning hand speed and crisp body shots. Crolla began to step up the pace in round four, while referee Terry O'Connor repeatedly warned the Venezuelan for several perceived low blows that looked borderline at worst.
Crolla then gained more confidence as he stuck to his gameplan and backed up Linares, who was initially hampered by a cut that opened up just above his left eye. He actually looked at his best during the midway stage of the bout, but much of that hard work was undone by a difficult end to round six that saw him potentially spared a knockdown by the bell as his opponent picked apart his defences on the ropes.
It is testament to Crolla's determination and sheer willpower that he was able to recover from that setback to engage in a real war of attrition. However, Linares, whose three previous losses came at the hands of Juan Carlos Salgado, Antonio DeMarco and Sergio Thompson, demonstrated his class by continuing to land good combinations off the back foot and utilising his right hand to powerful effect in round 10.
It became clear heading into the final six minutes that the home favourite would likely need a knockout in order to emerge victorious. Ultimately, however, he did not have quite enough left in the tank to produce a whirlwind finish and Linares continued to impress with that dazzling hand speed to cement a deserved win that saw him hold on to his WBC Diamond belt as well as taking Crolla's WBA strap and becoming The Ring lightweight champion.
"It was a close fight, but I have no complaints," a disappointed Crolla told Sky Sports after his fourth career loss was confirmed by the judges. "I will watch it back and I walked on to a few sharp combinations. He rocked my world, I'm not going to lie, my head is still spinning. I trained hard, I am absolutely gutted. It was a pleasure to share a ring with him and he is the best fighter I have fought but I never celebrate losing.
"I came so close to beating him and it shows I belong at this level. A few mistakes can cost you and that's what happened tonight. I have to make sure I win a rematch."
Promoter Eddie Hearn confirmed that the two men will do it all again, adding: "There will be a rematch, we have an agreement for this. It will happen in Manchester again. This young man is a credit to Manchester and a credit to Great Britain. He never moans, he has never moaned once. He will fight Jorge Linares again, and he will beat him. Boxers like Anthony Crolla want to fight the best and Manchester should be so proud of this man."
Linares was typically humble in victory, praising Crolla and confirming that they can fight again. He also revealed that a damaged hand in round six caused him to back off somewhat, but ultimately that did not detract from a seriously impressive performance.