Manchester stylist Anthony 'Million Dollar' Crolla stays active tonight with a British lightweight title defence against veteran campaigner 'Dirty' Derry Mathews at the Sports Centre in Oldham.
Crolla is rightly regarded as one of the UK´s brightest young talents, and is looking to target the European title and beyond in the next year to 18 months. Mathews, once a highly touted prospect himself, could be facing his last chance to win a major domestic title.
Crolla vs Mathews is live on Sky Sports 1 in the UK from 20:00 BST.
25-year-old Anthony Crolla (23-2, 9 KOs) is currently ranked 4th by the EBU (Mathews is rated 14th) in a lightweight division dominated by British boxers. Welshman Gavin Rees is the champion, with Kevin Mitchell no.1 contender and John Murray at no.2.
In terms of boxing skill, Crolla is on a par with Mitchell, but as yet has not had the clutch fights against world ranked fighters that the Dagenham man has. Only when he has faced and beaten someone of the caliber of Breidis Prescott or John Murray will Crolla be considered of similar class to Mitchell – until then he remains a highly talented prospect.
Crolla, a pro since 2006, suffered an early career loss to journeyman Youssef Al Hamidi, and was also beaten by future champ Gary Sykes in a British featherweight title eliminator in 2009. Since then Crolla has been on a roll – winning ten straight bouts, including big wins over Andy Morris for the English super featherweight title (TKO 7) and a sensational performance in dominating Liverpool's John Watson en route to a 9th round TKO and the British lightweight title. Last time out Crolla put on a boxing masterclass when he won every round against Scotland's experienced Willie Limond in a title defence.
Crolla is an extremely slick, skillful boxer who has good power when he plants his feet and lets his punches fly, as witnessed in his destruction of Watson. His chin looks sound, and it would appear that all he lacks is top flight experience and the self confidence that comes with it.
28-year-old Derry Mathews has packed a lot of experience into his nine year boxing career – not all of it positive. A talented amateur who won the ABA bantamweight crown in 2002, Mathews went unbeaten in his first 20 bouts, winning the English featherweight title and the lightly regarded WBU world title before running into the heavy fists of Mongolian warrior Choi Tseveenpurev in 2008 and suffering a fifth round knockout. It was the start of a disastrous run for Mathews that saw him lose four of five bouts between April 2008 and November 2009, all inside the distance.
Mathews' once promising career looked over, but he experienced something of a reboot in the 2010 super featherweight Prizefighter competition, defeating Gary McArthur in the quarterfinals and gaining a semblance of revenge over Choi with a three round points win in the semis, but he was knocked out in two rounds by a Gary Buckland at his ferocious best in the final.
A tall and rangy 5'9'', Mathews possesses good boxing skills and power, fast hands and a great jab. His problem will always be a lack of punch resistance. After starting well in a British lightweight title shot against Gavin Rees last October, Mathews sustained a broken nose from a head clash, and chose to withdraw, resulting in the fight being ruled a technical draw. Boxing history is littered with warriors who fought back from broken noses, jaws, terrible cuts and even dislocations to prevail, but Mathews surprisingly decided to call it a night.
In his last fight Mathews was well beaten by the Italian counterpuncher Emiliano Marsili, finishing the fight battered and bloodied in seven rounds.
The truth is that Crolla will be expected to win, and win emphatically against Mathews tonight. This writer was disappointed that Crolla was content to go the distance against Limond when a stoppage looked on the cards, and he must develop a more ruthless streak if his is to fulfill his undoubted potential. I expect Mathews to make his customary fast start this evening, but for Crolla to take control by the third round, and to be looking for the stoppage by the middle rounds.
As all of Mathews six losses have come inside the distance, it would be massive disappointment if Crolla fails to get him out of there. I think he will take that on board, and turn on the power to take out Mathews in the seventh.
Prediction: Crolla by TKO in seven.
Dan Hunter is a lifelong boxing aficionado and our Boxing Editor.