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.
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.