Boxing champ Crolla 'living the dream' after brutal attack
MANCHESTER, England (AP) He will be introduced as Anthony ''Million Dollar'' Crolla when he enters the ring for the first defense of his WBA lightweight title on Saturday. The British boxer has another label: ''The man that cheated death,'' he says with a gentle laugh.
The scar at the top of Crollla's forehead is a reminder of that night in December 2014 when he almost lost his boxing career, and more.
Crolla had returned to his home in Oldham, northern England, when he heard his neighbors' burglar alarm going off. After spotting two fleeing intruders, he chased them and cornered them in a driveway. As they attempted to vault a wall, one of them dislodged a concrete slab and the other hit Crolla over the head with it.
Crolla sustained a fractured skull and a broken ankle. Doctors told him he was lucky to survive.
''If the concrete slab had hit me two inches either side, it could have killed me,'' Crolla told The Associated Press. ''But some things in life happen. Although it wasn't a nice time, I wouldn't change it. It's made me who I am today.''
At the time of the incident, Crolla was five weeks away from the biggest fight of his life, against Richar Abril for the WBA lightweight belt. The fight was canceled, but he was cleared to resume boxing after passing tests. In November last year, he delivered one of the feel-good stories in British sport by winning the title in a rematch against Darleys Perez of Colombia.
Crolla (30-4-3, with 12 KOs) will defend the title for the first time against unbeaten Ismael Barroso of Venezuela at the Manchester Arena.
''Each time I walk to the ring, I'm grateful,'' Crolla said. ''That's one of the things. It (the attack) has made me mentally stronger. I've got nothing to fear now. I feared the end of my career and even worse. I feel like I'm living the dream now.''
Crolla is a Manchester United fan and two of the biggest names in the soccer club's history helped him get through his ordeal. United captain Wayne Rooney sent Crolla a signed team shirt and former manager Alex Ferguson spoke to him over the phone.
''Getting a call off Sir Alex was surreal,'' Crolla said. ''I thought, `Wow, they've read my story,' and it is very inspiring for someone like me who grew up idolizing him. Wayne's a very busy man but whenever I see him we have a chat and he wishes me luck for my fights. It means the world to have the United captain doing that.''
Crolla trainer, Joe Gallagher, has known Crolla since he was 11. The attack shook him.
''What a difference 12 months makes – there he was in a hospital with a fractured skull and 12 months later he's world champion,'' Gallagher said. ''He's a proud world champion. He has that belt and takes it around with him to the amateur clubs. If you were to open up a book, the picture and the description of a boxing champion would be of Anthony Crolla.''
Barroso landed a shot at Crolla by beating Kevin Mitchell in London in December, which extended his unbeaten record to 19 fights (18 by KO).
''He's a huge puncher and great fighter. And he looks a character,'' Crolla said. ''But I'm not intimidated, not at all. I've been through scarier things in life.''