Andrew Harrison previews the Saturday super featherweight bout between John Watson and Anthony Crolla. Enjoy, and make sure you read more from Mr. Harrison and the other fine writers at The Queensberry Rules, and we thank Andrew for his help on this one, as he filled in on short notice.
Huyton lightweight John Watson will be attempting to land his hat on a Lonsdale belt at the second time of asking in Liverpool on Saturday, the very title in fact which eluded him three months back. Thwarted on that occasion by the craft of Gavin Rees after a bruising encounter which tipped in favour of the Welshman in the eleventh round, Watson faces a late substitute after "The Rock" pulled up lame with a busted beak - forfeiting his crown in the process.
Replacement comes in the shape of English super featherweight titlist Anthony "Million Dollar" Crolla, the precision punching New Moston man who had been prepping for a clash later this month with the dangerous Carl Johanneson. It's the type of limelight Crolla has been hovering toward, fighting as he does out of Joe Gallagher's burgeoning fight lab in Denton alongside hotshots John and Joe Murray, Stephen "Swifty" Smith and middleweight contender Matthew Macklin. Since hooking up with Gallagher in 2009, he's been making steady strides - tallying six victories on the spin (with two quick) - yet he has much distance to cover should he harbour ambitions of justifying that ring tag before his career winds down.
Both men are former ABA champions; Crolla having triumphed at lightweight in 2006 two years after his rival took the championship as a light welter, validating the good basics which are evident in both. Whilst Crolla has honed his professional craft since, Watson's key tack remains his trusty old one-two.
At 24, Crolla 19-2 (7), the junior man by three years, approaches this one in fine fettle after putting in a career best shift in October. Ladling on intelligent pressure and reinforcing it with a searing body assault he managed to methodically break down Wythenshawe cutey Andy Morris after seven rounds of high tempo action. Watson, meanwhile, is coming off his first defeat, which can so often prove to be a psychological minefield for the beaten fighter.
The intense looking Watson 13-1 (5) is bigger and taller and he'll look to snipe from range before negating Crolla's work inside. The close quarter argument will be a crucial one you feel as Crolla will be attempting to close the distance on Watson quickly, picking holes in his defence with organised attacks whilst looking to counter with debilitating left hooks to head and body whenever Watson attempts to lead. And it's the left which Crolla excels with, artfully screwing his shots into an opponent's grill for maximum effect.
It's tempting to side with Watson here, who can pose the same sort of problems Crolla experienced in his most recent defeat when he found himself outworked by the straight punching Gary Sykes over ten rounds. With natural size along with home advantage on his side, he looks the obvious pick at first glance. He also has an ace in the hole in the shape of Dave Coldwell, a wise young head who'll be relishing the opportunity to pit his wits against Gallagher.
After reviewing the Rees fight, though, I was reminded of how Watson had looked on the verge of being outclassed in the opening few rounds until he managed to grab a foothold and make a row of it, a shift which only came about after the Newbridge scuffler's nose (which looked damaged on his way into the ring) caved in on him again.
If Crolla can avoid similar damage, he will be accelerating down the stretch, where his subtle, bruising attacks should begin to take their toll. The only worry for those looking to back the guy with the dollar signs on his shorts would be negligence from the judging panel. Despite following Gallagher's game plan to perfection against Morris, it was alarming to note that one scorer failed to find him a single round in a fight which had appeared level. Crolla fights to beat a man up, not to score points.
Watson (rated sixth at the weight domestically by Boxing News) is favoured with the bookmakers somewhere in the region of 8/11. At odds of 6/4, Crolla (ranked seventh at super feather) represents excellent value and at that price, he merits close attention. Crolla to win on points is a tempting 3/1 and that's the outcome I'm expecting.
He'll have to work mighty hard to achieve it and contend with judges who may not necessarily appreciate his deft body punching and clever pressurising, however, with youth on his side and the osmosis like quality of a successful team working its magic, he can carve out a close but hard fought decision victory.
Sky Sports televise this Matchroom main event live from the really rather splendid Olympia in Liverpool.