Dave Oakes previews Saturday's British lightweight title clash between Anthony Crolla and Derry Mathews (undercard details after the jump).
In October 2006 a young Derry Mathews produced the best performance of his fledgling career by beating hometown favourite Stephen Foster Jnr at the MEN Arena. There was a buzz amongst ringsiders following the performance – most had picked Foster, the few who picked Mathews had felt it would be close, no-one expected Mathews to win as clearly as he did.
Making his debut way down the undercard that night was Anthony Crolla, boxing his way to a four round points victory in a fight that was overshadowed by the big names on the bill (Calzaghe, Maccarinelli and the then hot prospects Kell Brook and Nathan Cleverly). Only the utterly devoted boxing fans in the arena took any notice of Crolla, knowing he was an ABA champion with a burgeoning reputation around the north-west.
Five and a half years later the pair meet at Oldham Sports Centre with Crolla very much the favourite to win. If you’d said to the spectators that night at the M.E.N that Mathews would fail to win a major domestic title in his career, most would’ve laughed at you. That’s exactly what’s happened though and time is running out for the affable Scouser to change it. Saturday night may be his last chance.
Mathews built on the Foster victory with good wins over John Simpson and Matthew Marsh before his career disintegrated with four stoppage defeats in five fights. He briefly retired before coming back less than a year later to try and rebuild his once promising career. After a few fights he entered the Prizefighter tournament, and whilst he was overwhelmed in two rounds by Gary Buckland in the final, two good performances prior to that had shown there was still something left in the tank for Mathews to build upon.
Things had been going well for Mathews up until his two most recent fights. A horrendous looking broken nose caused by an accidental headbutt brought his challenge for the European title to an abrupt end – the fight against Gavin Rees being declared a technical draw. Mathews had done okay in the three completed rounds but there was a feeling Rees was starting to control things little by little as the fight progressed.
His last fight was far more damaging; he took a shellacking against Emiliano Marsili, getting stopped in the seventh round. Mathews never looked at ease against Italian southpaw and was methodically beaten up, getting dropped in the process. There were one or two signs that night that Mathews may be on the slide – he’s only 28 but he’s had a career full of hard fights. Mathews has said in the build-up to this fight that he feels fresh but he also honestly admits that he knows his career is at risk if he loses.
The five and a half years have been more successful for Crolla, who is still on the rise after overcoming a couple of defeats early in his career. He’s been very active since his points loss to Gary Sykes three years ago and has shown improvement in nearly every one of those fights. This will be the second defence of the British lightweight title he won against John Watson last year, having beaten Willie Limond on points in his first defence.
During the last 12 months Crolla has seen a big fight with Erik Morales fall through - an opportunity one feels he would’ve taken. He hasn’t seemed too downhearted about missing out on the chance to make a name for himself worldwide though – testament to his laidback nature and quiet determination to succeed no matter what.
Mathews has the edge in power and is somewhat underrated as a boxer – he can look very good when he’s in full flow. Unfortunately for him the good patches rarely seem to last for the duration of a fight, if he doesn’t find his rhythm or cause significant damage early, he tends to lose confidence and struggles as the fight wears on. He’s not got the sturdiest of chins either and can be hurt to the body – as seen in his fights against Buckland and Marsili.
Crolla might not be a big puncher but he hits crisply and accurately enough to discourage opponents. He puts his combinations together beautifully and can be relentless when he starts finding the target – he’s adept at reading an opponent and making small adjustments to punish their mistakes and weaknesses. If he finds Mathews easy to hit, which one feels he will, he could replicate the beating Marsili dished out.
Both are good body punchers, Mathews’ left hook downstairs being particularly impressive, but one feels Crolla will box intelligently enough to avoid taking too many clean shots and will make Matthews pay every time he leaves his defences open – something which he often does when trying to land his own shots.
Matthews is as game as they come and he’ll make the fight entertaining, history suggests he may come a cropper in doing so though. Unless Matthews lands something big early, it’s hard to envisaging him outboxing the quicker, fresher Crolla over twelve rounds. Crolla, who’s usually patient early on, should be able to pick Mathews apart increasingly as the fight progresses, forcing a mid-to-late rounds stoppage.
The pick of the undercard, and possibly the fight of the night, sees unbeaten Matty Askin take on Jon-Lewis Dickinson for the English cruiserweight title. Askin carries serious power – especially in his right hand, but he’s untested and Dickinson is a good fighter with more experience.
The fight should show us how good Askin is and may answer one or two questions that haven’t been asked before. It’s got all the makings of an intriguing fight. Providing Askin’s chin is solid and his stamina holds up, he should come through a tough test to win on points.