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Sky Sports boxing preview: Anthony Crolla vs Ismael Barroso

Anthony Crolla takes on Ismael Barroso this Saturday on Sky Sports.

Chris Brunskill/Getty Images

Anthony Crolla makes his first defense of the WBA lightweight title on Saturday in Manchester, facing Venezuelan -puncher Ismael Barroso on Sky Sports. Here's a breakdown of the matchup.

Anthony Crolla vs Ismael Barroso

Boxing at Manchester Arena Photo by Dave Thompson/Getty Images

Anthony Crolla

Record: 30-4-3 (12 KO) ... Streak: W1 ... Last 5: 3-0-2 ... Last 10: 6-1-3 ... Stance: Orthodox ... Height/Reach: 5'8½" / 67" ...Age: 29

Thoughts: Whenever I think of Anthony Crolla, even now that he holds the IBF lightweight title, I think back to his 2011 fight in Las Vegas against a club fighter named Juan Montiel, who entered with a 5-4-3 record. Crolla had been scheduled to face Erik Morales on the Mayweather-Ortiz undercard that night, but Morales instead was gifted a chance to fight for the vacant WBC 140-pound title against Pablo Cesar Cano, leaving Crolla to fight scraps deep on the undercard.

Crolla barely escaped that night with a win, taking an eight-round split decision over Montiel, who had just fought tough four weeks earlier against then-unbeaten prospect Carlos Molina (the one who later lost to Amir Khan and Adrien Broner). Was it a case of Crolla having his spirits taken away a bit, losing a chance to fight a legend and instead fighting someone no one knew? Was Montiel just on a bit of a roll right then? Was it simply an off night?

Whatever it was, I sort of wrote Crolla off at that time. He'd already suffered a shock loss to a fighter named Youssef Al Hamidi, who entered with a record of 3-8-1, in 2008, and was beaten by Gary Sykes in 2009. Later, in 2012, he was upset by Derry Mathews, losing the British lightweight title, and lost a three-round Prizefighter bout to Sykes again. He and Mathews went to a 12-round draw in 2013. Crolla wasn't bad to watch, and was a competent fighter, but domestic level. Nothing more.

Last July, he got the chance to face Darleys Perez for the WBA lightweight title. Crolla was not the most deserving challenger, but we've seen worse. After the rematch draw with Mathews, he had notched wins over Gavin Rees, Stephen Foster, and John Murray, all decent enough, if still domestic level.

That night at Manchester Arena, Crolla fought his heart out over 12 rounds. He deserved the win. I had it 115-111 for Crolla, a 7-5 win in rounds plus two point deductions against Perez for low blows late in the fight. But two of the three judges had it 113-113, 7-5 for Perez in rounds minus the low blows. Without the second low blow, Crolla would have lost a split decision (the third judge had it 116-111 for Crolla). Without that second deduction, Crolla probably would not have been able to get a rematch in November.

He got it, and he won, and he won emphatically, knocking Perez out with a left hook to the body in the fifth round. It was an incredibly emotional night for Crolla, who defied the odds and became "world champion," after his boxing career had been in doubt due to injuries suffered in an assault outside of the ring in 2014. He'd earned it once, and gotten the short end of the stick. He made the second try count.

Is Crolla truly an elite fighter, though? That's hard to say. Darleys Perez wasn't the greatest champion in the world himself, and Crolla now goes in against a guy who looked like a buzzsaw in his last fight. But Anthony Crolla is a fighter easy to like and easy to root for, and that as much as anything makes people happy to see him succeed.

Ismael Barroso

Boxing at The O2 Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Record: 19-0-2 (18 KO) ... Streak: W14 ... Last 5: 5-0 ... Last 10: 10-0 ... Stance: Southpaw ... Height/Reach: 5'8½" / 69" ...Age: 33

Thoughts: Barroso's career record, broken down by location:

  • Venezuela 6-0-1
  • Panama 4-0
  • Costa Rica 2-0-1
  • Mexico 2-0
  • United States 2-0
  • United Kingdom 1-0
  • Nicaragua 1-0
  • Dominican Republic 1-0

Here's what we knew about Ismael Barroso before his December 12 win over Kevin Mitchell in London: he had a great KO percentage, and he hadn't really beaten anyone of note. He was well-traveled, as you can see above, going wherever he could find a fight. But when your most notable opponents are the likes of Issouf Kinda and Ira Terry, there are a lot of questions to be answered.

Barroso answered those questions to a degree. He got in Mitchell's head pretty quick in that fight, as it seemed he made his opponent fearful of the power in the very first round, and he scored a knockdown in the fourth and two more in the fifth to finish things impressively.

That said, Mitchell's never been the sturdiest fighter. He's always had good skills, but he's been stopped in each of his four losses -- against Michael Katsidis, Ricky Burns, Jorge Linares, and Barroso -- and he might not be the greatest gauge of Barroso's power. It looked real, but Crolla, who has better punch resistance, will give us a better reading on how hard a puncher Barroso really is.

That said, Crolla has been stopped before, too, and was legitimately hurt before he was stopped in that defeat against Derry Mathews in 2012, even if the hook came a bit early, when it did come in the sixth round. So there's a vulnerability to Crolla, even if that was four years ago, and even if we've seen him stand up to some tough fights since then, particularly against John Murray in 2014, a fight Crolla was losing on two cards before he stopped the hard-charging Murray in the 10th round.

The lightweight ranks are still thin at the moment, which is frankly why a fighter like Crolla is a world champion, and why a fighter like Barroso, still somewhat unproven even after a good win, is so much of a threat. Crolla is far from a true elite level fighter, though he is solid and capable. We'll see how close to "elite level" Barroso might be.

Matchup Grade: B. OK, it's not exactly two pound-for-pound contenders clashing, but it's a good fight given the way boxing actually works. Crolla earned his title with a knockout of the previous champion. Barroso looked fantastic in smashing out Kevin Mitchell a few weeks later. The fight was a natural -- the hope, of course, was that Mitchell would win and set up an all-UK world title fight -- and we're getting it. It could also be plenty exciting. Barroso is a puncher, and Crolla has been a tough fighter his whole career, a warrior at times, and he's not going to give up his belt easily, especially at home.