English lightweight Anthony 'Million Dollar' Crolla makes his first defense of the WBA lightweight title this Saturday night in his native Manchester, headlining the card against mandatory challenger Ismael Barroso of Venezuala.
Barroso was somewhat unheralded before his battering of former WBO Inter-Continental lightweight champion Kevin Mitchell this past December. His 9-0-2 record includes the ten-fight win streak he is currently riding. All ten wins came by way of knockout.
"He's a powerful puncher and a guy that people have been avoiding in the lightweight division, I think. He's very avoided," Crolla told Bad Left Hook at a press conference in Manchester yesterday.
"He's got power but there's more to his game than that. He is capable of boxing as well as slugging it out, his footwork is good and he is good at cutting the ring off if you let him. I went to the fight with Kevin Mitchell and I got a close look at him and now I am glad that I did, that has come in useful."
As a power-punching southpaw with little name recognition, Barroso is not an obvious choice for Crolla's first challenger. The champion admits as much, laughing as he observes that some bookmakers have him as the slight underdog as of Thursday.
"It's not your typical first defense, your nice comfortable first defense, but I have thrived on having the underdog title again and again. Saturday night is just work for me, another day in the office," he smiles.
Crolla has a reputation as one of the genuinely nicest guys in the boxing game – his career took a year hiatus when he suffered a fractured skull defending a neighbor's property from burglars – so the trash-talk at today's press conference was minimal, albeit entertaining for the brief moment it lasted.
Via his interpreter, Barroso informed Crolla that he had been "talking too much at this conference, relative to the time you will be spending in the ring on Saturday night". The fight's promoter Eddie Hearn Jr. then drew laughs from the room when he told the interpreter, "That's not all he said! You made that up!", ribbing him on the brevity of his translation versus the intermediate length of Barroso's utterance in Spanish.
"Yeah there was a bit of talk but nothing too serious, we are just playing the game," says Crolla with a grin. "This is a real fight, closely matched, we don't need to do too much talking... plus he doesn't speak English, so it's hard to get too much chit-chat going."
Joking aside, there is real business to be done on Saturday night and Crolla is determined that he will be the chief benficiary. He intends to force "respect" on Barroso by letting him feel some of his own power-punching, though he says a slugfest is not the gameplan.
"It's not that I am going in there looking for the knockout. I am going in there to box, but at some point I will be sitting down on my punches, squaring off with him. Sometimes with a heavy puncher you have to get their respect and that's what I will be doing," he explains.
"A win on Saturday will add more weight to my claim to being the best lightweight in the world and open up some bigger fights. More importantly, it means that the belt comes home with me to my little boy, where it belongs."
Crolla vs. Barroso takes place this Saturday at the Manchester Arena in Manchester, England and airs live on Sky Sports.