Crolla appeared to have clinched a belt of his own in a close fight which saw Perez twice docked points for frequent low blows – but the judges were split, with one ruling for each fighter and the third calling it a draw.
But in the chase one of the thieves cracked the boxer with a paving slab and he was left with a fractured skull as well as a broken ankle in the fall.
Anthony Crolla suffered yet more heartbreak when his world title tilt against Darleys Perez ended in a draw. “He proved everyone wrong tonight”. On Saturday, the arena will play home to thousands – there has been talk of a crowd of between 12 and 15,000 – Manchester fight fans, many of whom will know 28 year old Crolla personally. “I know what I have to do to win and there’s no way I’m going back to Colombia without my title”.
Only in the 8th did the reluctant champion do enough as far as I was concerned, to get a 10-10 share of those points.
He also made a vow to keep plugging away in his mission to win a world title at home. “This is what I’ve come in to boxing for”.
But the potential for irreparable psychological damage remained for a boxer who has won 29 and lost four of his 35 contests, as did a possible reluctance to withstand the blows necessary to compete for and win a prized world title. “In Manchester. There’s nowhere else I’d rather do it”. He has those sharp counters but I think that in this fight there will be times when I have to fight and times when I have to box.
An eye-catching three-punch combination that finished with an uppercut didn’t seem to faze Crolla but scored points nonetheless, and before the eighth round it became clear the hometown fighter was cut beneath his right eye. “I thought the deductions swayed it for me”, an upset Crolla told Sky Sports afterwards.
But now he is a well-known name in Britain and hopes to add to that by becoming world champion in the Manchester Arena. That’s honestly what I believe.
Asked if he would pursue a formal protest with the WBA, Hearn admitted that the fight was competitive enough that he couldn’t see going that route.
“It’s not going to go down as a shocker”.
“I need a career-best performance on Saturday night to win”, Crolla said.
Crolla’s injuries forced his withdrawal from a January world title clash with then holder Richar Abril, but he believes the road to recovery has granted him renewed focus, and that winning a bout of this stature on his return to the ring is destiny.
The punch of the night occurred in the second round when Crolla’s looping right hook thumped its target but the wily Colombian sneered back at the Mancunian, daring him to walk forwards and fight at close quarters, but it was clear that damage had been done.