The Masterplan: Anthony Crolla Gets It Right Against Gavin Rees

Gallagher of Manchester had his best Saturday night since Liam and Noel reached an apogee at Knebwoth on August 10, 1996. Unrelated namesake Joe, trainer of Anthony Crolla, Paul Smith and Scott Quigg, scored a hat trick of wins at the Bolton Arena – just five miles apart from the gym they’d been germinated. Crolla outpointed Welshman Gavin Rees in an absorbing, hard-fought encounter while Smith and Quigg stopped Tony Dodson and William Prado respectively.

In the main event, “Million Dollar” Crolla boxed a systematic and controlled fight to register a considerable upset. Crolla, 26, stood at a crossroads pre-fight: Victory could facilitate a high-profile punt at Scotland’s Ricky Burns. However, with only two wins in five, another loss would cast him in shadow — confined to the graveyard shift in small halls and leisure centres.

Rees, 37-3-1 (18), nicked the opening two rounds as Crolla set about establishing his gameplan. Wearing fluorescent green and grey trunks, the Mancunian had been drilled to box tall behind a high guard and pick his punches with purposeful contrarianism. Whenever Rees skirmished, Crolla covered up and moved; when the Newbridge scrapper paused, Crolla, 26-4-1 (9), tormented him with pinpoint jabs and impeccible hooks. “The Rock’s” greater urgency — panic perhaps at the lack of a fight breaking out — had him in front but looking somewhat perturbed.

Frustration set in for Rees as early as round 3. Crolla continued to resist his overtures and persevered instead with his brand of New Moston water torture. The pair bumped heads in the 4th — leaving Rees split above his left eye and Crolla weeping from the left side of his skull (two-way hemorrhaging that may explain a lull in the next session and Crolla’s fatigue at the mid-point that forced him off track).

The equable Gallagher replotted his course between rounds. Second best in rounds 6 and 7, Crolla caught his second wind in the 8th, selecting his shots like a golf caddy while fending off return fire across his arms and gloves.

Rees suffered a gruesome cut in the 9th, care of another accidental head clash. Crolla pecked at it as though carrion and while Rees (9st 7lb 15 oz) roared back stubbornly — swinging like a discus thrower at times – he became so winded that his left hung limply at his side, at times flopping behind his back. Clearly, this was the wrong place for a Frederick Sykes impersonation.

Crolla (9st 8lb 10oz) finished strongly as Rees, weak-kneed and blowing, shilly-shallied on the ropes. Crolla gratefully accepted the invite to work him over, strafing him repeatedly with volleys of hooks and uppercuts. Bouyed by a vociferous support and Gallagher’s assertion that opportunity had knocked, Crolla claimed the last to secure a well-earned decision 115-113, 115-115 and 116-113 (TQBR agreed with the latter).

Both men were choked in the aftermath: Crolla with emotion at having pieced everything together and Rees for slacking on the line in a race he thought he had won.

In a super middleweight support bout that had looked a potential slog, Liverpool rivals Paul Smith, 33-3 (19), and Tony Dodson, 29-8-1 (14), delivered an unexpected knees-up for the vacant British title that far surpassed their 2010 original (a bloody affair that Smith had shaded on points).

Smith, revitalised under Gallagher, earned the opener with a swathing left hook that split Dodson’s right eye. Flipping over a table in the Last Chance Saloon, Dodson rallied gamely to return the favour in round 2 with a series of spirited raids that cut Smith over the corner of his left eye.

Round 3 was a humdinger. Amid another Dodson shakedown, Smith uncorked a home-run left hook that crumpled his Garston rival to the mat. Struggling groggily to his feet, Dodson fought for his life and stormed Smith against the ropes. Smith cracked home another hard left downstairs and Dodson returned to his corner with a crimson right eye.

Dodson again cracked the whip in round 4. Smith, though, always seemed to have the equaliser and he curled a searing right hook around Dodson’s guard in the 6th that made the older man list and stumble forward into the perfectly positioned arms of third man Richie Davies. Time was 2:31.

Super bantamweight contender Scott Quigg, 26-0-1 (19), dismissed the overmatched Brazilian William Prado, 21-4-1 (14), in the opening quarter. The visitor was floored at the end of round 2 and KO’d with a sweet right at 2:31 of the 3rd.

About Andrew Harrison