The Masterplan: Home-town hero Crolla is primed for his Hatton moment
Eddie Hearn's clear, calculated strategy has built huge support for the lightweight world champion in Manchester...
Anthony Crolla is a world champion, and one of the best boxers in the country.
He is still very much a regional fighter, though.
Six of the 29-year-old’s last seven bouts have taken place in Manchester, where he will face fellow lightweight titlist Jorge Linares on Saturday night.
That is telling, considering those seven fights all took place after Crolla signed with promoters Matchroom in 2013.
Eddie Hearn has implemented a clear, calculated strategy to build support for the fighter in his home city.
While Crolla is yet to achieve the national fame of Anthony Joshua, Amir Khan or Tyson Fury, his fights in Manchester sell out rapidly, and a public workout in a shopping centre this week attracted hundreds of supporters.
That home-town hero status is currently unmatched in the UK, and it has earned him inevitable comparisons to Manchester’s last great fighter – Ricky Hatton.
The two-weight world champion fought 13 times in the city between 2001 and 2005, a run that culminated in his iconic victory over world champion Kosta Tszyu.
That was the greatest night in the history of Manchester boxing, and the fight that propelled Hatton from being a household name in his own city to perhaps the best-supported fighter in the country.
No other fighter has repeatedly taken thousands of British fans over to the US as Hatton did.
His bout against Floyd Mayweather was unforgettable not just because of what happened in the ring, but also because of the unprecedented pro-Hatton atmosphere in Las Vegas.
Fights of that magnitude have to be Crolla’s goal, and beating Linares on Saturday night is the next step towards the conclusion of Hearn’s grand plan.
The Matchroom promoter is the most influential in the UK not just because of his relationship with Sky Sports, or his charismatic interviews.
He is a student of the sport, and will have carefully studied Hatton’s path to becoming one of the most loved British boxers ever.
It’s no coincidence, then, that Crolla’s fight with Linares has been described by Joe Gallagher, Dave Coldwell and other boxing insiders as ‘Hatton-Tszyu II’.
Crolla is, after all, fighting for the Ring Magazine belt – the most prestigious prize in the sport and the very same title that Hatton won when he defeated the Australian in 2005.
Perhaps more importantly, though, this could be the fight that transforms another Manchester boxer into a national – and perhaps even global – star.
Kell Brook’s recent meeting with pound-for-pound king Gennady Golovkin is evidence of how a single night can provide a tremendous boost to a British fighter’s profile.
Brook lost that fight, but even in defeat he looks set up for lucrative bouts in the future after a valiant effort against a formidable opponent.
The same can happen for Crolla on Saturday. Only if he wins, though.
Victory over Linares will see him recognised as unquestionably the best fighter in the lightweight division.
Beat the Colombian, and before long it could be his name that is belted out by Mancunian supporters in Las Vegas.