One Wiganer's role in fight of Anthony Crolla’s life ahead of bout with Vasyl Lomachenko
This weekend the bright lights of Los Angeles will be shining on Anthony Crolla with the help of a Wigan trainer.
The boxer known as ‘Million Dollar’ may have already won the biggest fight of his life, but in the boxing ring at least, this will be his flashpoint. Maybe the fight he tells his grandchildren about.
From a hospital bed in 2014, when his career was thrown into doubt after he confronted a gang burgling a Manchester neighbour’s house to be left with a fractured skull and broken leg, to facing Vasyl Lomachenko for the WBA and WBO belts, Crolla has been supported in his long road to the top by a dedicated team.
And in his corner at the Staples Center will be the man who helped the 32-year-old on his first steps back into the sport, Martin Cullen.
A personal trainer with 30 years’ experience, Cullen has trained top athletes from rugby league stars to boxers, and is part of the team helping Crolla in the frantic final preparations before he takes on the three-division world champion, regarded by many as the best pound-for-pound boxer in the world.
But huge challenges are not new for Crolla.
Trainer Cullen, who lives in Billinge, explained: “Anthony was coming home from training one day and his neighbour’s house was being burgled. He stopped the car, and when he got there. there were two lads burgling the house.
“He stopped them and started chasing them, as he’s going to grab one of them he’s been hit with a brick in his skull and he’s been hit in the leg with a concrete post.
“Anthony ended up in hospital with a fractured skull and a broken leg and they thought was it – that was the end of Anthony in boxing. He was there for a while. When he came out his management and his team contacted me and asked would I have a chat with them.
“They asked if there was anything I could do with him and possibly get him back into any condition where he could perhaps start boxing again.
“I said it was no problem so Anthony came down to Wigan – to Total Fitness – and travelled to train with me.”
But it was understandably a long road back to the ring for Crolla before winning the WBA lightweight title against Darleys Pérez in November 2015, and losing it to Jorge Linares the following September.
“The first session he might have been on crutches even,” said Cullen.
“It took us six or nine months and we got him back so well we got him a shot at the world title.
“He did so well in that first world title fight (a draw against Darleys Pérez in July 2015) – it was very close – so that was his first fight coming out of hospital.
“Then he got a rematch with that champion and he beat him and became world champion.
“He lost his world title belt to Linares – one of the top fighters in the world – but has won every fight since and got the chance.”
Given Lomachenko’s stature as a boxing great, Crolla will be seen as the underdog in this weekend’s showdown, and Cullen is aware of the size of the task.
“It’s a really big fight. One of the biggest fights out there,” he said.
“From where he’s started off to how he’s fought back is unbelievable.”
Crolla has been training from Freddie Roach’s gym since the team landed in the US last week, and there has been little time for them to enjoy the sights in the shadow of the famous Hollywood sign.
And now Cullen is preparing for the final, frantic days of making sure the Manchester boxer is in the best shape to take to the ring.
“I’ve got everything to do with his body – get his body in tip-top condition, get him strong, get him fast, get his movements and reactions,” he explained.
“I don’t do his boxing training, he has a boxing trainer that does that.
“[I look after] everything physical, and he’s got to make weight. Once he’s made weight I’m in charge of the carbing-up process, refeed him back up.
“We feed him up with certain carbohydrates to get his energy levels up and those few days are very intense.”
After the intensity of the build-up, the fight will be a highlight for Cullen, who has helped Crolla from a first training session on crutches to within touching distance of the top of the sport.
“It’s surreal,” he admitted.
“He was saying he couldn’t believe what was happening. It wasn’t long ago he was fighting in leisure centres and now fighting one of the biggest fights there’s going to be. From where he’s started off to how he’s fought back is unbelievable.”
Anthony Crolla’s fight against Vasyl Lomachenko is on Sky Sports Action and Sky Sports Main Event from 3am on Saturday.