There was not one single complaint from the boxer, corner, promoter or crowd when Anthony Crolla dropped a tight decision and lost his WBA lightweight title to Jorge Linares in Manchester on Saturday night.
Crolla fought the fight of his life and when the final bell sounded he could barely walk or talk, so total was his commitment and draining his exhaustion. It was an odd end, strangely muted considering the closeness of two of the three judges: all three voted in favour of Linares, one of boxing's surest operators, and two separated the fighters by just one and two points respectively. It was close, but in many ways it was not even remotely close and that only happens when the best fight the best.
It was mesmerising at times watching the brilliant Linares think his way out of corners, counter punch with such speed that trying to count the shots is nearly impossible to the human eye. Crolla, who was defending his WBA lightweight title, kept the first 10 rounds close with a bold performance aimed at breaking the spirit of Linares. It was a good plan but Linares was brilliant, the fighter with all the gifts in front of a sing-a-long crowd led in appreciation, and worship of Crolla from ringside, by Wayne Rooney and Ricky Hatton.
There was talk of a rematch in February or March next by Eddie Hearn, the promoter who has guided Crolla from boxing's obscure fringes to main attraction at the No. 1 fight venue, but that result is easily foretold: Linares would win again, sorry to report. Crolla's chance of beating the Venezuelan was in this fight when he had momentum.
Linares had been out of the ring for 11 long months with an injured hand and the home crowd would play their part. There was simply nothing more Crolla could have done and he can shake off his stiffness this week with pride.
The fight with Linares, a world champion at three weights, was a huge risk for Crolla and its announcement put an end to all talk of a partial unification with WBO lightweight champion Terry Flanagan. The Flanagan fight was draped in plenty of cash -- there was an offer of £700,000 for Crolla from Flanagan's promoter, Frank Warren -- and perhaps Crolla's thinking was that beating Linares would increase his financial power at the negotiating table for a Flanagan fight in the future. That advantage has gone, but the fight remains.
The defeat now means that in three consecutive September Saturdays five British boxers have lost in world title fights, three were stopped and two lost their world titles, which reduces the total number of British boxers currently holding a version of the world title to 11. The figure, still a record high, includes welterweight Kell Brook, who looks unlikely to ever make the limit again after his trip to middleweight to fight Gennady Golovkin.
Hearn, however, was right when he added: "It shows the world that British boxers are not afraid to take big fights; they have all dared to be great -- Kell (Brook), Liam (Smith) last week in Texas and Ant tonight. They all went for big fights."
Before the end of November Anthony Joshua, Ricky Burns, Tony Bellew, Billy Joe Saunders, Flanagan and a couple of other British world champions will try and defend their titles and end the losing sequence. They will not all succeed, but it is doubtful if any will lose with as much dignity and pride as Crolla.