ANTHONY Crolla insists beating Jorge Linares on Saturday night would be the “highlight of his career” to date.

The 30-year-old Mancunian fighter (31-5-3) was beaten by a unanimous decision against South American Linares (41-3) in September and it was a result that very few, including Crolla, could contest.

“I’ve always been a fan of Jorge and last time I came up short,” Crolla said at Thursday’s press conference.

“The right man won and I know where I made mistakes so I really need to be at my best if I want to beat him.”

Pressure seemed to evade a collected Crolla as he continued: “The crowd is going to be bigger than ever and I say it all the time but I’m the lucky one.

“I get to dance under the lights and I’m the luckiest person ever to be in there centre stage.”

Inside the grandeur of the Manchester city centre Edwardian abode of the Radisson Blu gathered a number of Saturday’s fighters, trainers and promoters – with an afternoon orchestrated as usual by the effervescent Eddie Hearn.

Saturday night will be Crolla’s seventh headline appearance at the Manchester Arena and revenge is on the cards after the defeat six months ago showed the undoubted quality of Venezuelan Linares.

The 31-year-old lightweight assumed the WBA belt after that special September night and will look to be leaving the North West with the belts firmly in his camp.

Jorge Linares, Anthony Crolla
The two fighters pose head-to-head [Credit: Nathan Salt]

Three-weight world champion Linares remains a firm favourite despite Crolla’s claim that he’s much better prepared to face Linares second time around.

With 41 wins from his 45 fights, defending champion Linares will look to demonstrate just why his stock, globally, is so high.

“I know I’m in the backyard of my opponent,” Linares said.

“That is why I’ve trained so hard. I know I’m the champion but I’m not coming here feeling like a champion, I feel like the visitor.

“I had a tremendous camp where I started in Japan and then went on to Vegas: great training, no injuries so I can’t wait to show what I’m about again on Saturday.”

While it is often dangerous to speculate what may follow should victory prevail, Crolla’s trainer Joe Gallagher accepted that both fighters knew that a bout with Michael Garcia (36-0) in Las Vegas was the grand next step for the winner.

America’s highest ranked lightweight fighter, any clash with Garcia would bring with it finances that would make the eyes of either camp water.

Joe Gallagher, Crolla’s trainer, accepted: “This fight will bring pure excitement and what waits for the winner of this fight will be a big fight with Garcia in Vegas and that will set them and their families up for the rest of their lives.

“The jackpot waits after this fight so they are going to have to dig deep when they are tired on Saturday. They both know what is on the line.”

With regular references to Manchester as a “wonderful fight city”, both media and supporters in attendance got to hear from rising prospect fighters such as Marcus Morrison, Katie Taylor, Lawrence Okolie and Blackpool pair Jack Arnfield and Brian Rose prior to the main attraction of Linares-Crolla.

Katie Taylor, Lawrence Okolie
Much is expected from both Katie Taylor and Lawrence Okolie in their undercard bouts on Saturday [Credit: Nathan Salt]

A plethora of sub-plots wrote their first chapters on Thursday but many had their eyes on debutant and ex-Olympian Okolie who is set to make his professional debut on Saturday’s undercard.

The 24-year-old will energise his career with a fight against Russell Henshaw and despite admitting suffering from nerves in recent weeks, the London-born cruiserweight is now eager to enter the ring on Saturday.

“I’ve been training hard, I’m in great shape and I’m ready for a fight now.

“I’m excited to see how I deal with the pressure of fighting on Sky Sports. In the cruiserweight division they don’t get much publicity so my journey starts here. The most important thing is winning so let’s see where it goes.”

Watch Jorge Linares vs Anthony Crolla II, along with the eagerly awaited undercard, live from the Manchester Arena, from 7pm, Saturday March 25 on Sky Sports 1HD.

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