Anthony Crolla beats Ricky Burns on points in Manchester

Crolla v Burns
Anthony Crolla (left) has now won 32 of 41 fights, while Ricky Burns lost for the seventh time in a 49-fight career

Anthony Crolla edged a fantastic non-title lightweight contest against Ricky Burns at the Manchester Arena.

The referees scored it 116-113, 117-112, 116-114, a unanimous victory that seemed larger than the margin between the fighters on the night.

Both Crolla, 30, and Burns, four years his senior, went into the bout off the back of world title losses.

But at the end of a frenetic encounter, the Mancunian can look forward to another possible world title fight.

For the Scot, suffering a seventh defeat in 49 fights, there will be a period of reflection. Prior to Saturday's bout he had indicated he would only retire when he started to take punishment in the ring or when he tired of the dieting, which he had to do to come down to 135lb from his recent super-lightweight, 140lb, fighting weight.

Crolla came in to the fight off the back of two points defeats by Venezuela's WBA lightweight champion Jorge Linares, in September last year and then in March. A points win over a three-weight former world champion will boost his belief and ranking.

Wearing the Manchester bee emblem on his shorts, he was the busier fighter by a fraction in the opening round though Burns' longer reach already looked like a useful weapon.

Crolla went for the body more in the early rounds while Burns relied on his jab to keep his opponent at bay, following up with a straight right.

Crolla, who has now won 32 of his 41 fights, caught Burns with a left hook to the jaw at the start of the third but there was little to separate two fighters prepared to trade blows.

Their experience was evident, neither panicking when against the ropes, each confident in their ability to work their way out of trouble.

Burns tried to land some big right hands in the fourth but Crolla was sharp enough to make him miss, ducking under them before replying with left hooks to Burns' body.

The home fighter looked to hold a slight advantage by the end of five rounds but by the mid-point a pattern had developed of each fighter taking it in turns to be the aggressor, while the other soaked up some punishment.

The pre-fight talk had been of a possible world title tilt for the winner and an uncertain future for the loser. The desire to win throughout suggested that might be true.

As expected, they traded blows - jabs, body shots with left and right, straight rights - but the most telling punch by the end of the seventh round was a powerful uppercut by Burns. Crolla's corner had to attend to a bloody nose before he emerged for round eight.

The Mancunian responded well, backing Burns on to the ropes on a few occasions without scoring heavily and with one-third of the fight remaining the bout was perhaps only just in Crolla's favour.

Burns' varied attack paid dividends in the ninth, his jab marginally the sharper and his body shots getting through. Throughout his career he has said he was prepared to take a few shots to get in a few of his own - that summed up the action in Manchester.

In the 10th, Burns caught Crolla with a piercing right to the side of his head and just for a moment the expression on the younger man's face changed, acknowledging that he could yet lose.

However, he connected powerfully at the start of the penultimate round which he dominated, though always aware of the impending response.

Both men increased the pace in the closing three minutes and when the final bell sounded they embraced before each claiming victory with a wave to the crowd.

The judges, though, were clear who had endured the better night.

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