MOST boxers have come a long way but this is especially true when it pertains to Manchester lightweight Anthony Crolla. While a burglar fracturing his skull, causing his ankle to shatter in two places and scuppering a world title shot was incredibly tough to take, his subsequent recovery was perhaps even harder.

“The first few weeks were the hardest,” says Crolla, now preparing for his July 18 WBA title challenge to Darleys Perez. “I was on the painkillers and got really skinny. I was near my fighting weight not long after it. On morphine you’ve got no appetite, so I had to build myself back up. When I was on those I was falling asleep all the time. I was cutting myself down on painkillers straight away and got myself off ‘em as soon as I could. I’m not trying to sound brave or like a hero but there were times at night when it was pretty painful but I thought, ‘No’.”

Crolla was injured trying to apprehend the thieves who had broken into his next-door neighbour’s home. One slammed a concrete slab over Crolla’s head and though the skull fracture was more serious, it is his ankle that took the longest time to mend.

“I’ve got plates and pins in here, they’ll always be there,” he reveals. “When I started training again, I was overcompensating on one foot, because I was nervous. That was the biggest hindrance.”

No one would have wished his recent tragedy and heartache on Crolla, but an undeniable side-effect of his horrible experience and inspirational resurgence has been an increase in fame and popularity, one he embraces albeit with tongue firmly planted in cheek.

“There’s certainly better ways to get publicity, it was some PR stunt, weren’t it?” he chortles. “Even now, it’s mad, young people coming up to me about me fight. I was coming out of a hospital one time after visiting someone and this old woman come up to me and said, ‘It was brilliant what you done and I’ve been following you and I’m so glad you’ve got your fight in July; I’ll be cheering for you. I’ll be sitting in a coffee shop with Fran and Jessie and a family come up. I’m under no illusions, they’ll be a few more bums on seats because of what happened.”

Six months on from the offence, no one has been charged, but rather than give in to frustration, Crolla welcomes the enduring mystery.

“It does me a favour not knowing because I’d feel like I’d have to do something,” he points out. “I’m better now, I’ve got a world title shot. You can’t stoop much lower than robbing houses so hopefully they’ve stopped doing that. They’ll always be thinking, ‘What if that ever comes out?’ and hopefully with that and their fingerprints from next door, they’ll have stopped robbing houses. I’ve moved on and even though I don’t know who it is, I forgive them.”