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Anthony Crolla to fight Ismael Barroso on May 7

Rumors abounded that lightweight titleholder Anthony Crolla would look to avoid big-punching interim titleholder Ismael Barroso. Too tough, too much power for him, some said.

But Crolla put those whispers to bed, as the mandatory fight with Barroso was made official on Friday.

They will square off on May 7 at the Manchester Arena in Manchester, England, Crolla's hometown, Matchroom Boxing promoter Eddie Hearn announced. Crolla and Barroso will meet face to face at a news conference on Tuesday in Manchester.

"I am under no illusion that this is a tough task, but there was no way I was not going to take the fight," Crolla said. "I enjoyed a break since winning the title, but I have been in the gym for a while already, and I am in a good place.

"People said I was going to duck him, [but] if I don't fight him, I lose my belt, simple. Of course I am going to fight him. I've worked too hard to become world champion to give it away."

The 29-year-old Crolla (30-4-3, 12 KOs) will be making his first title defense. In November, also at the Manchester Arena, he won the belt by fifth-round body-shot knockout of Darleys Perez to win a 135-pound world title in a rematch of their previous draw.

Crolla's run to a world title has been dramatic. Many thought his career was over in December 2014 when he suffered various serious injuries -- including a concussion and fractured skull -- during a confrontation with burglars at his neighbor's home.

Barroso (19-0-2, 18 KOs), a 33-year-old southpaw from Venezuela, claimed the vacant interim belt by fifth-round knockout of England's Kevin Mitchell in London in December, a loss that sent longtime contender Mitchell into retirement.

"I knew that it wasn't the best of Kevin Mitchell in there when they boxed at the O2 [in London]," Crolla said. "He didn't look himself at the weigh-in, and I was worried he was going to struggle. That said, Barroso was still impressive and we know he's a big puncher, so it's a really tough examination but one that I am really up for."

Hearn said Crolla should get credit for taking on such a dangerous opponent in his first defense.

"Anthony Crolla is jumping straight in with a cracking first defense against Barroso," Hearn said. "Barroso is one of the most dangerous fighters in the business, but Anthony continues to improve, and right now I believe he is the man at 135 pounds, and he'll prove it on May 7.

"He has become one of the biggest stars in British boxing, and the following he receives in Manchester is very special. This could be a fight of the year contender and will be another huge night for British boxing."