Terry Flanagan: up for it
John A. MacDonald
In 2016 Terry Flanagan struggled for motivation as career-defining fights failed to materialise. He tells John A. MacDonald he means to put that right, starting with ‘best of the rest’ Petr Petrov on Saturday night, and then by unifying the lightweight division...
Talkative is not a term that can be used to describe Terry Flanagan. The softly spoken, laid-back fighter has always preferred to allow his actions in the ring to speak on his behalf.
However, the WBO lightweight champion was in good form when Boxing Monthly spoke to him and his trainer Steve Maylett Jr.
Flanagan entered 2016 on the back of a career-best win against Diego Magdaleno and was optimistic that unifications and career-defining fights were on the horizon.
These contests failed to materialise. Now, the usually reserved Flanagan is looking to make some noise, in and out of the ring, in a bid to secure the fights he craves, starting with making a statement when he faces Petr Petrov at Manchester Arena on 8 April.
“I thought once you had the world title, people would be knocking at the door, but they don’t seem to be,” Flanagan said over the phone. “I’ve been asking for these big fights for well over a year now.
“Petrov, he’s a big fight, he’s out there, and after this we can push and hopefully unify against the winner of [Anthony] Crolla vs [Jorge] Linares, Mikey Garcia or Robert Easter.”
While Flanagan (32-0, 13 KOs) sought to meet the leading names in the division over the past 12 months, he had to settle for defences against Derry Mathews, Mzonke Fana and Orlando Cruz, challenges he admits were “hard to get up for”.
Maylett felt it was imperative to get an opponent capable of motivating his fighter. Lightweight is a particularly top-heavy weight division. The very best in the division are truly world class. But beyond those select few, the division is devoid of depth. Petrov has been a mainstay of the upper echelons of the WBO rankings for well over a year and has been mentioned as a potential mandatory. As a result, Maylett has studied the fighter extensively and believes that the Russian is one of the few fighters that meets the Flanagan team’s criteria.
“We didn’t want another fight that weren’t going to get the best out of Terry,” Maylett said. “We both think Petrov is a good fighter. I think, apart from the world champions, he’s the next best. Apart from the champions, there is nobody there that’s going to get Terry up for it. So we decided to go with probably the toughest fight we could have chose, to be honest.”
Flanagan’s willingness to test himself is not a new development. From the first time he set foot in a boxing gym at seven years of age, he was captivated. While his friends quickly drifted away from boxing, Flanagan persisted. Even when the older children from the estate would not call for him when they were en route to the gym, Flanagan would cross a busy main road by himself to attend.
A late physical developer, Flanagan was often under-sized as an amateur. Undeterred, he would artificially increase his weight to meet the minimum requirements. The physical disparity between his opponents and himself meant that the 27-year-old’s amateur record was a blemished one, but he does not regret any of the defeats. He believes they helped him hone his skills.
“I was the smallest in the school — even out of the girls,” Flanagan said. “I’d have my groin guard on and I had to put coins — two [pence pieces] — in it so I could make the minimum weight in the championships. I knew I had to use my skills, because I wasn’t strong enough. That’s probably why my footwork is so good. And I’ve got a good boxing brain because I had to box them bigger kids growing up.
“I never really matured until I was 18. When I turned pro, I probably looked about 12 in my first pro fight! For them kids that beat me as amateurs, half of them are living off it now, saying: ‘I beat Terry Flanagan.’ It means nothing. I am where I am today because I’ve had those fights and I’ve been testing myself from an early age.”
Maylett confirmed that this was the case. A few years Flanagan’s senior, his now-coach trained alongside him for many years. When Flanagan became frustrated with his results as an amateur, Maylett persuaded him to continue boxing and took over as his trainer. Having grown up together, first and foremost Flanagan and Maylett are friends. Their bond is such that when either of them discuss Flanagan’s fights, they often use “we” as opposed to “I” or “he”. It is very much a joint venture.
“He boxed everybody,” Maylett said of Flanagan’s time as an amateur. “He’d get beat off a kid, and go in with him again three weeks after. That’s how he is. We want to test ourselves.
“He’s still the same now. When I say we’ll get in with [Mikey] Garcia in eight, 10 weeks, I’m not joking. He’d get in with him as long as the money was right and we weren’t getting the wool pulled over our eyes. He’s done that all of his career, anyway. He’s not afraid of fighting no one.”
Garcia became a three-weight world champion when he knocked out Dejan Zlaticanin to win the WBC title in January Flanagan was under the impression that he had secured a unification with Zlaticanin only to discover, on Twitter, that the Montenegrin had opted to face Garcia instead.
“I think the performance flattered [Garcia] a bit because I seen Zlaticanin as the weakest champion,” Flanagan said. “When they [Zlaticanin] accepted the fight, I was buzzin’. I thought: ‘Unify the division against the weakest champion — I’ve got the chance to get the WBC.’ And I’d have been favourite going into that fight.
“I don’t think Zlaticanin landed a shot, did he? He just got outclassed. He was just walking forward. Garcia did look good, but Zlaticanin made him look good. I wouldn’t have been walking forward, taking them shots, if I fought him. I’d be boxing off him, and it would make for a great fight.”
Had Flanagan faced Zlaticanin, he believes he would have produced a similar performance to that of Garcia and that a similar outcome would have been inevitable.
“He’d have been walking forward, walking on to shots, and then before you know it I’d have broke him up and took him out,” Flanagan said. “I’m not saying I’d have took him out in three rounds, but I’d have broke him up and got him out of there, in my opinion.”
Garcia is not the only multi-weight world champion Flanagan has in his sights. He would relish the challenge of pitting his skills against those of two-time Olympic champion Vasyl Lomachenko.
Just like Garcia before him, Lomachenko is the current WBO junior lightweight champion, having previously held the sanctioning body’s title at featherweight. The Ukrainian takes on WBA champion Jason Sosa on the same night Flanagan defends his title against Petrov. Lomachenko has made it clear he seeks to capture a world title at a third weight, with Flanagan often mentioned as a potential foe. Others might look to avoid the brilliant Lomachenko, but Flanagan is eagerly anticipating the challenge.
“That’s what I want: them big names, the likes of Lomachenko,” Flanagan said. “People may think it’s silly, but I believe I can beat him. He’s probably one of the best out there, so I want to test myself. I’d have [a] size advantage over him, I’m also a southpaw, and it would be a good boxing match as I have a good boxing brain myself.
“We’d jump at the chance, and they know we’d jump at the chance, but the phone’s not rung. Although Garcia was saying he wanted the WBO title, he had it at featherweight and super featherweight, and he wanted it at lightweight, but he took the easy option in fighting Zlaticanin. They never even come to us for the fight. It says a lot.”
It seems out of character for Flanagan to be so forthright. However, he is exasperated at being unable to secure the fights he craves. This, though, is nothing new. For much of his career, “Turbo” Terry has had a “who needs him?” tag. He does not believe the elite names in the division are actually afraid to meet him but is convinced they prefer to take fights with a better risk-reward ratio.
“I’m awkward,” Flanagan said bluntly. “People just look at me, then look at the other champions, and see me as ‘fit, strong, got a high work-rate, southpaw, quite tricky,’ and they just don’t fancy it. They’ll take the fight if they have to, don’t get me wrong. But if there’s other options there for them, they’ll take the easy option, in my eyes — and that’s what they’ve done.”
Despite being in possession of the longest winning streak of any active British boxer — after Kell Brook’s loss to Gennady Golovkin — the thought of defeat does not concern Flanagan. As a fighter, Flanagan is keen to discover whether he belongs with the truly elite fighters.
Flanagan cites Carl Frampton as an inspiration. Although the Northern Irishman lost his rematch against Leo Santa Cruz, Flanagan believes fights like that contribute to Frampton’s legacy, regardless of the result. This is an opinion his trainer shares.
“We’ll take a defeat because, if we did take a defeat and we come back better, then happy days,” Maylett said. “We are not going to go away and start huffing. We know it’s going to come to an end one day. We are not going to be Floyd Mayweather and get to 49-0, we know that. But what we want to do is fight the best while Terry’s in his peak years, and I believe if he performs to his best, he can beat ’em.
“He can beat Garcia, he can beat Lomachenko, as long as he’s at his best. Anything below [his best], he won’t. He needs to be the best Terry Flanagan on the night. Some other fighters, like your Mayweathers and that, they can be 80 per cent and still win.”
Flanagan believes we have yet to see what he is capable of producing. The Mancunian doesn’t think even his two-round destruction of the highly regarded Diego Magdaleno showcased his true ability, although admitting he was determined to put on a performance that night. He said he “didn’t want to be remembered as the champion who won it on a technicality” after Jose Zepeda was forced to retire with a dislocated shoulder in their fight for the vacant WBO title. He is adamant that it will take an elite-level opponent to bring out the best of him.
“Anyone who’s seen me in the gym, they’ll tell you: ‘The best Terry Flanagan is yet to come,’ because in fights I’ve not shown even 50 per cent of what I do in the gym,” Flanagan said. “The night I let it all go, you’ll see it, and it will put me up with the best.
“I’ve never lost a round in my career. I’ve never had to dig deep. I’ve never been behind in a fight. I think when I do go behind in a fight, it’ll give me a kick up the arse and you’ll see the best out of me. I’ve always been able to win fights — even at world level — at 50 per cent so it shows, when I have to perform at 100 per cent, how good I’m gonna be.”
While the elite-level fights have eluded Flanagan, the same cannot be said for old schoolmate Anthony Crolla, who meets Jorge Linares in a rematch for the WBA title on 25 March. The bookmakers see Linares as the 8/15 favourite at time of writing, but Flanagan perceives it to be closer than that.
“It’s a genuine 50-50 fight, like I thought it was last time,” Flanagan said. “I think Linares will win, but it’s not a given. It’s boxing. Anything can happen. It looked like [Linares] was tiring, and Crolla was going to run away with it. Then it was Crolla that looked tired when he got hurt. If he doesn’t get hurt, it could be a completely different fight. I think Linares has got the better boxing brain, and he might edge it, but I’d like Crolla to win it.”
It is a testament to Flanagan’s character that he wants Crolla to win, despite the fact he believes that such a result would diminish his chances of securing the unification bout he covets. A fight between Flanagan and Crolla makes perfect sense, especially when you consider they are both from Manchester and are on opposite sides in supporting the city’s football teams. However, Flanagan feels that a fight with Crolla seems unlikely.
“I don’t think they fancy it,” Flanagan said. “I think, personally, if he gets beat off Linares, then maybe he’ll come looking for the fight then. But if he wins, there’s no chance. He’ll say he’s the best. I don’t think they’ll fancy it. If it’s a way back for him, he’d come looking for it then but we’d be looking for the likes of Linares then, Garcia and people like that.”
Flanagan’s quest to face the best at lightweight is made more urgent by the fact that he is finding it increasingly difficult to get his 5ft 9 ½ ins frame down to the division limit of 135lbs.
“I’m not going to lie to you — it’s not easy, it’s hard,” Flanagan said. “I see myself making it for one more year, that’s it. Hopefully these big fights can happen this year, then we’ll move up.
“If the chance comes to move up now for the right fight, at the right sort of money, we’d jump at the chance. It is starting to hurt now. It could be taking a bit away from my performances, getting the last few pounds off. Hopefully we can unify the division before we have to move up.”
As long as he can still make the weight, Flanagan is adamant he is the best lightweight on the planet and will be looking to send out a clear message when he faces Petrov. He is anything but dismissive of his 135lbs rivals but he has an unwavering self-belief.
“I rank myself as the best,” he said. “I think I am the best, and I’ll beat any of ’em. I’m not saying it’s easy, because at world level they are all close fights and 50-50 fights. But I’m hungry, I want to win, I want to box the best, and I think it will show on the night.”