Flanagan primed for Magdaleno
This Saturday night at Manchester Arena, 26-year-old Terry Flanagan makes the first defence of his WBO lightweight title against dangerous American Diego Magdaleno in a contest that promises to reveal the true potential that lies within the gloved fists of the Mancunian southpaw.
Flanagan, unbeaten in 28 fights, has arguably already achieved more than he could have ever dreamed of when he turned pro under the guidance of small hall promoter Steve Wood in 2009 without the fanfare often associated with unbeaten fighters.
Wood, who still acts as Flanagan’s manager, expertly guided his southpaw charge to an English title victory over Troy James at Bowlers Exhibition Centre before landing his man a spot in the Lightweight Prizefighter tournament in 2012, a move that propelled the small hall star on to TV.
In a strong field that consisted of Anthony Crolla, Derry Mathews and Gary Sykes, it was Flanagan who emerged victorious and his career has gone from strength to strength since under the adroit stewardship of promoter Frank Warren, culminating in his WBO title victory over Jose Zepeda in July.
Zepeda brought a fearsome reputation across the pond, having knocked out 20 opponents in 23 wins without tasting defeat. BM had watched Flanagan work out at the Ancoats Lads Club in the week leading up to the fight and, whilst he was his usual calm and confident self, it was apparent that this fight was bigger than anything he had experienced before.
Film crews from the BBC mingled with acquaintances of Flanagan and members of the media in the cramped gym tucked away in the corner of an industrial estate in the heartland of Manchester's commercial sector, once dubbed 'Cottonopolis', as the fighter and his trainer Steve Maylett went through their pad routine with all the grace and poise of a dance duo.
The American puncher was apparently looking great in sparring, too, at Anthony Farnell's gym in Failsworth across the city, and a battle of puncher vs boxer was highly anticipated when the first bell rang at the Velodrome.
However, after a cagey six minutes, Zepeda was pulled out of the contest on advice from the ringside physician with a suspected, and later confirmed, dislocated shoulder. A less than satisfactory way to win a world title but a victory nonetheless; however, Flanagan's place amongst the best 135lbs fighters is still to be cemented in the eyes of some critics.
“We trained hard for that fight and at the end of the day it was Zepeda’s body that gave way, he couldn’t stand up to it. He came with a reputation as a massive puncher, but I didn’t feel any of his shots,” said Flanagan, when speaking to Boxing Monthly this week. “Hopefully, this time I will get some more rounds in and the fans can enjoy their night out.”
Liverpudlian Derry Mathews, the interim WBA titlist and Frank Warren promotional stable-mate, was expected to be announced as Flanagan's first defence but the World Boxing Organisation was forceful in its demands that the new champion should make a mandatory defence against Magdaleno who brings a new set of problems for the Mancunian to solve in the ring.
“I thought it was going to be Derry, too,” admitted Flanagan. “But I've got Magdaleno and I'm fully focused on winning this fight. I’ve seen tapes of him and he looks like a good fighter, short and strong. But we know what to expect from him.
“He’s fought outside of America once and he lost [SD12 Roman Martinez, in a WBO 130lbs title tilt at the Cotai Arena, Macao]. It’s going to be a tough fight for us both, but one that I’m confident of winning and winning well. I don’t know why but I feel as though I’m going stop him late in the fight.”
Back in 2005, Flanagan famously sneaked into the Manchester Arena to watch his idol Ricky Hatton beat Kostya Tzsyu and, after realising his dream of winning the British title at the same arena in 2014 when he forced Martin Gethin to retire, he is determined to hold on to his belt before targeting huge fights domestically and in the US.
“All I ever wanted to do when I turned pro was to win the British title and I did that in Manchester,” Flanagan told BM. “Hopefully, I can put on a good show for the fans and then have a couple of voluntary defences against the likes of Derry [Mathews] and Kevin Mitchell, people like that.”
But Flanagan is dreaming bigger….
“If [Anthony] Crolla comes through against [Darleys] Perez and wins the WBA title we could have a unification fight. That would be massive for Manchester. We went to the same school [St. Joseph’s RC High in Moston] and grew up in the same area.
“I would love to one day fight in America, too,” said Flanagan. “I would have gone over to fight Magdaleno over there, no problem, but Frank got the fight here so I’ll have to wait for my chance.”
Flanagan may not be the most glamorous or outspoken 135lbs fighter in the world, but there is an inherent toughness about the man who grow up in an area of Manchester that has spawned the likes of Denton Vassell and Michael Brodie, the tremendous super-bantam/feather from the late 1990s/early 2000s who was so desperately unlucky in his world title contests.
It is this natural steel, coupled with southpaw skills and a high punch output, that will make Flanagan a difficult proposition for anyone at the weight to overcome.
“Preparations have gone great,” Flanagan told BM. “We did lots of southpaw work leading up to the Zepeda fight because we knew he was going to come out left-handed so we have just continued that work throughout this camp. I will do what I do on the night and I've no doubts that I will still be world champion.”