The quiet man making big noises
Terry Flanagan has never been much of a talker. The Manchester southpaw’s laconic, unassuming manner dictates that he let his fists speak for him rather than embrace the limelight as centre stage.
But the fighter nicknamed ‘Turbo’ believes that tonight at the Ice Arena in Cardiff, where he makes the third defence of his WBO lightweight title against South African veteran Mzonke Fana, he can count on something else to make more than enough noise for him: his army of travelling fans.
In a tradition true of many Mancunian fighters, the 27-year-old Flanagan (30-0 12 KOs) is followed by a vociferous legion of local support. When his fight with Fana, originally scheduled for the 9 July Tyson Fury-Wladimir Klitschko II undercard at Manchester Arena, was scrapped, Flanagan, initially deflated, made certain his supporters would not lose out on seeing their man fight - by paying for their ticket and travel to the rescheduled date in the Welsh capital.
“Everyone is going to have a good piss up on the coach and have a good time. The fans are the loudest in the country I believe,” Flanagan told Boxing Monthly. “I just want them to enjoy themselves. I know it’s always been quoted often but I believe they are the loudest fans in Britain.”
Flanagan has covered the cost for admission and transport to the Ice Arena for 200 people, who will set off from local pub The Bradford at 2pm on Saturday afternoon. The gesture was meant as a token of appreciation of those who have supported his gradual rise to the summit of the lightweight division.
“We have paid for the travel before a few times but with the fight being postponed a week and the drive to Cardiff being a fair run, Terry decide to give the tickets away to the fans who had already bought or to those who have been loyal for years,” Flanagan’s trainer Steve Maylett Jr. told BM.
“It's not been an easy ride for them, Terry has boxed on Sunday afternoons shows, on small shows and has boxed out of Manchester probably more than in. It was the right time to give a bit back and say thanks. Sometimes we have a hundred going down to a venue and the people think we’ve got about two thousand.”
Maylett admits that the postponement of the fight tainted the mood in camp, but that throughout, he has seen a distinct difference in his charge leading up to the fight with former IBF super-featherweight champion Fana. It is a hunger intensified by finally being able to deliver for his home supporters.
“Terry was gutted when the fight was called off. We were in the gym about to do some padwork, he’d just laced up his gloves, then someone got a phone call. He was gutted. He is a fighter that needs closure after a hard training camp. He needs fights, needs to get in there and do it. He’s a fighter.
“We’ve got to be professional about things. We’ve just been training as we were. As a coach I’ve seen him come back to the way he boxed before. He has got the same intensity back in sparring, in training. His work rate had recently levelled off but now it is back where it used to be. As a coach it’s not always as I like to see him because he got hit less when his work rate dropped!”
Flanagan insists his work rate has been fully utilised in his preparation to fight 42-year-old Fana, who has been a pro since the boxer known as he was four-years-old.
“Training has been going well. I’ve been able to run in this camp and I wasn’t able to run for the Derry Mathews fight. Sparring has been going really well, so yeah just ready to do the business. I’ve give it everything I’ve got in training and I’ve left no stone unturned.
“I expect [Mzonke] to be experienced, he’s got a good jab, a good build but I just want to go in there and stick it on him. I know he is a former champion but his work rate won’t be what it used to be.
Despite the age disadvantage, Maylett has recognised an unfaded trait that means Fana will offer more than his 16/1 price tag with the bookmakers suggests.
“One thing that will surprise a lot of people is he will still have fast hands. Some of the tapes I’ve watched I’ve seen him and he does have fast hands, but we’re ready for that. He is a former champion but I don’t think he can make the weight for super-featherweight anymore and so he has had to move up.
“I think in the long run Terry’s work rate will wear him down. Them first few rounds will be tight. If tries to go with us then the size difference and the strength will count, but we don’t want to bully him. You saw a lot of fighters like Michael Gomez and John Murray go in there and bully people with their size and style. We want Terry to use his boxing.”
Flanagan’s boxing has thus far served him well. His fast, furious win over respected American contender Diego Magdaleno inside two rounds and a measured defeat of wily Liverpudlian Derry Mathews showed that the southpaw knows more than one route to victory.
The success of Flanagan has paralleled that of WBA lightweight champion and fellow Mancunian battler Anthony “Million Dollar” Crolla, and a match between the two fighters has long been discussed. Even the lives of the two fighters seem to mirror each other. Flanagan is from Ancoats. Crolla from Moston. Two inner-city portions of north Manchester, where they still live. They were in the same class at school. They now both hold segments of the lightweight world championship. They are both staunch football fans, Flanagan of Manchester City, Crolla of rivals Manchester United. But despite the matchup having all the makings of a modern British classic, Flanagan believes fans anxious to see the fight may be left disappointed, and this time there’s nothing even he can do about it.
“I don’t think the Crolla fight will happen any time soon because they don’t want it,” Flanagan says, but he insists there could be more lucrative options available should the fight not materialise.
“I could look to fighting Mikey Garcia abroad over in America and there’s been talk of fighting [WBC champion] Dejan Zlaticanin on the undercard of the Tyson Fury fight in Manchester in October. I’m easy. If they want it they want it, we can do it. I think [Garcia] is very good, I watched him for years, he was a good super-feather and a good featherweight. His next fight he is fighting at 140lbs. I can see myself moving up to 140lbs eventually but I think I’ll stay here, there are a lot of fights to be made here at lightweight.”
Unbeaten former WBO featherweight and super featherweight champion Garcia (34-0, 28 KOs) has made it clear that Flanagan’s WBO 135lbs belt is on his radar. The American will fight Dominican Elio Rojas (24-2, 14 KOs) in New York on 30 July, his first outing following a two-and-a-half-year layoff. If an opportunity for that fight should present itself, Maylett has no qualms with letting his man meet the popular knockout artist, be it on home turf or across the Atlantic.
“If I didn’t believe Terry could beat him [I] wouldn’t say it. Garcia is a good technician and when in with somebody who does everything correctly, Terry can take them apart. If they want to make it happen then they have got the big promoters and the big money. Frank [Warren] isn’t shy of getting us home advantage either.
“We could fight Zlaticanin in a unification fight for the WBC. But if we are gonna get paid two or three times more to fight in America we would look at that.”
With British boxing enjoying probably the purplest of patches in its history, Maylett believes what sets Flanagan apart from the earnestly-supported Mancunian boxers who have gone before him is his potential staying power at boxing’s summit, and says the elevation in status has served to coax the notoriously camera-shy Flanagan from his timid out-of-the-ring shell.
“He used to be shy and back away from doing interviews, but now he understands that it’s part of the job.
“He doesn’t get as much credit as he deserves. For the last 10 or 15 years, there was Ricky Hatton, John Murray, Michael Gomez from Manchester. They got a bigger following, but back then there weren’t very many world champions or big names so they had a lot of focus on them. With now it being a great time for British boxing, and with so many talented boxers in big fights, it’s different.
“I think Terry’s 30-0 record speaks for itself. It is a bit different now, but I think Terry is a bit different and I think he has got what it takes to stay at the top.”
Should Flanagan come through the test of Fana tonight in Wales, he would take a huge leap closer still to the top, and in doing so prove that sometimes the quiet guys can make the biggest noises, even without saying a word.