By Danny Winterbottom
On July 26 Terry Flanagan 24-0 (8) will finally end months of stagnation when he challenges British lightweight champion Derry Mathews 35-9-2 (19) in his own backyard of Manchester on the huge Tyson Fury v Dereck Chisora card at the city’s Phones 4U Arena.
The Steve Maylett trained southpaw, known as ‘Turbo’, announced his arrival into the consciousness of the average boxing fan when he defeated Patrick Liam Walsh, Gary Sykes and his opponent in July, Derry Mathews, over three rounds to claim the Prizefighter: The Lightweights title as a competition dark horse in 2012.
Prior to his televised gate crashing of the 9st 9lbs scene, this reporter had watched from ringside as he gamely protected his unbeaten record and English super featherweight title from the marauding attacks of challenger Troy James inside a boisterous Bowlers Exhibition Centre on a chilly September night a month before his Prizefighter success.
James, backed by a hefty knot of travelling support, was being out boxed and out thought by the nimble feet and accurate fists of Flanagan before an outpouring of wild aggression from the Coventry man midway through the contest tested the natural fighting instincts of the champion.
Flanagan had come through his first test with flying colours and proved his future in the sport belonged on a different plane. But despite his taming of an old former world champion Nate Campbell in Sheffield (Campbell retired with a damaged right hand in round four after being thrashed) on the undercard of Amir Khan’s victory over Julio Diaz in March last year his career has failed to develop much further until now.
“Campbell realised after the first round that he couldn’t beat me so he came up with the broken hand excuse” Flanagan told me following the fight.
“He came over to have a look in the first round to see what kind of night he was in for. If he had won the opening round he might have gained confidence but I dominated him so he probably thought there wasn’t much point hanging around.”
Due to Campbell’s poor showing the contest, planned as a showcase for the young southpaw, failed in its brief to lure his domestic opposition into a fight and Flanagan believes his form has suffered as a consequence.
“Since Prizefighter and the Nate Campbell fight I’ve gone from one keeping busy fight to another” bemoaned Flanagan.
“But put me in with better fighters and you will see more and more stoppages on my record.”
The domestic lightweight scene has been in limbo for several months as then champion Martin Gethin was due to defend his Lonsdale belt against Anthony Crolla on the undercard of the massive Carl Froch-George Groves 1bill but withdrew citing an ear injury.
Flanagan was then elevated into a mandatory position to fight for the championship when it became clear that Crolla was in search of bigger prizes, but stepped aside to allow Derry Mathews to challenge the returning Gethin at the Olympia in his home city of Liverpool on the understanding that he would get his shot next.
Not that Flanagan, who was enjoying a family meal when we spoke, fully believes Mathews will be in the other corner come July 26.
“I think deep down he doesn’t want to fight me because I’ve got his number” said the Ancoats man.
Hard to believe given Mathews’ warrior mentality but a gut feeling Flanagan has.
“I stepped aside to allow him (Mathews) to fight Gethin so I just hope he doesn’t pull out of the contest because I heard rumours he had hurt his hand.
“This is the fight I’ve wanted for a while, and it will be fantastic to fight him in Manchester, because to be honest people haven’t seen the best of me recently because I have been boxing kids that are levels below me just to keep busy and yeah, it has been very hard to stay motivated and to look good.”
Terry has fought a variety of spoilers and runners on cards all over the North of the country as he waited patiently for a title shot.
Londoner Michael Grant, an exception to the above categorisation, was beaten in two rounds in October 2013 but not before he dropped Flanagan in the same stanza, proof if needed that the Manchester man was in danger of losing his focus.
“At the minute people are unwilling to fight me because I bring nothing of gain to the table” said Flanagan.
“I don’t have a title yet so fighters think why take the risk but when I beat Mathews on July 26 that is when the fights will start to happen for me.”
“When you fight for the British title you always have to expect a tough night’s work but I think people will see the best of Terry Flanagan once I get my hands on that belt!”