By Nick Halling
Word out of Carl Froch’s training camp is that the Cobra is taking his preparations for next month’s rematch with George Groves deadly seriously. And to hone his edge even further, the champion has literally been taking himself out of his comfort zone.
Froch leaves his partner and children on a Monday morning and heads for Sheffield, where his camp is based. Instead of returning home at the end of the day, Froch is now sharing a room in Sheffield with a member of the Team GB amateur squad. It’s almost a return to student days, and a far cry from the luxury he’s used to, but his self-enforced Spartan regime suits his mood of getting back to basics.
Froch shares his room four nights a week, goes to work on Friday, and heads back down the M1 to Nottingham for weekends with the family. Froch isn’t the type who needs to manufacture a nasty edge, but depriving himself of home comforts is saind to be only fuelling his tetchiness.
According to camp insiders, Froch’s entire demeanour is completely different for the rematch with Groves. He’s focussed, intense, edgy and sparring like a beast. There’s a growing feeling that unless Groves can keep things at range, the rematch might play out like a replay of Froch’s one-sided destruction of Lucien Bute.
Anthony Crolla and John Murray collide head-on their home city of Manchester on Saturday in a keenly-anticipated local derby which will have the winner poised on the verge of a shot at one of the world lightweight titles.
As worthy and as proven as both are, there are whispers around the gyms of Greater Manchester that neither Crolla nor Murray are the city’s best lightweight. That honour might just belong to the quiet southpaw Terry Flanagan.
Flanagan cannot boast the body of work that underpins the claims of the two more illustrious names, but he’s young (24), unbeaten (23-0), dangerous, and improving all the time. He first came to prominence in a high quality edition of Prizefighter in October 2012, when he sprung a major surprise to beat former British champions Derry Mathews and Gary Sykes en route to lifting the £32,000 winner’s prize.
Within six months, he’d also added the name of Nate Campbell to his list of victims, the multiple-title former world champion retiring with a damaged hand after four lopsided rounds. True, the old champ was pretty ancient at 41, but many a young prospect has been overawed by an ageing warrior’s reputation. Flanagan, significantly, took the occasion – and the opponent - comfortably in his stride.
But meaningful fights have been hard to come by since then. Meaningful sparring, however, has been less of a problem. Flanagan has been in with all the division’s domestic big guns – Crolla, Murray, Ricky Burns, Kevin Mitchell – and held his own every time.
Most recently, he has been working with Brian Rose ahead of the Englishman’s assault on Demetrius Adrade’s WBO light middleweight crown in June. Andrade is also a southpaw, and reports from Rose’s camp suggest that Flanagan is doing an outstanding job replicating the American.
The Manchester man has terrific footwork, and that is probably his most distinctive quality. He also possesses fast hands, and can hold a shot. Nobody would describe him as a one-punch knockout artist, but as he grows into his body and finds what Carl Froch describes as his “man strength”, the power is starting to come too.
That growth is something which will need to be monitored. It wouldn’t be a surprise to find Flanagan moving up a weight division within a couple of years. There are no weight-making issues around at the moment, but he’s naturally big, and staying at lightweight in the long term might present something of a problem.
The problem in the short term is finding someone to fight him. The word is out on the grapevine, and there aren’t too many in a rush to try their luck against him. The good news for Flanagan came last month, when he was made the mandatory for the British lightweight title, currently in the possession of the Midlander, Martin Gethin.
Gethin is due out next month against another of the great British lightweight battlers, Liverpool’s Derry Mathews, and the domestic belt will be at stake when the two meet, so Flanagan’s wait may have to go on a little longer.
But expect the winner of Gethin and Mathews to be made to defend against Flanagan later in the year, quite possibly on the undercard of the big Dereck Chisora/Tyson Fury bill in July – which just happens to be taking place in Flanagan’s home city of Manchester.
Keeping a secret in boxing is a near-impossibility, but Flanagan’s made a pretty good job of it so far. He might be one of the best prospects no-one’s ever heard of, but the word is getting out, and if Flanagan is anywhere close to being as handy as his connections believe him to be, an already-competitive domestic lightweight division is about to get even hotter.
Spare a thought for Colchester battler Lee Purdy, who has endured a nightmare 2014 so far. Purdy was last in action in December, when in a typically courageous effort, he put everything on the line against Leonard Bundu for the European welterweight title, before being stopped in the last.
And that was just the start of his problems. Within a few days, he went Christmas shopping, only to wonder why he wasn’t seeing properly out of his right eye. Purdy popped into a local optician for a check-up, and was told that he needed to get to an eye hospital – without delay.
Next day, the Colchester man was at the Moorfields eye hospital in London, where the problem was identified. Purdy had sustained a detached and torn retina. An operation was immediately scheduled.
But identifying the problem and solving it are proving to be two different things. The surgeons replace the retina without difficulty, but the resultant scar tissue is pulling the retina away from where it is supposed to be. To date, Purdy has had four such operations, and the result is the same every time.
There was good news and bad news when he went back for his latest examination earlier this week. While the retina had once again become slightly detached, the specialists are optimistic that it is responding well to treatment, and that the healing process is almost complete.
The former British champion is scheduled to return for another operation in early June (his fifth in total), and the medics are hopeful that this will be the end of the matter.
In the meantime, the always-busy Purdy is frustrated beyond words. He’s a gym rat, who loves the camaraderie as much as the training. With his retina causing problems, he is allowed no strenuous exercise at all, which rules out pad work, skipping, and just about everything else a fighter would routinely do in a gym.
Purdy is said to be devastated at the enforced suspension of his career, and finds the frustration of not being able to do what he wants the hardest part of all. However, with cautionary optimistic news from the specialists this week, there’s a good chance that one of the country’s most whole-hearted and honest boxers will be back in a ring – where he belongs – in the not too distant future.
Nick Halling is a commentator for Sky Sports.