WBO lightweight boss Terry Flanagan insists he’s suitably refreshed, relaxed and ready to rumble as the hours countdown to the second defence of his crown this weekend.
Having captured and retained the title in his home city of Manchester, the 26 year old takes his ‘Turbo’ engine across the M62 to Liverpool’s Echo Arena to dual home hero Derry Mathews in a showdown that has got the fight trade salivating. The reception is unlikely to be hospitable!
‘I’m not riled about going to Liverpool. I’ve savoured a top atmosphere at the MEN (Manchester Arena), now I get to enter the lion’s den; another experience,’ says the habitually laid-back and unruffled champ, who has triumphed in all 29 paid fights thus far.
‘Besides, I’ve travelled all over Britain and Europe with Man City and away days are always best. It’s a great trip for all the lads. I’ve personally sold nearly 500 tickets already. But home or away, you just blank the crowd out. Whenever I’m in the ring, I’m in the zone. Nothing fazes me.
‘Anyway, I can go back to Manchester for unification against (WBA boss Anthony) Crolla or (WBC king Jorge) Linares. They’re the fights I want. And I’d jump at a chance to defend abroad. There’s also (Puerto Rico’s touted WBO number three) Felix Verdejo, a top talent; perfect for my US debut!
Despite his habitually humble and introverted exterior, the former scaffolder will be bristling with inner belief after his sensational three knockdown, second round slaughter of feted Yank challenger Diego Magdaleno in his maiden defence at Manchester Arena last October.
‘The Magdaleno win brought me big props both in Britain and America but I refuse to get content,’ says Flanagan.
‘I have to keep on proving myself and Mathews is a huge domestic fight. A lot more Brits know Derry than knew Diego. It’s crucial that I shine on Saturday and keep the ball rolling.
Having nailed the vacant belt against feared and previously undefeated California bomber Jose Zepeda in July – albeit on an inconclusive injury retirement – and then rubbed out mandatory contender Magdaleno, the mighty Manc could have been excused if he’d opted to bolster his bank account against one of the tamer threats in the WBO’s listings.
However, his decision to twist against the concussive fists and notoriously wayward head of ‘Dirty Derry’ – and in the Scouser’s own yard – cements Flanagan as a worthy world champion.
He says: ‘I’ve never chosen an opponent or turned one down. I leave that all to the two Steves (trainer Maylett and manager Wood) plus Frank Warren. Because Derry’s with Frank, this makes sense. I need big names that interest the fans, to put myself out there. Though it’s a voluntary, it’s a high profile fight but we obviously fancied our chances.’
While challenger Mathews has the luxury of home court, the Liverpudlian is well into his 33rd year and has already been bettered nine times – seven before the judges were required – in a 13 year, 49 fight innings.
But while Flanagan has already mounted the Mersey man’s scalp after a three round Prizefighter tussle in 2012, and claims the upside of several spars that the pair shared during Flanagan’s apprenticeship, ‘Turbo Terry’ is aware that complacency could prove as big a problem as the Scouser’s feted scuds.
‘I’ve never taken any opponent likely. I’m always 100% switched on, fit and sharp. That’s why I’m still unbeaten,’ insists Flanagan.
’Derry’s got a load of Twitter followers and he’s trying to sell the fight. I’ll stand my corner but there’s no hatred. I like him, find him funny.
‘Sometimes my fans get riled but I never get mad about opponents comments before a fight. They really mean nothing. Derry claims I pulled out in February because I had weight problems but I’ve never made lightweight more comfy. I’ve never struggled in the past, never spoken about moving up.
‘Size doesn’t mean owt. It’s about skill levels and mine are way above his. But lightweight is my division and I’m very fit and strong there. People say I’ve only stopped 12 but, since Prizefighter, nine of 11 have failed to last the distance, including the last six.
‘It’s not just about banging ‘em out – though I showed against Magdaleno I can turn a fight with one shot – it’s about physical maturity. Earlier in my career I relied on speed but now I’ve far more variety to my game. At 26, I’m a proper man. If Derry’s daft and charges on to me, he’ll get stopped.’
Despite venturing out of the away corner, the bookmakers have installed Flanagan as a 5-1 on fancy to retain his belt. Nevertheless, this consummate professional anticipates an almighty argument before his arm is lifted.
‘After the Frampton-Crolla let down, expect Fight of the Year. Everyone’s talking about the fantastic shape that Derry is in. I’m expecting a great fight and I’ve prepared for 12 very hard rounds,’ says the champ who is yet to venture beyond round ten.
‘I told Derry I’d stop him at the press conference but that was only to get him riled. We’re fully aware that he’s always dangerous – especially when his back’s against the wall – so you can never switch off.
‘He never hurt me once in sparring or Prizefighter and he’s no more dangerous than Jose Zepeda who’d stopped 20 of 23. But I know this is a different game with small gloves and no head guards. He’s definitely got a punchers chance. At this level, it’s definitely about not getting hit.
‘I just need to stay switched on. Ninety-nine times out of 100, the better boxer wins the fight and I’m a level above Derry in every department.’