WHILE Britain’s leading lightweights have been forming a queue to face Vasyl Lomachenko, the first Englishman to ever win a world title at 135lbs has been rattling around his Manchester gym, waiting for the right opportunity to re-enter the fray. After coming to the conclusion that drastic measures were needed to reignite his career, Terry Flanagan has made the difficult decision to end his working relationship with his long-term manager, Steve Wood, and from now on he will be guided by MTK.
Flanagan and Wood climbed the mountain together and the 29-year-old became the Manchester-based manager and promoter’s first world champion when he defeated Jose Zepeda back in 2015. After going unbeaten in 33 fights, Flanagan stepped up to super-lightweight and suffered consecutive defeats to Maurice Hooker and Regis Prograis in 2018, and the difference of opinion revolved around the route his comeback should take.
“It was hard leaving Steve, but MTK were offering us something that nobody else was. It’s a good move and MTK are probably the strongest team in boxing and it’s good to have that behind you,” Flanagan told BN.
“I don’t want it to come across as though I’m having a pop at Steve Wood. He’s been so good to me over the years. He got me the British title and a world title and I defended it five times with him. I can’t thank him enough.
“I went to Steve and asked him to stay on board but the way he saw it, if I wanted to work with MTK then I wouldn’t really need him. We told him what they were offering and he told me that if that’s what we want to do, we should crack on and do it.
“I’m at the stage of my career where I’m coming off the back of two losses and if I jump right back into a 50-50 fight at a weight I haven’t made for about two-and-a-half years, anything can happen,” Flanagan added. “If I go and get beat then it’s the end of my career. I don’t think I’m at that point yet. I don’t just have to go into take-it-or-leave-it, 50-50 fights, just seeing what I can earn out of it. I want a few fights under my belt to start feeling and looking good again. Time will tell, but I still believe I’m at world level.”
Wood was keen on taking a more direct route back into title contention. “I was very disappointed that after 10 years of putting my heart and soul into Terry, it ends like this,” he said. “I really wanted to finish the journey together after being very successful and achieving with him what probably no one else would have done. It hurts but that will go away and I look forward to doing for other kids what I have done for Terry. It’d be easy to use this big letdown to call it a day, but other people need my help like Terry did.”
Flanagan and his trainer, Steve Maylett, have had seven months to survey things following his decision defeat to Regis Prograis in the WBSS quarter-final in October. The pair are unflinchingly honest with each other but tend to know what each other is thinking without a word being spoken, and both came to the same conclusion. They aren’t interested in being pitched right into a make-or-break fight and neither do they want to be served up as bait for a young, hyped fighter to build their name on. At just 29 years old, they have decided that Flanagan has everything it takes for another sustained push towards a world title.
“I see him in the gym all the time and he’s still got all his physical attributes. We just need a few fights to get active again and get back into the groove of fighting regularly,” Maylett told BN.
“We won’t jump straight back to lightweight. We’ll start with a fight at just under 140lbs and come down slowly but surely. After Christmas, we’ll be ready to go and get back into the top 10 of the world rankings.
“We had some tempting offers but we let MTK speak first. What they said was exactly what I was going to ask for. They know what Terry’s about and have seen him up close. They have their own ideas of rebuilding him and even though the losses to Hooker and Prograis are no disgrace, you can’t beat winning.”
That those losses came against two of the top operators in the super-lightweight division matters little to Flanagan, who never came close to losing at 135lbs. Hooker proved himself to be much more robust than expected by grinding past Flanagan and knocking out the hyped Alex Saucedo, whilst surviving Prograis’ onslaught only to drop a decision looks a much better result given what the Louisianan did to then-WBA champion Kiryl Relikh recently.
“I’ll fight anybody and was asking for the big fights at lightweight but just didn’t get them,” Flanagan said. “That’s one of the reasons I moved up. I thought I’d get the big ones at super-lightweight and become a two-weight world champion, but it wasn’t meant to be. If I have to go back to lightweight and try to win another world title, that’s what I’ll do.
“I’m a monster at lightweight. I can use my physical attributes and it’s good to have something to aim for. I’m probably better than I was three or four years ago because I’m starting to mature. It’s telling in the gym. I’m fitter and stronger than I’ve ever been and I’m still fresh. I haven’t been in any wars and the hunger is still there. That’s the most important thing of all. I want to get back to world level.”
It is often said that if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life. Flanagan’s idea of relaxation at weekends is joining in on long-distance bike rides or open-water swims, but even a fitness fanatic needs a target to chase. With three fights lined up before Christmas, there won’t be much time for downtime but that is exactly what he wants.
“I need to get busy and to keep the ball rolling,” Flanagan said. “I need to have a fight and to have another one lined up a couple of months later. Before the fight with Hooker I hadn’t boxed for 14 months and then jumped into a title fight at a new weight. I think when I’ve been at my best I’ve had fights close to each other.
“I need something to focus on. I need an end goal and something to aim for. If I’ve not got that I don’t know whether I’m coming or going. I need something to look forward to. I see myself getting back to world level and winning world titles and if I can’t do that then it’ll have been a failure in my eyes.”