By Richard Hubbard
The scene in the dressing room of Terry Flanagan after his landslide points victory over Mzonke Fana on Saturday night was one of sombre reflection, laced with more than a little frustration, rather than a back-slapping celebration over a third successful defence of his WBO world title.
The Turbo saw no cause to rev up the revelry, believing he did not do himself justice against awkward customer Fana. The choice of opponent had drawn criticism, not least for being in the twilight years of his career, but you don’t get to 48 fights having been a two-time world champion without knowing a few moves to keep yourself out of harm’s way.
Flanagan, now 31-0 and probably the best lightweight on the planet, has a burning desire to prove as much and took no consolation from the fact he won by a 14 point margin on all three judges cards.
“The fact is I know I should be getting people like that out, with him being a 42-year-old, although I know he has been around the block and is experienced,” reasoned Flanagan, with a sore hand and six or so stitches doing little to improve his mood.
“I had him hurt a few times, but I was silly really, falling in and loading up when I should have done what I done when I hurt him and kept my range.
“When I got my boxing going in parts, he looked like he was going, but I loaded up again and was silly. I got the win all the same.”
Originally, Flanagan’s attempt to extinguish the flames of Fana was set for the previous weekend in Manchester as a support act to Tyson Fury’s return against Wladimir Klitschko. Fury rolling his ankle proved a stumbling block to the preparations of the 27-year-old, who admits his rhythm being disrupted did leave him battling the blues.
Frank Warren, ultimately, juggled the Cardiff card to accommodate a third headline contest.
“With the fight being put back, that didn’t help, I’ve had a long camp of 15 weeks. I’ve got to thank Frank for getting me out because when I heard the news that Tyson had pulled out I thought it wasn’t going to happen. My head was up my arse for a few days and I didn’t know if I was coming or going, but I was still sticking to my diet.
“I was a bit flat really, I don’t want to use that as an excuse, but I will have to do a lot better than that if I keep hold of my title against elite fighters,” he added before denying he had fallen into the trap of judging a book by its cover and underestimating the staying power of the veteran Fana.
The social media sceptics were unanimous in predicting he was in for an easy night and a quick-fire victory, but Flanagan insists making hard work of it was his own doing and he wasn’t lulled into believing he could beat the traffic with a speedy KO.
“I don’t listen to no-one, I am my own worst critic and, if I stick to my boxing and box how I can box, I’ll beat anyone. It is just keeping it going, something is not right at the minute and in my last two fights I haven’t been at my best.
“We’ll go back to the gym and sort it out and at least nobody will be scared of me on that performance. There is big fights out there and hopefully I will get one of them now.
“I think the better class of opponent I’m in with, the better a Terry Flanagan you will see.”
Prior to becoming world champion just over a year ago, Flanagan reasoned in this interview slot that he drew strength from being scared to lose, that a nagging fear in the pit of his stomach during camp and on the ring walk had sustained him in maneuvering himself up to elite level.
That strong point, he now suspects, could be counting against him. The fear needs to be conquered and the aura of being a champion adopted and played out in the ring.
“I did and I think that is my downfall now,” he reflected. “Rather than just going in and letting it go, I am going in and thinking ‘I won that round’, whereas I should just be putting my stamp on the fight and getting them out of there.
“It is what Steve (trainer Maylett) tells me to do and it will end up costing me in the long run if I don’t. If I go out and do what I do he says I will beat anyone, but my fear of losing is going to hold me back. So I need to snap out of that.
“It can be a good thing in the gym to keep you training and switched on, not get over confident and keep me grounded, but on the night you’ve got to go in there and think ‘I’m the man, f**king ‘ave it’ and go in and take him out.
“I’m going in thinking ‘is he gonna go’ when I should be thinking ‘I’ve got him here now’ and get him out.
“I do prefer to be the underdog, to be fair, because there is no pressure on me and I like people saying I am going to get beat going into the fight. I know I will be a thousand times better than that next time, I just need to sort my own head out.
“I will go away and have a break, switch off from boxing because it has been a long camp and when I get back I will be right back on it.”
In that year and a bit since Jose Zepeda retired with a dislocated shoulder at the Manchester Velodrome, Flanagan has since defended three times and established himself as top dog in the division.
It is probably the only thing that has changed for Mr Normal from Ancoats, that and a change of address.
Flanagan simply doesn’t crave attention, goes out of his way to shun the limelight, believing his deeds in the ring carry a greater value than words and appearances outside.
Some don’t agree, and the word ‘profile’ coupled with ‘lack of’ gets bandied about by the camps of rivals as a mechanism to deflect criticism of a reluctance to talk turkey over domestic dust-ups that Flanagan himself would relish.
“No change at all really, I have just moved into a new house with my girlfriend and baby, just round the corner from where we were before,” reported the southpaw on life as a champion. “We are happy, we’re comfy, set and relaxed.
“I’m happy in the gym and life is good at the minute. Life has not changed at all, the odd person pulls me up when I am up, but not to the level of some fighters because my profile is not as high.
“That is because I don’t want it to be, I am a chilled out down to earth guy and I don’t want all the attention as I prefer to go unnoticed.
“I know it’s not good for myself when it comes to earning big fights and big money, but it is how I like it as I am a pretty shy guy.”
Flanagan happily dismisses the barbs from rival promoters, pointing out that being an undefeated world champion is his bargaining chip and one he is more than willing to cash in whenever Million Dollar Crolla is prepared to trade in local currency.
“It shouldn’t be about profile, should it? It should be about being unbeaten in 31 fights. It is stupid really and I just let them do what they do, Frank is doing a good job with me and I am happy with what Frank is doing in trying to get me unification fights.”
Whether Camp Crolla is simply hiding behind a smokescreen with their profile patter is open to debate, but they have elected to take on the well worn former WBC champion Jorge Linares as a next assignment, rather than enter into talks over unification derby between two local lads who went to the same school.
“I’m not too sure, I think if he watched my fight there he would fancy his chances. Up to this point they have shown no signs of wanting the fight, whereas I have said openly that I want it.
“I know Crolla quite well as he is good mates with my good mates and they say he would happily take the fight. I say I’ve come out and said I would take it, but he has not come out and said he wants it.
“It’s down to his coach (Joe Gallagher) really. I said to mine ‘will we win the fight?’ and he said of course we will and we should say we want it. His coach isn’t telling him that.
“He’ll fight anyone because he is a fighter but I don’t think his coach wants to go up against a young, hungry, unbeaten coach in Steve either.
“Don’t get me wrong, that is a tough fight for Crolla and Linares is a good fighter. In my eyes Crolla just edges him, although it will be tough and he is a world class operator, but he is getting him at the right time now.
“Hopefully he will do the job because he is a Manchester lad and I want him to do well, of course I do.”
So with Crolla otherwise engaged, on the Flanagan radar is a coming together with WBC champion Dejan Zlaticanin, if it can be negotiated for later in the year. It is a fight that would stir his juices and, he strongly believes, avoid a repeat of his sluggish performance against Fana.
“He has got the WBC so that would be a proper unification fight. Hopefully Frank can make that happen on the Fury-Klitschko bill at the end of October.
“I would jump at the chance of that fight, like I say, the better a person I am in with the better me you will see. He is a good tough fighter, I remember watching him against Ricky Burns and I’ve watched some of his recent fights.
“I think I’ve got the beating of him, he is a short, stocky southpaw like (Diego) Magdaleno and people like that are made for me. Good technical boxers as well, who like to box off, I would go into that fight a big favourite.”
For now though, it is time for a time-out and a probably futile attempt to get his crossing of the Severn Bridge out of his system. When he returns it will be to a critical examination of where it went wrong against Fana and no just putting it down as an off night.
“I’m going on holiday with my missus and baby to relax then, when I come back, we’ll get in the gym on work on the stuff I didn’t do this time and why I didn’t get him out of there.
“No I will over analyse it because that is what I do. I’ll watch it back and I’ll be pissed off with myself for getting caught with daft shots. It’s all learning and you never stop learning.
“I’m not happy with the performance so I will watch it, where if I was happy I probably wouldn’t. I prefer to watch the bad fights than the good ones.”
With video nasties being preferred viewing, it is probably a good job this champion remains undefeated.