|The city of Manchester, England, has long been a boxing hotbed and local fight fans have two intriguing lightweight world-title bouts coming their way. On July 18, Anthony Crolla will face Darleys Perez for the WBA title, but first, this Saturday, Terry Flanagan meets feared American puncher Jose Zepeda for the vacant WBO version.Flanagan (27-0, 10 knockouts) is a sophisticated southpaw with plenty of experience. In an age where fighters are frequently fast-tracked to the top level, this 27-year-old technician has undergone a lengthy six-year learning curve, capturing English and British titles en route to a solid world ranking.“I probably could have fought for a title sooner but everything happens for a reason and I’m happy that I have six years of pro experience behind me,” Flanagan said. “Everything will come together in this fight. I’ll be bringing a high work rate, good boxing skills and I’m also willing to mix it up when I have to.”In February, Flanagan faced what was arguably his toughest test in Irish pressure-fighter Stephen Ormond. The Manchester man built a commanding lead through eight rounds, but did encounter adversity in the form of his opponent’s skull. Ormond was penalized for persistent use of the head and then disqualified in the tenth for the same infraction.
Flanagan recalled, “I was winning that fight comfortably and in the last couple of rounds Stephen knew I was getting stronger, and he was tiring a bit. I kept him frustrated, he couldn’t get off, and his game plan wasn’t working, whereas mine was. He was just looking for a way out and I was cruising to a decision win on all three scorecards.”
This victory validated Flanagan’s No. 1 ranking with the WBO and his shot at the vacant belt will be against a dangerous, unbeaten opponent who carries dynamite in his gloves.
“Jose Zepeda is strong, skilled and does carry power in that left hand,” agreed Flanagan. “Everyone he hits he knocks over, and he likes to switch quite a bit so we’ve been preparing for that too. The thing is, he’s not accustomed to being hit back, and when he has been he’s looked vulnerable.
“It’s going to be a very tough fight, but it’s one that I’m more than capable of winning.”
As with most prolific punchers who have never been tested, there are question marks hanging over Zepeda. Despite an ominous 23-0 (20 KOs) record, he has only been beyond six rounds once and the 26-year-old is also dropping down in weight from 140 pounds. Flanagan sees only opportunity.
He said, “We want to take Zepeda into the later rounds and see if he still carries the same firepower at lightweight. We need to be careful early but once we get past the midway point he is likely to lose the snap on his punches. When that happens we’ll be looking to outwork him and win the rounds big.”
After basking in the shadow of more popular British lightweights like Crolla, Ricky Burns, Kevin Mitchell and the emerging Luke Campbell, Flanagan is obsessed with making a real splash at 135 pounds and admitted that there is more on the line than just a world title.
“I would be the first English lightweight world champion and that will go down in history,” said Flanagan, his voice rising slightly. “That’s stuff my kids can talk about in years to come. This fight means everything to me because it’s all I’ve ever wanted.”