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Flanagan-Hooker: Saturday’s Forgotten World Title Fight

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You may have heard that there is a fairly high profile card taking place in Manchester, England on Saturday. If so you will be fully aware that former heavyweight world champion Tyson Fury is making his long awaited return to the ring after a 31 month hiatus.

Understandably this has been the main selling point for the Manchester Arena event so you will be forgiven if you didn't know there is a world title fight co-headlining the show.

While Tyson Fury is in what will probably be little more than a rust shaker against seriously over-matched Sefer Seferi (usually a cruiserweight), the clash between Terry Flanagan and Maurice Hooker for the vacant WBO light-welterweight title looks to be far more attractive to those of us wanting to watch an actual contest.

Flanagan vs. Hooker was originally scheduled for April 14 in London but was delayed after that card (Saunders vs. Murray) was postponed. Now it has landed in Fury's slipstream. Never mind being under the radar, this bout has been shunted around and radar contact has been lost. It is unfortunate as this is a good matchup.  It should be a competitive fight and there is potential for an interesting tactical encounter to develop.

Terry Flanagan (33-0-0, 13KOs) is stepping up to the 140lb division after a successful campaign at 135lbs. Flanagan won the WBO lightweight title in 2015 and defended it five times. Towards the end of his tenure as a title holder at 135 it did look to my eye that making the weight was draining Flanagan and his last outing in particular, against Petr Petrov in April 2017, was underwhelming. This appears to be the correct time for Flanagan to move up.

A native of Manchester, Flanagan will enjoy home advantage on Saturday. With that comes added expectation from his fan base but as Flanagan is a fighter who looks more comfortable in the ring, as opposed to in front of a camera giving an interview, I don't think he will feel any extra pressure. The southpaw is a well rounded boxer..

..who is comfortable varying his fighting style to suit different scenarios. Flanagan fans will be hoping for a return to the controlled aggressive showing he displayed in October 2015 when blowing away Diego Magdaleno in two rounds. They may need to settle for something slightly less explosive, especially early, against Hooker.

Maurice Hooker (23-0-3, 16KOs) hails from Dallas, Texas and has been boxing as a light-welterweight for his entire professional career. Debuting in 2011, the tall, rangy fighter was putting together a nice run of performances before an off night in Las Vegas on the Kovalev vs. Ward undercard put the brakes on some of the momentum he was gathering. On that November 2016 night most observers agree that he was fortunate to escape from his bout against Darleys Perez with a split draw.

The Texan has boxed twice since then – unanimous decision victories over Cristobal Cruz and Courtney Jackson last year. Against Cruz and Jackson, Hooker was content to box mainly off the back foot, utilising his smooth skills and range control to score wide margins of victory on all scorecards. On Saturday, in his first scheduled twelve round fight and facing an opponent who has shown flashes of being world class, this may not be enough to get the job done for Hooker.

Tactically I expect the slightly taller American to begin the fight in this manner so the onus will be on Flanagan to initiate contact. Although he won't be reckless I suspect that after a few feeling out rounds Flanagan will take the initiative by ramping up the aggression. By doing this though the English boxer may be falling into a patiently laid trap. This is where the bout becomes interesting from a stylistic point of view. Of course there is also the danger that nothing much happens and an action free fight meanders its way to a judges decision. Surely though, with a world title up for grabs, one or both boxers will endeavour to impose their game plan emphatically and we get an enjoyable contest.

Both boxers commented at the final press conference on Thursday, hinting at an exciting duel: “I'm more than ready. I've prepared well and I'm expecting a good night. He's just another American I'm going to add to the list. This is my natural weight. I'll get a title at this weight and then see what happens from there. It's all about getting in there and being 100 percent switched on ready. We're going to have a fight Saturday night,” jabbed Flanagan.

Hooker countered with: “I'm ready to fight Saturday, and Terry's ready to fight. I'm going to punch him in the mouth, and I hope he punches me back – if not he's in trouble. We're going to put on a good show come Saturday night. It's my best against his best. We've got a fight Saturday night, so don't blink.”

Let's hope they are both as good as their word.

Television viewers in the UK can catch most of this card on BT Sport (7pm BST) while fans in America can watch the co-headlining fights via Showtime's YouTube and Facebook channels, beginning at 4.30pm ET.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GHwDjIhsBfE

Tyson Fury's comeback fight has dominated the coverage prior to this card and on the night and after, most of the column inches and analysis will be focused on the returning heavyweight. Fury being back is welcome for most boxing fans and if he can get close to the level he was at previously then he really will be a genuine wildcard in the developing heavyweight shake-up.

There should be plenty of opportunities to write about Fury moving forward.
In terms of the matchup and the immediate prize on offer, the most interesting fight in Manchester on Saturday is Flanagan vs. Hooker. So tune in for Fury, but don't forget about the 140lb title fight.

A boxing fan since his teenage years, Morrison began writing about the sport in July 2016. He appreciates all styles of boxing and has nothing but respect for those who get in the ring for our entertainment. Morrison is from Scotland and can be found on Twitter @Morrie1981.