FOR the best part of five years, Mark Flanagan has flirted with the top of the cruiserweight division.
The hard-hitting Queenslander has done things the hard way, there’s no doubting this. From his early rise, facing hometown fighters as the opponent, right through to his two world title chances on foreign soil, it’s never come easy.
Faced with a choice to either rebuild his resume against soft opposition, or seek the hardest challenge available, Flanagan (24-7, 17 KOs) made the decision that few would, signing to face unbeaten future star, Jai Opetaia.
Just hours away from his latest challenge, the 29-year-old wouldn’t have it any other way.
“This fight is better late than never,” he told Aus-Boxing.
“It was more it was more about him (Jai) building up his record as I was already at international level. Not that he wasn’t ready. It’s a better fight now than it would’ve been earlier.
“He’s a good fighter, I’m not blind, I see his ability and his skills. He’s good all round, but he hasn’t been tested yet. He’s had good fights, but nothing that’s really put him under too much pressure.
“Credit to him, being a good boxer. I’m definitely his biggest test, he either rises or sinks.”
As his record attests, few aside from those capable at the highest level have gotten past the Townsville-born slugger.
Following his second unsuccessful attempt against unbeaten world champion Arsen Goulamirian, Flanagan realised the enormity of the mountain he faced next.
Understanding the importance of his next move, and the immediate prospect of another big fight providing he upsets Opetaia on Saturday night, Flanagan took the fight that few expected him to face.
As for his reasoning, it’s pretty obvious, really. Legitimacy and time.
“I need to prove myself again, I could’ve easily knocked a few fights back,” he explained.
“Being busy guy, I don’t have the time or patience for fights that I know I’m going to win. I was knocking back fights I knew I’d win, I want a challenge. I’m not looking to build up my numbers, or a fake fan base.
“I want to test out these new guys. I want to see what these new guys are about. I’m still improving, even though I’ve lost a step or two in a few places, but I’m working on it.
“Yeah, I’m feeling my age, for sure, but it hasn’t taken anything out of me.”
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Given the opportunity to grade the progression of Opetaia (18-0, 14 KOs), who owns a slew of regional titles, Flanagan gave a refreshingly honest answer.
“No offence, but his hardest fights were against my sparring partners,” he quipped.
“On paper, and by calibre, I move around the gym with them and they’re the guys he’s fighting. They’re the peak of his resume.
“I started my career as the B-side. Where I came from in Townsville, there was no sparring, no fights, and I was always as the opponent. Not knowing what was going to happen, I assumed I’d be fighting out of pubs.
“No one knew how far you could go. I took the long hard road, whereas with Jai, I think he’s been handed his wins.
“For this camp, I used my two weeks off work to go back to where it all started. Left my wife and son at home and I trained three times a day for two weeks, which Jai does every day.
“I did it in perfect timing, when I came back, my sparring was all in Brisbane. Flying over a real talent in Floyd Masson, out of my own pocket. I’m pulling out all of the stops.”
As for his career prospects, Flanagan won’t look past the televised opportunity he’s been granted on Fox Sports. Which for him, brings a sense of irony, given his rise on the same platform years ago.
“A win puts me back to where I want to be,” he concluded.
“I could’ve easily gone the long way around, getting regional titles that are handed out these days.
“When I came up, I was on Fox Sports a lot. At once stage, I was one of the guys with the most main event slots with Fox, thanks to my long-time promoter Angelo Di Carlo.
“Even being from Townsville, not being Ange’s main guy originally. I got on that platform so early in my career. When they left it was massive blow, and it’s great to have televised fights on Fox Sports again.
“But for this fight, and fights like this, it’s perfect. This is one big fish, take him out, and take his spot.”