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GUEST ARTICLE: Hooker hands Flanagan first professional defeat and shocks home crowd with split-decision win

By Thomas Lyons of The Fight Business

‘Mighty Mo’ stole the show in Manchester last night to become the new WBO Super-Lightweight champion of the world with a well-deserved display against the hometown favourite, Terry Flanagan.

Relatively unknown to the UK audience, Hooker came into the contest with a lot of confidence that he could defeat Flanagan and have enough power to hurt him during the course of the fight.

Having shared the ring with Errol Spence and newly crowned 147lb champion Terence Crawford in sparring, the 28-year old Texan showed why he is capable of mixing it at this level having the superior height and reach advantage over Flanagan and using these attributes to full effect in the ring.

Struggling to make the 135lb lightweight limit in his last fight, Flanagan snapped at the opportunity to fight for the vacant WBO title against a strong operator in Hooker at the weight.

The opening round was a tight affair, with both men trying to establish their jab. Flanagan, in his southpaw stance, had the slightly better start but Hooker had his own success with the lead jab. Cautious of the straight right hand down the middle, Flanagan needed to keep his shape and force Hooker in to catch him with the overhand.

The second was hard to call as Hooker kept Flanagan off with the range-finding jab. Flanagan started to settle into a rhythm in the third and got in with a few solid one-twos. The fourth saw Flanagan flat-footed at times, with Hooker frustrating Flanagan with his awkwardness and long leavers.

Flanagan was beginning to look flat and reluctant to come forward knowing Hooker could catch him clean from a distance. The feet were getting tangled and this was only adding to Flanagan’s frustration, unable to move freely and use angles with the big American disrupting his flow.

Moving on, the seventh round caught fire with Flanagan applying more pressure after a nasty clash of heads left the Manchester fighter with a severe cut on the top of his forehead, with blood soaring from it.

To the corner’s credit, they managed to stop the flow of blood momentarily in between rounds. The crowd were also starting to get behind Flanagan, knowing he needed to be busier as Hooker was matching everything coming back at him.

Hooker sensed that Flanagan was feeling the pace heading into the championship rounds and was landing a number of flashy combinations that caught the eye of the judges ringside.

The challenger also found it easy to tie Flanagan up on the inside and employing this tactic, took away a few seconds in every exchange, pushing Flanagan even further to force to pace. ‘Turbo’ was also being picked off from a distance and couldn’t get inside Hooker enough to land scoring shots.

Down the stretch, Hooker was nicking a lot of the rounds but was still not a degree of confidence about who was taking them.

Flanagan came storming out in the final round and threw a flurry of shots but Hooker was able to answer those questions immediately returning with sharp combinations of his own.

Nonetheless, Hooker was declared the victor with a split decision despite two very wide scorecards of 117-111, one in favour of each fighter, but was rewarded a 115-113 verdict by the other judge, meaning the Brit suffered his first defeat as a professional.

Flanagan will be disappointed that he didn’t push the pace further but with a deep gash to the head and cut under the right eye, he gave another great account of himself and was just slightly edged out on the night.

Elsewhere on the undercard, Nathan Gorman recorded an impressive third round stoppage over Sean Turner and wins for Zelfa Barrett and Mark Heffron made up for a bizarre main event with Tyson Fury forcing Sefer Seferi to retire on his stool at the end of the fourth round in their encounter.

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