Frank Warren brings boxing to BT Sport with one of the best cards of the year

WBO lightweight champion Terry Flanagan headlines the card, Liam Williams and Liam Smith go head to head, while Nicola Adams makes her eagerly awaited professional debut

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The Independent Online

Big-time boxing makes its long-awaited debut on BT Sport tonight, and Frank Warren has produced one of the best cards of the year to start the experiment off in style.

WBO lightweight champion Terry Flanagan headlines in Manchester as he defends his title against Petr Petrov, and Liam Williams and Liam Smith compete not just to see who is the best Liam, but who is the greatest light middleweight in the country. Elsewhere, Nicola Adams makes her professional debut, while several other intriguing fights supplement the event.

32-0 across an eight year career, Terry Flanagan has the longest undefeated record in Britain, and he puts it all on the line against tough Russian opponent. Flanagan won his WBO belt in July 2015, and has since defended against Diego Magdaleno, Derry Mathews, Mzonke Fana and Orlando Cruz. The 27-year-old champion has failed to excel in recent bouts, and needs a strong performance against Petrov to reaffirm his reputation as one of the best lightweights on the planet.

At 34-years-old, Petrov is one of the most experienced fighters in the lightweight division, and finally gets a world title opportunity in his 45th fight. Although born in Russia, Petrov has been based in Spain for the majority of his career, and is currently enjoying a six fight undefeated streak. Of his four defeats, the last came four years ago when he lost on points to Dejan Zlaticanin, and he was also stopped in four rounds by Marcos Maidana in 2011.

Despite his championship credentials, Flanagan has not been fully embraced by British boxing fans in the same way other Manchester fighters have been. His personality is not suited to promotion, but if he wants to make serious money in the fight game, his performances need to thrill more than they have been. It’s not all about knockouts and devastation, but Flanagan is a fighter who does the basics really well.

To increase his stature in the sport, he needs to add flashes of flamboyance otherwise the minute he eventually loses his world title he’ll be a forgotten man.

Flanagan will defend his title against Petr Petrov (Getty)

Flanagan is 1/7 to retain his championship tonight according to the bookmakers, with Petrov a 5/1 underdog. A far more competitive fight takes place as chief support in Manchester, with Liam Smith and Liam Williams both confident of victory.

Smith, the second youngest of the fighting Liverpool family, lost his WBO light middleweight title to Saul Alvarez in his last significant fight, while Williams is looking to keep his undefeated record alive.

Boxing is all about opportunity, and knowing that he wouldn’t be eligible for a world title shot had he still been coming off that loss to Alvarez, Liam Smith snuck in a four round points victory over a 2-37 opponent last month to allow tonight’s fight to be contested for the interim WBO title. His defeat to Canelo was as one-sided as it gets in a major level fight, but prior to that loss the Liverpudlian had comfortably dispatched of semi-decent fighters, and his intensity will be a major attribute this evening.

Smith bounced back from defeat to Canelo by beating Cazacu (Getty)

His opponent is a force of nature however. For years the name of Liam Williams has been used as a barometer for future British talents, and though the Welshman has struggled with hand injuries throughout his career, he remains a very exciting boxer who enjoys both power and poise inside the ring. The 16-0 24-year-old has won his last eight fights via stoppage, but will need to be aware of Smith’s toughness and strength.

The bookmakers can barely split the two, with Williams a narrow ⅘ favourite and Smith hovering around evens. Smith has the experience factor and the knowledge had can compete over 12 rounds, but Williams is a maverick talent who has an unassuming personality outside of the ring, yet a ferocious nature inside.


Adams makes her professional debut on Saturday (Getty)

Two-time Olympic gold medalist Nicola Adams competes as professional for the first time tonight, as she meets Virginia Noemi Carcamo over four rounds. Boxing promoters are desperately trying to replicate the success Ronda Rousey enjoyed in UFC, but though Claressa Shields and Katie Taylor have made high-profile crossovers to the professional world, just being successful isn’t enough for most fight fans to take notice.

Rousey’s stature grew incrementally as her career began, with whispers of his dominance becoming increasingly louder the more success she enjoyed in MMA. Rousey didn’t just win fights, she destroyed opponents, collecting broken arms in the same way most people collect stamps.

Boxing promoters are hoping Adams replicates Rousey's success (Getty)

For Adams, or any of the female Olympians hoping to turn professional and attract a similar level of attention, they need to prove that they are so much better than their opponents, because otherwise they could be waiting a long time to earn the respect they already deserve.

Elsewhere in Manchester, Jack Catterall fights Martin Gethin, Jimmy Kelly meets Mark Thompson, and heavyweight prospect Daniel Dubois makes his first professional appearance. Further top level boxing takes place tonight on BoxNation in the early hours of the morning when WBO super featherweight champion and overall boxing supremo Vasyl Lomachenko fights Jason Sosa, while Ukrainian cruiserweight King Oleksandr Usyk defends his WBO belt against Michael Hunter.