The last time Michael Conlan tried to hold the featherweight belt, he did so in an opponent’s backyard against the odds. Still, it was a fight he very much expected to win, and he did, but in the end there could be no doubt that Leigh Wood’s last-round volley that finally shattered Conlan’s dream was partly due to the Wood’s Nottingham faithful taking him roaring to dregs.
Fourteen months later, Conlan tries again, but this time he’s fighting for the IBF featherweight belt in Belfast, his hometown. Perhaps most importantly, having previously had to travel to the master’s house to get what he wanted, on Saturday (May 27) he will be able to afford the luxury of the master Luis Alberto Lopez coming to him. It could mean anything. Or, on the other hand, it may mean absolutely nothing.
Certainly, however, in light of the experience he had with Wood at Nottingham and given the intensity of the Belfast fan base, it pays off for Conlan to be home this weekend. After all, it’s where he won the two fights he’s had since losing to Wood – his first and only loss as a professional – and it’s where he’s made the most appearances in his six-year professional career when he’s not boxing in America. In fact, few warriors today are as synonymous with place as Conlan is with Belfast; sort of a throwback to the days when militants built their fan bases in real cities, not on social media.
Last time in Belfast, in December, Conlan was the most explosive, stopping former European champion Karim Guerfi in the round. It was a fight that most predicted would be long, or at least longer, but Conlan, 18-1(9), took on his French opponent early, wounded him in the body, then quickly pulled him out of there. In the process, he has proven to hit harder than some claim, and more importantly, that any demons left over from Wood’s defeat are slowly but surely exorcised. Because it was 14 months ago in Nottingham Conlan hurt himself and dumped Wood early only to hit himself trying to finish him off and then pay the price on the episode. This Conlan now admits that was a possible reason why he didn’t become champion that night, but he seems to have no fear of going there again when he sustains a featherweight injury.
Prior to Guerfi, Conlan had the complete opposite experience with an opponent. Against Colombian Miguel Marriaga, he did everything he could to stop the game – dropping his opponent three times – but to no avail, eventually having to settle for beating Marriaga in 10 rounds. It is suspected that for entirely different reasons, it was also educational and beneficial to Conlan. If nothing else, it forced him to venture again in the later rounds and keep it together until the final bell. He did that too, winning wide in the cards.
At the age of 31 and with a wealth of experience both amateur and professional, it looks like he would be ready for a second chance at gold this weekend in Belfast. Now at home as both a southpaw and an orthodox fighter, he added new layers to his game as he developed as a pro and now appears to be as capable of trading as he is of boxing and just as capable of power punching as he is of scoring. Even questions about his stamina should be put to bed given the fact that nine of his last ten fights went over nine rounds, with only Guerfi finishing in the round, leaving Conlan feeling like he was just warming up.
In contrast, Lopez, the man Conlan wants to dethrone, went 12 rounds for the first time in December 2022. It was the night he won the IBF Featherweight Championship with a confident performance against Leeds’ Josh Warrington and duly declared himself the standout. man in the division of nine stones.
Previously beaten by Abraham Montoya and Ruben Villa, both in 10 rounds, there is a feeling that Lopez, despite his progress (these losses occurred in 2018 and 2019 respectively), is considered a champion there, or at least not as threatening as some others. That’s the nature of boxing and its countless belts, of course, but now Lopez has to show he’s a mighty champion and once again show why it would be foolish to underestimate him.
After all, this isn’t the first time he’s traveled to the UK to ruin a party. He did the same in December when he upset Warrington in his hometown and also stopped Isaac Lowe in seven rounds the previous year at York Hall, Bethnal Green. In other words, he’s a fighter who doesn’t want to read a script or follow the perceived way events are going to play out. As for Lopez, every trip to Britain or America gives him the opportunity to advance his career and his own reputation. It hits hard enough to annoy fighters prone to heavy hits, and aggressive enough to overwork those who become lazy or complacent. Primarily supporting himself to launch his touring career, Lopez, 27-2 (15), possesses self-confidence which is often the deciding factor in fights that seem close on paper.
This Saturday’s fight with Conlan will be no different. Lopez will once again be considered the underdog, despite bringing the world title with him, and will once again have to do his best to leave with everything he had when he first arrived in Belfast. However, unlike the fight against Josh Warrington, when he was basically gifted with an opponent and a fight he desperately wanted, there is a suspicion that Conlan and his Belfast fans will not be so accommodating to the Mexican’s needs. For this reason, Conlan, who has learned his lessons and licked his wounds, should be supported in a 12-round triumph, which is the real test of his post-Wood rehabilitation.
Meanwhile, Liverpool’s exciting and light featherweight is on the Belfast card Nick Ball17-0 (10), meets South Africa This is Lamati’s fame21-0-1 (11), over 12 rounds, and Anthony Cacace from Belfast, 20-1 (7), Polish boxes Damian Wrzesinski26-2-2(7), the same distance at super featherweight.