Brains count for more than brawn as lion-hearted underdog Jamie Conlan prepares for world title shot
IBF Super-flyweight Championship of the World: Jerwin Ancajas (23-1) v Jamie Conlan (19-0) (tonight, SSE Arena, Belfast, BT Sports, 10.15pm approx.)
BRAINS will count for more than brawn as Jamie Conlan looks to defy the odds and dethrone IBF super-flyweight champion of the world Jerwin Ancajas tonight.
Despite his unbeaten record and home advantage, Conlan goes into this fight as a rank underdog with some bookies offering 9/2 against him and viewing Ancajas as an odds-on sure thing.
Why is Conlan such a long shot? The 31-year-old Belfast man has won Commonwealth, European, Inter-Continental and International titles in his eight-year pro career but he has had to get off the canvas more than once on the way to tonight's long-awaited title shot.
His lion-hearted style has been enough to see him through up to now but his opponent tonight - the world champion - is several levels above anyone ‘the Mexican' has faced before.
Manny Pacquaio protégé Ancajas has one loss on his record, but he is the clear favourite for a reason and the 25-year-old has had some very good local judges in raptures over his hand speed and punching power since he arrived in Belfast early this week.
That dangerous combination has seen him score 11 early wins in his last 14 fights but it was a points decision over McJoe Arroyo in September last year that won him the IBF belt he defends tonight.
He has defended it twice since he took it from Arroyo and both times on foreign soil. Jose Alfredo Rodriguez quit on his stool after seven one-sided rounds in Macao in January and in July ‘Pretty Boy' knocked out Teiru Kinoshita (again in round seven) after dominating the first half of the fight.
Coming in behind a high guard, Ancajas doesn't get greedy when he lands a shot or a combination. The Fillipino closes the distance behind the jab, unloads a three-four punch combo, then gets out of harm's way, resets and comes back again and again.
His coach Joven Jimenez says that defeating Conlan tonight will give his man the right to call himself “a real champion”.
“It is the highest mountain in the world for Jerwin,” said Jimenez.
“It's the most Mount Everest since he has everything against him. It's the place and the crowd.
“When he has won here, he can really be called a real champion. It's a rarity to get it.”
Southpaw Ancajas has power in both hands and is particularly dangerous with a straight left he sets up behind his jab – so Conlan cannot stand in front of him, he has to make tonight's fight a war of movement.
Nor can he allow himself to be stung into action. At times in the past, Conlan has forgotten the gameplan after he has been hit and looked to land a punch himself. He knows he has to be absolutely disciplined tonight.
“I can't really get carried away in this one and I think the kind of style he brings will make me be a lot more tuned in,” he said.
“He's more of a boxer than a fighter, more a technical boxer than a brawler, so it could be a different gameplan than what I'm used to. It could always go the other way and turn into a fight, but we're preparing the right way to deal with this fella.”
Former aircraft engineer Conlan is affable and intelligent and has shown enormous courage and skill to get to this stage. He looked down and out but found the strength to beat Junior Granados in Dublin two years ago, then there was his Fight of the Year battle with Anthony Nelson in London last year and he also had to get up off the canvas to beat Yader Cardoza in March. He knows he has to find something extra to win tonight.
“Ancajas is a very good operator,” he said.
“He's world champion for a reason and in a division that's pretty hot and heavy, he's up there with the best of them, so it will take the very best of me to beat him.
“This is something I've worked for a long while and what I've been gearing towards for a long while. When I signed with Macklin and MTK it was what they set out for me. It was a plan they had in place to put me on this path.
“I've rarely met people in boxing that don't want something out of it, but when I sat down with them I knew it was different with Matt. He's trying to look after the boxers, who are usually always the guys who get screwed over. MTK are trying to change that and I can't fault anything they've done.”
Conlan has admitted that he has allowed himself to be dragged down to his opponents' level in the past. Tonight he has to go the other way and raise his game.
His fighting heart is unquestionable and so is the thumping right hand to the body that could finish this fight in a flash if he can land it. Conlan has the tools to be a world champion and he'll need to produce them all tonight to find a way to dictate the tempo, move and, as his brother Michael put it: “box, box, box”.
Ancajas has fought away from home but not in front of the hostile, partisan home crowd he'll experience tonight. Every Conlan punch will be greeted with a guttural roar and he'll need that support because he'll have to produce better than we've seen from him to win.