Training at The Rock Gym in Los Angeles toughened me up says Michael Conlan

Michael Conlan with his trainer Adam Booth
Andy Watters

IT isn't called The Rock Gym by accident and if the name of the Manny Robles boxing stable has anything to do with anything other than being rock hard, well that's just a handy coincidence.

The Los Angeles gym is a house of pain and Michael Conlan found that out quickly. Robles' joint is where fighters go to prove how tough they are, how much they can give or take and every spar is an all-out war.

Conlan admits he found it tough. Not the fighting, although he feels much better suited to Adam Booth's more technical approach since he relocated his training to London in January, but having a “slugfest” and then going back alone to his apartment without friends around him to lift his spirits and take his mind off boxing took its toll.

He's happier in London. He doesn't see himself as a Mexican ‘warrior' so training with Booth suits his skilful style much better. However, he feels his time in LA has toughened him up and those wars with Oscar Valdez, Jessie Magdaleno and the rest taught him lessons that maybe he needed to learn.

“What I learned over the last year living in LA and working with Manny Robles… I don't think I could have bought that experience,” said the featherweight (5-0).

“I couldn't have got it anywhere else and that year in LA will stand me in great stead for the rest of my professional career. I have no doubt that I'll be back there for sparring and training camps because it is a fantastic place and you do get fantastic work.

“It has hardened me, it has definitely hardened me because you're out there by yourself, you're alone for the full year, so it's not like training at home where you have that ‘team' mentality with the other guys in the gym.

“I was friends with the guys in the gym, but it is more of a lonely place. You know, you're by yourself and you're going out there and you're going into wars every day when you're sparring.

“It's not technical, it's more of a slugfest at times so it has definitely hardened me and it's going to stand me in great stead for the rest of my career.”

When he signed with Top Rank fight fans would have thought Conlan was in LA living the American Dream. The reality was, and always will be, that boxing is an unforgiving sport - the training was tough and, without friends and family around him, he admits he doubted himself at times.

“You went in and you'd be going at it hard in the sparring,” he said.

“Some days you'd be doubting yourself but if you had a team-mate with you they'd always be building you up and having the craic and going off the subject. I would say that I'm a perfectionist and if I had a bad spar it would eat me up at times until I got in and sparred again to fix it.

“Having the bond now in the gym in London and even with Adam himself is good. It's a different kind of surrounding and it's good to be around. I like it.”

Booth – the man has guided Ryan Burnett to unified world champion status at super-bantamweight – will be in Conlan's corner for the first time on St Patrick's Day at Madison Square Garden. Conlan takes on David Berna and says his first camp with Booth has gone “better than I hoped”.

“100 per cent this is the best camp I've had,” he adds.

“I know fighters say that every fight but this is definitely the best I've felt going into a professional fight so far.

“I feel fitter, I feel stronger and I feel a lot smarter in what I do and how I'll approach the fight.

“Adam is the guy who has brought me back to where I wanted to be and the reason I chose him was to get back to where I wanted to be. I want to be using my skills and going into a fight with specific tactics of what I want to do and what I want to work on and improve while I'm in there.”

He has fellow Belfast fighter Burnett for company and also Josh Kelly and is enjoying that feeling of having a team around him – something he enjoyed during his amateur days – once again.

“I've gained a close bond with the two lads now and it's been great,” said the 26-year-old.

“In fairness it could have gone a lot differently for me because they're a tight-knit group and I could have been an outsider, they could have just turned their noses up at me.

“But they didn't, they welcomed me with open arms and I have to thank them for that because they really made me feel like I was at home very quickly.”

FEARGAL McCrory will be chief support to Paul Hyland for ‘Collision' at Belfast's Europa Hotel on Saturday, April 14.

Coalisland's talented super-featherweight is now undefeated in eight contests and returns to the scene of his last victory when he outpointed the tough Rafael Castillo in February.

Castillo gamely climbed of the floor to push the Tyrone man to the final bell on the MHD Promotions, in association with A McLean Bookmakers, show.

McCrory looked happy to bank the valuable rounds as he strives to reach double figures by the summer break.

James Tennyson has been removed to prepare for his EBU European title shot and Daniel McShane is out with injury meaning that McCrory, AKA ‘Fearless' has the chance to shine and Dubliner Jay Byrne has been added to the card as he looks to bounce back following his recent Irish light middleweight title defeat.

The main event features Belfast's Paul ‘Hylo' Hyland jnr (17-0) who takes on hammer-handed Floyd Moore (15-6-2) over 10 rounds at lightweight.

“Feargal will make it,” predicted his manager Mark Dunlop.

“He keeps his head down, never complains and will fight whoever is put him front of him. I will do my best to get a title fight for him before the end of the year.

“John Breen (his coach) believes in him and that is enough recognition for anyone.”

Tickets: £75 (VIP including four-course meal), £45 (reserved ringside) and £35 (unreserved), tel. 07712 473905, email:

OSCAR Valdez made it 24 professional wins in a row with a unanimous-decision victory over Scott Quigg on Saturday night.

The fight, at the StubHub Center, Carson, California, was set to be a battle for the WBO featherweight crown but the Bury man came in 2.8lbs overweight.

Valdez, who has held the belt since 2016, was scored to have won the bout 117-111, 117-111 and 118-110.

The Mexican suffered a cut in the sixth which bled for the remainder of the contest, and Quigg dealt out some hard hits in the 10th and 11th, but Valdez struck back with heavy blows. Quigg was unable to close out before the bell as his attempt to win the fight faded.

JAMES DeGale will look to regain his IBF World super-middleweight title in a rematch with Caleb Truax next month.

The 32-year-old suffered a shock points defeat to American Truax at London's Copper Box Arena last December, and the pair will now meet again in Las Vegas on April 7.

The loss was the second of DeGale's professional career, and came in the 2008 Olympic champion's first fight on British soil for more than three years.

DeGale said: “I'm happy to have the opportunity to rematch Truax and regain my IBF title. I am not going to make excuses for my poor performance, actions speak louder than words.

“I am excited to be boxing in Vegas and on Showtime again. The real JD will be back on fight night.”

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