Michael Conlan to think long and hard about his next move

"I had a bad feeling when I was warming-up," said Michael Conlan
"I had a bad feeling when I was warming-up," said Michael Conlan

MICHAEL Conlan will think long and hard before he decides whether to return to the ring after Saturday night’s knockout loss to IBF featherweight champion Luis Lopez.

Before the clash at the SSE Arena it seemed that if Conlan avoided an all-out war with the Mexican champion his boxing ability could win him a world title but, after a decent start over the first two rounds, the Belfast fighter abandoned the gameplan and was drawn into toe-to-toe exchanges.

After being hurt midway through the third round, he hung on desperately and survived the fourth but the end came in the fifth when he locked horns with Lopez and a bone-crushing uppercut from ‘El Venado’ sent him crashing to the canvas.

His trainer Adam Booth – who obviously had it ready - immediately threw in the towel. Conlan said his cornerman made the right call.

“The towel came in because Adam knew I wasn’t at the races,” he said.

“I was fighting the wrong fight. It wasn’t as if I took any mad damage or anything but I think it was the right decision (from him) because I wasn’t there, I wasn’t at the races.”

The harsh truth is that Conlan has been knocked out in both of his world title fights. In the first, he came within a whisker of winning but exhaustion and Leigh Wood's granite chin denied him. On Saturday night he forgot the gameplan and fought the wrong fight.

At 31, he could return and challenge for a third time but does he want that? Can he campaign at featherweight? Is he big enough to move to super-feather? You suspect that the hunger is still there but he says he will take time before he makes any decision on his future.

“I don’t know,” he said when asked what the future held.

“I have to take some time and make some very, very important decisions to see what’s next. To get back to that level – that world championship status again – is going to be a long-enough road and I have to consider whether I want to travel down that road again.

“I have done well in boxing, I’ve done really well. I didn’t achieve my dream of being world champion on Saturday night. Who’s to say that’s not going to happen in the future but before I make any decisions I have to have a long, hard think and take some time away from the sport. I want to enjoy my family and enjoy my kids because I was away in a training camp for 17 weeks and now I’m going to spend time with my family and switch off from boxing. I’m not going to talk about boxing, I’m not going to watch the fight back…

“I’m healthy, I’m ok and I’ve got to take some time before I make any decisions about what’s next.”

SEVENTEEN weeks in camp and all the hours of analysing and drilling to combat Luis Lopez’s pistolero style went out the window on Saturday night when Michael Conlan planted his feet and got drawn into a fight he couldn’t win.

He knows that.

Conlan’s gameplan – plotted out by coach Adam Booth and painstakingly worked on in training - was to play to his strengths; to box and move and take the Mexican deep into the fight.

Over the first two rounds, it worked but as soon as Conlan decided to stand and trade and throw caution to the wind his world title dream came crashing down.

He says he had “a bad feeling” as he was warming-up and that negativity seeped into a performance that was a long way below what he and his thousands of fans had hoped for.

“I don’t know why but it just wasn’t me in there,” said Conlan.

“The performance wasn’t there and I didn’t even stick to the gameplan. Everything just seemed to go out the window. I don’t know what it was – I had a bad feeling when I was warming-up, I don’t know what was going on. It didn’t feel like it was me in there and I think that showed in the fight.

“It looked like I went out just to have a war and that wasn’t what I was planning to do.”

Lopez had gone to London and knocked out contender Isaac Lowe and had won the IBF title with a fearless performance of power punching against Josh Warrington in Leeds last year. Travelling to Belfast and putting his title on the line didn’t worry him and, with Conlan totally focussed on attack instead of defence, his hands of stone zeroed in on the Belfast man’s chin or his ribs. 

“He’s a good fighter, I’ll give him that, a very good fighter,” said Conlan.

“He punched hard. I don’t get hurt to the body but he was able to hurt me enough to get my respect. I actually felt I was hurting him as well and I could hear (him making) noises and stuff but it wasn’t to be. I definitely under-performed – I was nowhere near the level or boxing ability and skill that I have.”

After being hurt in the third round, Conlan made it through to the fifth and then gambled everything on a last stand in centre ring. He smashed a right hook off Lopez’s chin and followed it up with a bodyshot but the Mexican stood firm and finished the issue with a right hand that sent Conlan crashing to the Belfast canvas.

“Everybody has off-nights and I think that was one of mine,” he said.

“I was beat and there are no excuses. Training camp was fantastic – before the Wood fight I had Covid but this time there was nothing, no problems at all and I’m not going to give any excuses.

“The Wood fight was very hard to take because I was ahead on the scorecards (going into the last round) and this is very hard to take because I didn’t show up, I didn’t perform, I had an off-night and I was beat by a better guy.”

Brother and manager Jamie Conlan – who also got to world title level as a fighter – agreed: “There’s no point in rushing into anything.

“He needs to spend some time with his family. It was a long camp, it was a long build-up to the fight, a long time away and there was a lot of investment and time went into it. Time with his family is what’s needed right now – it’s not the time for rash decisions.

“We’ll assess it in the next few weeks when we’re in a better frame of mind to make the call. I believe he still has a lot to give but the health and safety of my brother is paramount.”