Michael Conlan coming back to chase third shot at world title

Michael Conlan lost to Luis Lopez in May but that isn't the end for the Belfast featherweight. Picture: Mark Mead
Michael Conlan lost to Luis Lopez in May but that isn't the end for the Belfast featherweight. Picture: Mark Mead

MICHAEL Conlan will return to the ring in November/December in preparation for a third world title challenge.

Conlan has lost world title fights to Leigh Wood (last year) and Mexican Luis Lopez (last month) but, after weighing up his options he has decided that, at 31, he still has the tools to fulfil his dream of becoming a champion.

He will have a debrief on his performance against hammer-handed WBA champion Luis Lopez before he returns to training with the target of a competitive return before the end of the year and a third world title challenge in 2024.

Conlan came within a whisker of beating Leigh Wood in March last year only to be knocked out in the 12th and final round of a pulsating clash at the Nottingham Arena. Having dropped Wood in the first round and come close to stopping him in the second, Conlan punched himself into exhaustion in that fight.

With three wins behind him, he fought his way back to the world title stage in May and took on Mexican Lopez who, like Wood, was making the first defence of his belt.

The gameplan Conlan had practiced for months with coach Adam Booth was quickly forgotten after a couple of rounds at the SSE Arena and gunslinger Lopez ended the fight with a brutal right uppercut midway through the fifth round.

The dust has settled on the loss and Conlan will return to the fray hoping it will be ‘third time lucky’ for him.

PODY McCrory is expected to headline in Belfast in August. The reigning IBO light-heavyweight champion has been pushing for a title shot at super-middleweight and mentioned the possibility of taking on the winner of the Jason Quigley-Edgar Berlanga WBO rumble on June 24. August could be too soon for that fight but McCrory is also targeting a showdown with WBA ‘regular’ champion Dave Morrell.    

Aaron McKenna fights Shakiel Thompson for the WBC International title on Friday night
Aaron McKenna fights Shakiel Thompson for the WBC International title on Friday night

AARON McKenna talks like he fights - he pulls no punches in the ring or outside it. The Monaghan middleweight has spent his boxing life preparing for fights like Friday night’s rights-of-passage York Hall WBC International title rumble against Sheffield’s ‘Dr Steel’ Shakiel Thompson (live on Sky Sports).

Two unbeaten fighters go at it in the famous East End venue and the winner will kick on to a world ranking, leave the chasing pack behind and close in on a title shot.

McKenna makes no bones about it, he says Thompson won’t be able “to live with me”.

“As an amateur Thompson didn’t achieve much and in the pros he has fought 10 journeymen and hasn’t done too much,” he said.

“Now he’s going into a fight with me who has that background of a great amateur career – I’m an eight-time national champion, I won the European title and competed for Ireland at every level before I turned pro.

“I spent four years’ in America and learned the trade. I’ve been with Freddie Roach, Robert Garcia… I’ve learned from them, I’ve got that experience behind me.” 

With his dad Fergal and elder brother Stephen by his side, McKenna served a thorough apprenticeship and, although he’s still just 23, he’s anxious to kick on in his career. So far he has progressed to 16-0 as a professional and looked comfortable in every fight.

But Thompson is also unbeaten and ambitious and, at 6’3”, he’s a southpaw who stands a couple of inches taller than McKenna. He’s a test but if McKenna handles him, and handles him well, opportunities will begin to open up.

“It’s a great fight for me to get at this stage of my career,” says McKenna.

“It’s been very hard getting fights and finally I’ve got someone who has a good record from the UK. A lot of people will get to see it on Sky and for me this guy is a stepping stone towards bigger fights. My goal is to become world champion and I’m going to do whatever it takes to become that.

“He’ll definitely be game and he’s the first southpaw I’ve fought as a pro and it’s 12 rounds which is another factor. But I’m looking forward to the 12 rounds, I think it suits me and I like fighting southpaws. I think I spar really well against them and at one stage in the amateurs I fought nine southpaws in-a-row and beat them all. I’d rather fight southpaws than orthodox.”

There are opportunities out there in the middleweight division right now. The IBF title is vacant, WBA champion Erislandy Lara hasn’t fought since May last year when he beat Cork’s Gary ‘Spike’ O’Sullivan, WBC champ Jermaine Charlo is 33 and hasn’t fought in two years, Gennady Golovkin has left the stage…

“There is definitely an opening in the middleweight division for someone young like myself to come through and become world champion,” says McKenna.

“The WBC belt is the one I’m aiming for now and if I win this fight it will get me ranked in the top 15 in the world and I’ll be knocking on the door for a world title shot. Liam Williams is highly-ranked with the WBC so (beating him) would definitely push me close to fighting for that world title.”

“That’s my goal, to become the champion and bring big fights back to Ireland.

“It would be a dream to fight at St Tiernach’s Park in front of all the Monaghan and Irish support. It would be unbelievable to do that but first I need to get the title.

“As a fighter you want to be fighting as much as possible and I think this year I’m doing that. I’ve already had a fight (888) and now I’ve got this one. I’m only 23 so I have time on my side. I’ve been training non-stop, I don’t take any breaks, one training camp rolls into the next one so I always make sure that I treat my body well and I’m in good condition to take a fight at any time, at any notice.”

Thompson first, Williams next and then, who knows, a world title shot? These are exciting times for McKenna but, as he says himself, it’s one step at a time in the fight game and the big plans will come tumbling down if he doesn’t produce on Friday night.

“I feel like I’m improving every day and I want to keep improving – that’s the main thing,” he said.

“You can always learn and, at 23, I think I’m starting to fully fill out now. I feel really strong going into this fight, it’s the strongest I’ve felt yet.

“I know I’ve put in the hard work and I’ve left no stone unturned. This has been a brilliant camp – I’ve done over 160 rounds of sparring with 10 different opponents – so I know I’m ready. And over the years I’ve got the best sparring by going to America and sparring world champions. We travelled to Las Vegas, we travelled to Mexico, Los Angeles… I went to some of the best gyms in the world so I know what I’m capable of, I’ve got all that experience behind me when I’m walking to that ring.”