Boxing

'I want to take his head off his shoulders'. Michael Conlan declares war ahead of Baluta showdown

Michael Conlan takes on Romanian Ionut Baluta in London
Andy Watters

HE’S a tough nut, a fearless puncher who comes out swinging and Michael Conlan says that Romanian Ionut Baluta will bring the best out of him when they clash at London’s York Hall on April 30.

Baluta goes into the fight expecting to complete a hat-trick of wins over Irish fighters. His last two outings have produced victories over former IBF super-bantamweight champ TJ Doheny (in Dubai) and most recently, and most impressively, David Oliver Joyce in London.

Baluta’s ferocity dismantled Joyce that night last September. From the opening bell, he unloaded thumping shots off both hands and he dropped ‘The Punisher’ with a searing left hook in the third round after he’d had him in serious trouble in the second.

A win for Conlan would pave the way for a world title shot – possibly in August – but Baluta will view the scalp of the former world amateur champion as his ticket to global stardom. Make no mistake, the Romanian (14-2) is as game and dangerous as they come but Conlan is absolutely relishing the opportunity to impress at the end of the month and he predicts that he will knock him out.

“I can’t wait,” he said.

“I’m flying at the minute. I’m in a great position mentally and physically, weight-wise… Everything is on point so I’m excited and I’m just looking forward to getting in there and getting it done now.

“He (Baluta) beat up Davy and he mugged TJ Doheny so he’s beat two Irish guys in-a-row. He’s a brave, confident little so-and-so and he’s coming to take my head-off.

“He’s wild, he’s reckless, he does things very unorthodox, he throws an awful lot of punches but I just feel that this is a fight where I’ll shine and I’ll look probably the best I’ve looked as a pro. I think this is the type of fight I’ve been asking for and I think you’ll see the best Michael Conlan come out against him.”

That is a mouth-watering prospect. Have we seen the best of Conlan yet? The style, confidence and skill he produced and wins over Vladimir Nikitin and Sofiane Takoucht (a late stoppage in his only fight last year) were impressive but they were building blocks. There is still much more to come from the west Belfast Olympic Games medallist.

Baluta’s all-action, front foot style means that fireworks are guaranteed and Conlan intends to make a statement to the rest of the super-bantamweight division.

“I want to knock this guy out,” he said.

“I don’t think anybody has even heard me saying something like that as a pro. I’m always saying: ‘I’ll break him down and I’ll take him out’ but I want to knock this guy clean out – I want to take his head off his shoulders.

“In the gym I feel like I’m punching 10 times harder, being down at super-bantam is making me feel bigger and stronger, in the ring I feel physically stronger, so I’m excited and I believe you’re going to see a brilliant performance against a very dangerous fighter who is riding a very good wave at the minute.

“This is a good fight at this stage and I think it will bring the best out of me.”

The WBO inter-continental title, and the ranking points that go with it, will be the prize for the winner at the York Hall. Victory in the 12-rounder will allow Conlan to stake his claim as the mandatory challenger to reigning WBO world champion Stephen Fulton.

“I don’t know if this is the biggest test I’ve had so far – I’ll judge that after the fight,” said Conlan.

“I have fought some good fighters and I could say that some of them are better than Baluta: Nikitin, given all his experience, Takoucht as well… There have been some very good fighters there but this guy is different.

“The other guys have all had the experience but Baluta (at 27 he’s two years’ younger than Conlan) is more of an up-and-coming prospect so he might want it more than the other guys. He might have more will to win than the other guys because once I got on top and took it away from those guys they probably conceded but this guy will be there until the end - if you let him.

“So it’s a different type of fight, it’s against someone who will want it as much as me but I’ll take it away from him and take him apart. I think I’ll get a spectacular KO in this fight.”

Of course that doesn’t mean Conlan will meet the Romanian in the middle of the ring with his hands up and go toe-to-toe with him. There’s more than one way to skin a cat…

“I’m not going to be dumb,” he says.

“I want to knock him out but I’m not going to have a war with him. I’m not going to let him land a punch on me if I can help it but I’m aiming to KO him so I’m going in with bad intentions to hurt him but I won’t be doing it stupidly. I’m not a novice at this stage. I know what I have to do – I have to go in there and be smart, take him apart and aim to hurt him with every single punch.

“The goal is to be a world champion and to get there I have to beat these guys along the way and keep ticking the boxes. Every fight you have is your most important fight and I can’t look ahead to anything until I get this guy out of the way.”

THE retirement of Carl Frampton, the king of Irish boxing for the past five years, has left a void that Mick Conlan and James Tennyson are vying to fill.

With those two challenging at the top of their respective divisions and Katie Taylor still the undisputed queen of the women’s scene, Irish boxing is still in a healthy state despite Frampton’s decision to leave the stage and pass on the baton.

Lightweight Tennyson will meet Mexican Jovanni Straffon (23-3-1) for the IBO world title in Manchester on May 1 and winning will propel hard-hitting ‘the Assassin’ into the mix for one of major titles in the division.

Despite all his success, Tennyson has yet to headline a major show on home soil and beating Straffon will be the key to that happening.

Conlan has the higher profile and he has made impressive progress in the super-bantamweight ranks. Victory for him over Ionut Baluta will pave the way for a world title blockbuster, possibly at this summer’s Feile an Phobail in west Belfast (if it goes ahead).

“Carl’s humility and his appreciation for his fans is something that I admired him for,” said Conlan.

“I’m very grateful for my fans and the support I have. I always admired how loyal Carl was to his fanbase and how he remained humble and close to home.

“It (Frampton’s retirement) is a passing of the torch and I’m more than happy to take up that mantle and move forward as the guy who will carry it on. It is an honour and it’s a big responsibility but it’s one that I welcome. Carl’s are big boots to fill but if there’s anyone who can fill them, I think I can.”

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