Boxing

Michael Conlan to face WBO featherweight champion Leigh Wood in Nottingham on March 12

Michael Conlan will fight WBO featherweight champion Leigh Wood at Nottingham Arena on March 12. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker.
Andy Watters

MICHAEL Conlan intends to rip the WBA featherweight belt out of champion Leigh Wood’s hands when he enters the “lion’s den” at the Nottingham Arena on March 12.

After months of speculation and rumours of Madison Square Garden and the SSE Arena, Conlan confirmed to The Irish News yesterday that he’ll take on 33-year-old Wood (25-2) in his home town. The 10,000 capacity Nottingham Arena is the venue for an intriguing battle between Ireland’s master boxer and the power-punching Englishman and Conlan says he’ll have an answer for every question Wood poses on the night.

“We’re going into the lion’s den: March 12 at the Nottingham Arena,” said an excited Conlan.

“Wood didn’t fancy Belfast and Ben Davison (his coach) didn’t fancy Belfast, so we’ll bring Belfast to them. I’m happily going to their town and I’ll be ripping the belt off them.”

Conlan agrees that he could have a tougher night in Nottingham than he would have had in Belfast but a ring is a ring and the result will be the same.

“I’d be a fool if I worried about that,” he says.

“It doesn’t bother me where it is because I’m going to win, I know the decision in the ring will be the same – I’ll be walking out victorious with my hand raised. I’ll punch the head off him for 12 rounds if needs be – that’s just the way the cookie’s gonna crumble. I’m happy and I’m ready to rock – I’m looking forward to it.

“I’ll probably have more people in the arena than Leigh Wood. Everybody loves an away-day, it’s the third month of the year and I could see a lot of people travelling over. I think they’ll have a great night.

“When Carl (Frampton) boxed away from home people loved to go out and support, Belfast fans love it. It adds to the story, it adds to the tale when you can look back on your career and say: ‘I went to the champion’s backyard and ripped the title from him’. I’m stepping out of the comfort zone, I’ll be walking in second and all that but those things don’t bother me. It’s something new and I’m excited by it, we’ll have a fantastic night on March 12.

“The only thing he has more than I have is his knockout ratio – he has a bigger knockout ratio (15 in 27 fights compared to Conlan’s eight in 16). He’s a bigger puncher but that’s not to say I’m not a puncher.

“It’s not something that bothers me or that I’m worried about, I know I have a good chin and I know I have much more boxing ability and a better engine. I’m better than Leigh Wood at everything, he only has one thing – on paper – better than me.

“But everybody who said I wasn’t a puncher in the past changed their tune when they got hit by me. I might not be the biggest puncher in the world but I have enough power to hit people and hurt them and keep them away from me. Nobody likes standing in front of me, TJ (Doheny) didn’t either.

“At the press conference he was saying I couldn’t crack an egg but I had him on the canvas. I knew from the first punch I landed that there was a difference in his face right away – I could see he knew it was different from what he thought it was going to be. I could see it in his eyes when I landed the first jab. Little things like that are good indicators of where you’re at.”

Before the Doheny win at Feile in the Falls Park, Conlan had travelled to London to out-box Ionut Baluta and win the vacant WBO Inter-Continental super-bantamweight title. The win over Doheny, back at featherweight, rounded off and successful year for him, particularly when you add in the launch of Conlan Boxing – his venture into management with his brother Jamie – and of course the independent report on AIBA which exposed the skulduggery that denied him a shot at glory at the Rio Olympic Games.

“It’s been a very good year,” said Conlan as he drove home to spend Christmas with his family.

“I’ve had two good wins. The Baluta fight tested the waters at 122lbs but I kind of realised that super-bantamweight wasn’t where my best performances would lie. The TJ (Doheny) fight went really well and I’ve put myself in the position I’m in now and now we’re fighting for the world title so it has been a great year and I’m on the verge of achieving my dream.

“There has been a whole lot of things going on. Conlan Boxing will be my future in the game once I’ve finished competing so it’s been great.”

NEW Zealand warrior Joseph Parker did what Michael Conlan has to do against Leigh Wood next year when he beat the Englishman on his home soil in Saturday night’s heavyweight epic in Manchester.

Andy Lee-trained Parker put Dereck Chisora down three times over 12 action-packed rounds and, despite some bizarre scoring (one judge had him winning narrowly 114-112) he took a unanimous points win to move back into world title contention.

Despite the loss, lion-hearted Chisora says he will continue and Matchroom boss Eddie Hearn described ‘War’ as “not human” after his incredible performance.

“It was a brilliant heavyweight fight,” said Hearn.

“Dereck Chisora, who quite frankly is not human, and a great performance by Joseph Parker, to be honest. Spiteful.

“If he (Parker) wasn’t as conditioned the way he was, and if he didn’t fight as well as he did, he would have got beat tonight. He would have got done down the stretch because Chisora wouldn’t stop coming.

“Super tough and probably too tough for his own good but a really good heavyweight fight, tremendous atmosphere, and a really great way to end 2021.

“Even in the 12th, he (Chisora) knows he needs a knockout, and he’s trying to win by knockout, knowing he could get sparked himself, but doesn’t care.

“I know fighters always say, ‘I’ll go out on my shield,’ but to do it when you’re hurt like that, that’s why people love him. At some point, people need to say to him (Chisora), ‘Mate, you’re in war after war.’”

As for Parker, Hearn says he is now “in a great position” with a number of options ahead for next year.

“He can have a final eliminator against Filip Hrgovic, he could fight Andy Ruiz, he could fight Deontay Wilder, or he could fight Luis Ortiz,” said Hearn.

“His name is in the mix for all those guys. Maybe a rematch with Dillian Whyte after he beats Tyson Fury. He’s in a great spot. He just won in a fight with a really good performance and it was a really good win for his career.”

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access