Boxing

Michael Conlan misses out on world title as Leigh Wood powers home in Nottingham epic

Michael Conlan, dominated the first half of Saturday night's WBA Featherweight World title fight. Picture: Mark Robinson Matchroom Boxing

World Boxing Association featherweight title: Leigh Wood beat Michael Conlan TKO 12

THE sight of lifeless Michael Conlan tumbling through the ropes in Nottingham Arena on Saturday night is one no-one watching will easily forget.

A timeless classic between Belfast’s battler and Leigh Wood will live long in the memory and apart from the result, it had everything: It was the best and worst, the beauty and the beast, of boxing rolled into one.

The best for skill, conditioning, atmosphere, power, courage and character, the worst for the sickeningly brutal knockout that caused an exhausted Conlan, nailed by a right hook to the temple, to slump out of the ring in the last round.

There were just 95 seconds left when Wood - behind on all three judges’ cards but only by a point on two of them - finally made his power count.

Somehow he found the energy to slam in that venomous right hook and Conlan was unconscious from the second the shot landed. He sank like a rag doll and then, distressingly, he fell backwards, tumbling head-first through the ropes where thankfully his fall was broken by his dad John, brother Jamie and others at ringside. He was left the Arena on a stretcher and was taken to hospital but was later released.

“I’m devastated, just devastated,” said Conlan yesterday.

“I thought I had it in the bag. The 11th round, when I slipped and it was given as a knockdown just messed the whole thing up.”

Wood landed a grazing left hook as Conlan slipped and referee Steve Gray’s decision (technically the correct one) meant Wood won the round 10-8 and closed the gap to a point on two of the three judges’ scorecards.

“The cutman in the corner said: ‘You need to win this last round’ and I was knackered,” Conlan explained.

“I was trying to conserve energy and I got caught with one I didn’t see coming and I was put to sleep. His shots weren’t hurting me, they weren’t hurting me at all, it was just a mistake by me and I got caught.”

Lion-hearted like Conlan, Wood was knocked down heavily in the final seconds of the first round and was on the verge of being stopped in the second before he rallied over the second half of the fight.

He had stopped Can Xu in the 12th to win the WBA title last year and repeated the feat to pull victory out of the jaws of defeat on Saturday night and it was no shame for Conlan to lose to him.

“He is a worthy champion,” said Conlan.

“He showed a lot of heart, a lot of balls in there and I have to have respect for him. He dug deep, there are times he could have quit in there and he didn’t. I respect him, I think he is a very good fighter.

“I’m not going to say I was beat by the better man: I was beat by a shot that I didn’t see due to fatigue and it got me out. It was a great shot, I have to give him credit but he’s not as big a puncher as he’s made out to be honest.

“He punches hard, but I’ve faced harder.”

Saturday night was just the third time Conlan had gone into a scheduled 12-rounder in his career – Wood has been over the championship distance now on half-a-dozen occasions.

The defending champion, who was saved by the bell in the first after Conlan floored him with a stunning left hand, also looked close to defeat in the second and even the third.

After his dramatic comeback win he celebrated in a dignified and respectful manner and throughout the build-up and again on Saturday night he has proved himself to be a fearless competitor, a decent human being and a very worthy and underrated champion.

“When I won that belt, I was prepared to walk through fire and I knew Michael would be too so I knew I had to give that one per cent more,” he said.

“He did it and I did a little bit more because I knew what he was prepared to do. In the 10th round I was tucking up and he was opening up and I saw a lot of gaps. In the 11th I caught him in the gaps and in the 12th he carried on doing it and that’s how I got him.

“The fight’s not over until it’s over and I’ve got a punch that can change a fight.”

Scorecard

Round one: It could have been all over in the first. Wood was aggressive from the outset but Conlan took his time and then cracked in a long left hook that sent the home favourite crashing to the canvas. If there had been 20 more seconds in the round, Wood was finished but the bell saved him and he retreated to his corner on unsteady legs. 10-8

Round two: Conlan’s movement and speed were too much for him and Wood was close to going down again in the second but he stayed on his feet gamely and finished the round with a flurry of shots. A clash of heads opened a cut over Conlan’s left eye. 10-9

Round three: Wood threw caution to the wind as he tried to get back into the fight but he couldn’t match Conlan’s speed and his legs went again when a right hook thundered into his jaw. Wood was game and he kept coming forward but his much-vaunted power didn’t seem to be putting a dent in Conlan. 10-9

Round four: The Conlan jab kept Wood at bay as he looked to set up attacks but the fourth was the Nottingham fighter’s best so far. A right uppercut caught Conlan flush and Wood did enough to shade a competitive round. 9-10

Round five: The better work came from Conlan, but the home boy was making a fight of it after his terrible start. Conlan’s superior movement and shot selection meant he banked another round. 10-9

Round six: Another good round for Wood and the fight reached its halfway point with the English brawling his way back into it. He stepped to Conlan and clipped him with an uppercut and followed it up with a clubbing right hook. 9-10

Round seven: Conlan unable to keep an increasingly-confident Wood at bay. The fighters exchange furiously and Wood’s power is becoming more of a factor in the fight. 9-10

Round eight: Conlan needed to stem the tide and, despite a late flurry from Wood, he did. He dipped his knees and came up with a stinging left hook and followed it up with a furious salvo as Wood ducked for cover. Good round for Conlan. 10-9

Round nine: Wood keeps coming and Conlan keeps catching him. A long left hook, three ramrod jabs and then a right hook. Wood kept the pressure on but this was another round in the bank for Conlan. 10-9

Round 10: That long left hook again. Wood has no answer for it but Conlan is tiring and when he stands and fights the defending champion looks dangerous. Wood peppers him right-left-right to head and body and Conlan needs all his defensive skills to weather the storm. Has to be a Wood round. 9-10

Round 11: For the first two minutes, Conlan gave a masterclass of stick-and-move boxing. But Wood kept marching on and again Conlan elects to stand his ground. After coming out on top in a furious exchange Wood catches him with a grazing left hook, Conlan slips, Stevie Gray rules it a knockdown despite furious protests from Adam Booth. Massive moment in the fight. 8-10

Round 12: Conlan still ahead on the cards. He needs to stay on his feet to win but Wood is relentless. 95 seconds remain when he finally lands the punch he’s been looking for all night – a sledgehammer right hook – and Conlan is sinking to the canvas before he falls backwards through the ropes and out of the ring. Referee Gray has already waved it off.

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Boxing