Sport

Michael Conlan in his prime as Belfast prepares for visit of IBF champion Lopez

Michael Conlan will face IBF champion Luis Lopez at the SSE Arena in Belfast on May 27 Picture Mal McCann.
Michael Conlan will face IBF champion Luis Lopez at the SSE Arena in Belfast on May 27 Picture Mal McCann. Michael Conlan will face IBF champion Luis Lopez at the SSE Arena in Belfast on May 27 Picture Mal McCann.

FIGHTERS who train with him say Michael Conlan is in his prime now. A beast in the gym, he’s at the peak of his powers and you mix it with him at your own risk. They’ll tell you confidently that Conlan’s time to be world champion will come on May 27 when he challenges Mexican Luis Alberto Lopez for his IBF featherweight title at the SSE Arena in Belfast.

This will be Conlan’s second tilt at a world title of course and, although it was painful mentally and physically, he says losing the first to Leigh Wood a year ago has set him up to win the second.

“There are plenty of things I’ve learned from that fight and plenty of things which happened in the build-up that possibly did have an effect on it,” Conlan said.

“There’s loads of things that happen in a fight. I was probably pushing on the gas at times when I didn’t need to and I was draining the tank much quicker than I should have. People tell me: ‘Ah, you need to do more strength and conditioning, you seemed to fade over the last couple of rounds…’ “That’s a load of rubbish, when you’re in a fight like that, which was 100 mile-an-hour, it’s all about momentum. The momentum shifted at the end of the 11th because all the way through that round I was punching the head off him.

“Then there was that momentum shift, a drainage of energy and it changed how the fight ended. That could have been different if I had been smarter in the fight and had the experience of when to push and when not to push.

“Those are all small things that I understand now and I have that experience – you can’t be taught it, you have to go through it and I did and I paid the ultimate price by losing and obviously by being knocked out and almost dying falling out of the ring!

“So there was plenty to learn.”

Confirmed on the undercard of the Conlan Boxing/Frank Warren promotion is Pody McCrory who will take on Joe Gallagher-trained Mark Heffron in what could be a final eliminator for the WBA super-middleweight title. Also in action is IBO super-featherweight champion Anto Cacace (above) – fighting in his native Belfast for the first time since 2015 - who is still waiting for confirmation of his opponent after both Archie Moore and Jono Carroll declined the chance to face him.

Meanwhile, exciting Belfast flyweight Conor Quinn and Dubliner Pierce O’Leary are also expected to feature on the undercard.

“I’m absolutely delighted to be on this bill,” said Quinn.

“Conlan fighting for a world title at the SSE Arena… It’ll be unbelievable. It’ll be my first-ever fight on a world title undercard and to make it even better it’s in the SSE, five minutes away from my house.”

Quinn is a veteran of Martin Rogan, Carl Frampton, Ryan Burnett and previous Conlan glory nights at the SSE and is expecting something special on May 27.

“I’ve been to them all,” he said.

“Any fights that are on you have to attend them and it’s even better now that I’m getting in for free and I’m actually getting paid for being there! You always have to pinch yourself when you get these opportunities but on the other hand that’s what I’m fighting for too.

“I think I’m capable of being on these shows but there’s loads of talented fighters in Ireland so to be on my second one in-a-row is amazing.”

MICHAEL Conlan insists that, despite home advantage, he’ll be the underdog when he leaves his corner to meet IBF featherweight champion Luis Alberto Lopez in the centre of the SSE Arena on May 27.

Last December, Mexican Lopez did what Carl Frampton couldn’t do by travelling to England and ripping the world title belt out of Josh Warrington’s hands.

Conlan insists that makes ‘El Venado’ the favourite.

“I believe I’m the underdog here,” he said.

“I’m going in against a guy who just became world champion and his confidence will be sky-high. Once you win a world title, your level goes up and I understand that.

“He will believe he will win and I want him to believe that because that means I have to beat the best Luis Lopez. Styles make fights and I know he’s not a fan of the southpaw style that I’ve been perfecting for the last few years.”

Lopez-Conlan has been in the works for a couple of months but it was finally confirmed on Wednesday and Conlan says he’s relieved to have a date and target to aim at now. 

“I’m happy it’s done, that we’ve finally got it nailed down and we’ve got a date and we’re moving towards something instead of just waiting,” he said.

“I’ll be the new world champion – 100 per cent.”

Lopez is an unorthodox fighter who will be difficult to prepare for. Conlan says he needs to stick to his boxing skills and not allow himself to be drawn into the fight the Mexican wants.

“Anything can happen in fights like this,” he said.

“Atmosphere, nerves… everything can play into how things play out but this has the potential to be a fight of the year, it definitely does.

“But I’ve learned that I don’t need to keep mixing it with these guys. Lopez is an aggressive counter-puncher – he will attack to set up counterattacks. There’ll be plenty of opportunities for it to break into a firefight but my plan is not to go down that route.”