Sport

"A new lease of life..." Conlan v Gill, McKenna v Crocker and full undercard preview

Michael Conlan and Jordan Gill go head-to-head on Saturday night. Picture: Mark Marlow
Michael Conlan and Jordan Gill go head-to-head on Saturday night. Picture: Mark Marlow Michael Conlan and Jordan Gill go head-to-head on Saturday night. Picture: Mark Marlow

Super-featherweight: Michael Conlan (18-2) v Jordan Gill (27-2-1)

HOW much does he have left? We’ll find out tonight when Michael Conlan goes back to the well to begin a new chapter in a career that was brutally derailed by Luis Lopez last May.

Conlan didn’t look himself in that fight. The master boxer had lost his way, his feet were heavy and he threw his hands without thinking and, after unwisely mixing it with the hammer-handed Mexican, he was knocked out for the second time in his career.

In the days that followed, he gave a lot of thought to his future but decided he still had more to give. He spilt with Adam Booth and says linking up with Cuban fight guru Pedro Diaz has breathed desperately-needed oxygen back into a career that will continue at super-featherweight.

“Going to Miami and training with Pedro, I have a new lease of life and I feel like I’ve hit the reset button,” he said.

“He’s not going to teach me anything new in eight weeks, he has just dusted me off and brought me back to myself so that’s what I’m excited about.

“I’m excited about the performance and putting in what we’ve been working on, the things we’ve been doing in the gym in fight night.”

Experienced Jordan Gill stands in the opposite corner tonight. Gill has pedigree and is an experienced operator but he has never operated at world level so, at his best and on home soil, Conlan should be able to handle the former European featherweight champion.

“I’m in a great place mentally and physically,” said Conlan.

“I’m in the best place I’ve been for a long time and I’m really excited about fight night rather than being excited about it (the fight) being over and having a win. I’m looking forward to the fight and I believe I will win and put on a destructive performance.

“This is the easiest I’ve ever made weight so it’s been nice, it’s been comfortable and I’ve enjoyed the whole fight week and now I have to win and perform. I know Jordan is a good fighter, I know he has skills and he’s a smart boxer when he has to be and, if you’re not on your game, Jordan will beat you.”

Gill hasn’t fought since he lost his European title to Kiko Martinez in October last year. Since then he has parted company with trainer Dave Coldwell and was prepared for this fight by his father with sparring at Ben Davison’s gym.

He came across as extremely relaxed in the build-up and says he’ll have the answer for whatever Conlan brings tonight.   

“I think he’s a good fighter,” he said.

“You have to respect his skills and his ability but we’ll see. I might catch him, or I might win on points. There’s no quit in me - whatever he comes with, I’ll bite down on the gumshield and have it out with him and I’ve got nothing to lose.”

Fans want to see magic footwork and slick skills from Conlan tonight and if he wants to kick on and secure another world title shot then he has to win and do so impressively. Coming back from a loss, he’ll take a round or two to settle and then expect him to put his foot on the gas. Gill will work hard to keep him at bay and cause an upset but Conlan’s slick skills should be too much for him.

Verdict: After coming through some early tests – Conlan.

Getting it on because they don't get along... Tyrone McKenna and Lewis Crocker. Picture: Mark Marlow
Getting it on because they don't get along... Tyrone McKenna and Lewis Crocker. Picture: Mark Marlow Getting it on because they don't get along... Tyrone McKenna and Lewis Crocker. Picture: Mark Marlow

Welterweight: Tyrone McKenna (23-3-1) v Lewis Crocker (17-0)

TYRONE McKenna will pay for what he’s had to say, vowed Lewis Crocker, who will battle it out with his Belfast rival in what has all the ingredients of a pre-Christmas cracker.

The simmering hostility between the welterweight duellists threatened to boil over again at the weigh-in with McKenna predicting “early retirement” for Crocker who responded with a cut-throat gesture after both had weighed in – Crocker had to remove his underwear to hit 147lbs while McKenna came in at 146.9lbs.

The fight is chief support to Michael Conlan versus Jordan Gill but it could easily have been the main event because there an intoxicating mix of tribal rivalry, a personality clash, contrasting styles, jealousy, animosity, ambition...

McKenna has layers of experience that Crocker doesn’t have. He has been to the top and, although he has three losses on his record, they all came against quality operators.

Is Crocker in that category? He has the potential to be and he will earn his stripes if he deals with McKenna’s intoxicating mix of height, reach, power and in-your-face ‘Berserker’ intensity.

He admits he has thought of very little else but Tyrone McKenna since the fight was made months ago.

“Of course he’s been on my mind,” said Crocker.

“I know what he brings and all the talking he does. He’s a good fighter and we’ll see how it plays out because we don’t know what Tyrone is going to be in there.

“It could be a fight where he’s on the backfoot the whole time trying to keep me off him or it could be me trying to box him or toe-to-toe.”

Crocker’s early fights were over in the blink of an eye. He had a six-fight knockout streak before hand problems took the edge off his power but since he sorted them out he has returned to his power-punching best.

“This is an opportunity I can’t let slip and I won’t let slip,” he said.

“I think I’ll get him out of there and enjoy doing it. I don’t feel anything personal towards him but he’ll have to pay for the stuff he said. It has to be done, there’ll be a bit more spite in there and him saying all that stuff just made me train harder.

“He said something stupid like: ‘He wears crocs on his feet and he’ll slap me on the street…’ It’s one thing fighting in the ring but if we’re going to go at it in the street… You can’t be saying that.  

“I’m totally confident anyway – it’s the most confident I’ve ever been going into a fight.”

Verdict: If he uses his experience, height and reach and chooses his moments to fight - McKenna.

If it’s an all-out war – Crocker.

Face-off. Caoimhin Agyarko versus Troy Williamson. Picture: Mark Marlow
Face-off. Caoimhin Agyarko versus Troy Williamson. Picture: Mark Marlow Face-off. Caoimhin Agyarko versus Troy Williamson. Picture: Mark Marlow

Super-welterweight: Caoimhin Agyarko (13-0) v Troy Williamson (20-1-1)

HE looks the part, he speaks well and he’s a stylish box-fighter but injuries have taken the fizz off Caoimhin Agyarko over the past year or so. The former Holy Trinity star has changed coaches, he has had time to recover from hand surgery and now he’s been thrown in at the deep end to see if he really has the minerals to survive at this level.

His opponent Williamson is tough and rough and he’ll set a high pace. He is a gatekeeper in the division who would love nothing better than to beat his Belfast opponent tonight so the challenge couldn’t be clearer for Liverpool-based Agyarko – sink or swim.

“It’s a massive step up for me but everyone has that one fight where they have to step up to the plate and this is it for me,” he said.

“I’m looking forward to going out and putting on a punch-perfect performance. I’m better in every department and I’ve prepared for the best Troy Williamson and there’s going to be fireworks. My last three fights went the distance because I had an injury and I couldn’t capitalise when I had people hurt. But I’m injury free now.”

Williamson lost a British title battle with Josh Kelly late last year but returned to action with a win in July. He says he’s firing on all cylinders for his first fight in Ireland.

“I’ll be giving it my all and I intend to win,” he said.

“I set a high pace and people underestimate my boxing ability but I can box and you’re going to see that on Saturday night. Caoimhin hasn’t boxed at my level and he knows that. He keeps saying it’s a big step up for him, which it is and we’ll see how much he’s got because he’s going to be took to the well.

“I’ve trained hard, I’m injury-free, I’m punching harder than ever, I’m stronger than ever and I’m going to put on a show on Saturday night.”  

Verdict: Hoping for a return to form – Agyarko.

WBO European Super-Lightweight title: Sean McComb (17-1) v Sam Maxwell (17-2)

OVER hundreds of rounds in sparring, McComb and former world title contender Maxwell have figured each other out and now they get the chance to do it for real.

The rivals were once team-mates at a gym outside Glasgow and, in what is an intriguing 50-50 encounter, both fancy their chances of winning.

“He must feel the same as I do (that he can win) because he wouldn’t have taken the fight otherwise,” said McComb.

“We had great spars – you’d have paid money to watch them. I’m all set, I’m really looking forward to the task ahead and I’m excited.”

‘The Public Nuisance’ will be defending his WBO European Super Lightweight title and says that focus and concentration are key for him against the hard-hitting Englishman.

“The main thing for me is focus – I know Sam Maxwell carries a lot of power,” said McComb.

“We’ve seen it before where he’s come back and knocked people out in the last minute. He carries that power and I know because I’ve sparred hundreds of rounds with him.

“I know the danger he has and that’s why I need to be focussed, I can’t take my eye off the ball here – no matter what - and I have to put on a clinical performance.

“Every fight is a step in the right direction and this is another big fight. I’ve had a smashing year so far and I’ve been in good form. Sam will be dangerous and a win against him is a breakthrough for me into the top five in the WBO and that’s where I want to be.”

Verdict: Slick skills to overcome one-punch power - McComb

Middleweight: Fearghus Quinn (8-0) v Angel Emilov (11-53-3)

A YEAR on from his Celtic middleweight title win, Fearghus Quinn is biding his time but if the all-action South Armagh fighter continues to progress, a breakthrough will surely come.

Quinn, from Belleeks, is in against rugged Bulgarian Emilov on Saturday night.  

“He’s a tough customer,” he said.

“He campaigns mostly at super-middle and he’s strong and aggressive and he’s a come-forward fighter so I’m expecting a tough-enough test and I’m looking forward to putting on a good show.

“This year has been great, I’ve got a bit of activity behind me and this’ll be my fourth fight. After being inactive for a long time it’s great to finally get a few fights consecutively.

“I won the Celtic title around this time last year and I suppose I was hoping to push on and maybe fight for another title. That has happened but I’ve got a few more fights under my belt and next year I’ll be looking to get into 50-50 fights with a couple of titles along the way.

“I’ll not look too far ahead, I have to come through this one but I’ll try and push on a bit next year.”

Verdict: Quinn

Super-bantamweight: Gerard Hughes (4-0) v Ruadhan Farrell (4-1)

THE second all-Belfast clash on the bill is also a tasty one. The rivals butted heads and there were oaths sworn through gritted teeth whenever they met this week.

“He was calling me ‘Wotsit ribs’,” said Farrell.

“He’s a walking Wotsit if you look at him. I said: ‘You’re the Wotsit’. He’s the one who called me out so the pressure is on him and I’m ready to do a job on him. I’m the better fighter, the better boxer and I’ve bigger balls and bigger guts.”

Hughes, who is the main coach at Ballycastle ABC and will be taking some of his boxers to weigh-ins on Sunday morning, doesn’t see it that way.

“I’m more than ready to go,” he said.

“Yes, he has fought once at this sort of level (against Colm Murphy) but he lost and I’m in camp with the guy who beat him. This is my fifth fight in the last year and he’s only had one and it all adds up on fight night.

“100 per cent I’m a better fighter than him. The sparring I’m getting with Colm Murphy and Conor Quinn is brilliant, it’s the best I could get.”     

Verdict: Hughes

Middleweight: Cameron Vuong (2-0) v TBC

Middleweight: Emmanuel Buttigieg (debut) v Mario Oliveira (1-0)