Michael Conlan: I can beat anyone in the world including Leigh Wood
Skilled featherweight technician Michael Conlan will face his toughest task to date when he takes on the hard-hitting Leigh Wood over 12 rounds at the Nottingham Arena in Nottingham, England, on Saturday.
The popular Northern Irishman is very confident and had no qualms about facing Wood on enemy territory.
“It’s fantastic, it’s something I have craved since I turned professional,” Conlan (16-0, 8 knockouts) told The Ring. “These are things my father has been wanting me to do. It’s the first thing he said when this fight was announced, that he wanted it to be in Nottingham.
“I wanted it to be in New York, but my father said, ‘Nope, I want us to go to his back garden, take it off him, and do it the right way.’ It’s history and legacy. This stuff stands out more and makes better sense.”
The 30-year-old Belfast-born fighter expects a sizable Irish contingent to be on hand, but the vast majority of the crowd will be pro-Wood.
“I’m looking forward to getting in there and I’ll hear some boos,” Conlan said enthusiastically. “I won the World Championships and big medals in opponent’s back gardens. These things don’t really make a difference to me. I’m not too worried about. It’s all part of the game.”
Conlan and Woods met up in mid-January for media tours in Nottingham and Belfast. Although both sought the psychological edge, Conlan feels he got the upper-hand.
“You saw how he reacted on day one, compared to day two,” said the southpaw. “I spoke my mind and told him some home truths. I don’t think they liked what was being said, so the second day they didn’t say too much. The change in attitude was evident. Maybe there’s little bits of self-doubt creeping in.”
Despite the pre-fight theatrics, Conlan is respectful of Wood’s skills and acknowledges this is the best opponent he will have faced as a professional.
“He’s very good,” admitted Conlan. “You don’t become world champion being average. You have to be very good. I think it’s a tough challenge. He’s a big guy for the weight; strong, good punch selection, good power, good speed. All around he’s a very solid fighter. I’ve got to be on my ‘A’ game to beat this kind of guy.
“I can beat anyone in the world including Leigh Wood. I have many answers for everything he can do. One thing I think they’re banking on is that he’ll knock me out, but I’ve never been knocked out in my life, so that’s a long-shot for them.”
Things could have been very different for Conlan had he fulfilled his plans to fight the winner of the November 122-pound unification between Stephen Fulton and Brandon Figueroa, which Fulton won on points.
“The Fulton fight seemed to be playing out, when the opportunity was brought to me [to fight for the interim WBA featherweight title],” remembered Conlan. “I could have said, ‘No, I’m going to stay at 122 and aim for that.’
“I’m glad we didn’t because [Fulton-Figueroa] was scheduled for September and postponed to November, and Fulton probably won’t fight until April. It’s dragged on and that situation would have been a longer route to go through.
“We weren’t guaranteed to get that fight next, albeit we were the WBO mandatory, because the WBC was on the line as well. They could choose one of their own guys at PBC. It’s annoying it didn’t go that way, but now we’re in this position and I’m on the verge of being world champion, which I 100-percent truly believe. I’m very, very confident. I’m in a great place mentally. I don’t think I’ve been better.”
Wood (25-2, 15 knockouts) turned professional in 2011 as a junior featherweight, but enjoyed limited success. That changed when he moved to 126 pounds and claimed the vacant Commonwealth title by stopping Abraham Osei Bonsu in two rounds. The now 33-year-old dropped a razor-thin decision to Jazza Dickens (MD 10), but bounced back to win the vacant British title at the expense of Reece Mould (TKO 9) in February 2021. That triumph vaulted him into a fight with Chinese punching machine Xu Can, who he shockingly upset by final-round stoppage in July. That win earned him a No. 7 rating with The Ring.
Wood-Conlan, plus supporting undercard action, will be broadcast exclusively by DAZN in the U.S. and in the U.K.
Editor’s Note: The WBA regular title, which will be on the line, is not recognized by The Ring. Leo Santa Cruz is the reigning WBA 126-pound titleholder.
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