Monday, May 20, 2024  |



Michael Conlan pledges to stay smart to capture Luis Alberto Lopez’s crown

Michael Conlan hopes to win a world title in Belfast on Saturday. Photo via Getty Images
Fighters Network

Michael Conlan is bracing himself for the deafening ovation he will receive when he appears from behind the curtain of destiny on Saturday night.

At the SSE Arena in Belfast, he challenges Mexican Luis Alberto Lopez for the IBF featherweight title, Conlan’s second attempt at a world crown having crashed to a dramatic 12th round defeat to Leigh Wood in 2022’s exceptional Fight of the Year.

He knows, however, that it is a tough ask. Lopez won the belt from Josh Warrington, on the road, silencing Josh’s usually vibrant Leeds army in the process. But Conlan feels this is his destiny and he is determined to fulfil it this time.

“To win my first world title, to be in Belfast, it will be really special,” Conlan said. “I know the last three Irish world champions, Carl Frampton, Ryan Burnett and TJ Doheny, the first title they all won was the IBF, so there are loads of little things that make you say, ‘That works well.’ The IBF title in Belfast, it’s going to be good.”

The atmosphere will be better than good. Conlan’s supporters create one of the best vibes in the sport and the SSE will likely come unglued when they catch their first glimpse of their hero on May 27.

“It’s going to be absolutely crazy, raucous,” Conlan added. “The SSE is like a cauldron when it’s filled and I know it’s going to be 99 per cent my fans and I think it’s going to be a massive atmosphere. I know it’s like an extra man on my shoulder, but Lopez travels well – he went to Leeds, which is similar to Belfast in that they back their man – and I know the Belfast people are like that but it didn’t affect Lopez there and I don’t expect it to here. I just need to fight my fight, fight to my gameplan and I honestly believe I’ll beat him very comfortably.”

Lopez quietly went about his business to dethrone Warrington but his backers at top Rank vocalised their belief in him beforehand and Conlan appreciates that despite his predictions of winning comfortably, he cannot take anything for granted.

“I think he’s a fantastic fighter,” the Irish challenger admitted. “He’s very dangerous, very unorthodox, very raw and he jumps in a lot and does a lot of crazy things in the ring but they seem to pay off for him. And if you’re the type of fighter who’s going to stand in front of him and try and fight him, it’s probably the wrong thing to do. You’ve got to be smart to beat someone like Lopez. I think he’s a very very good fighter, it’s going to be a tough fight. Possibly a tougher fight than Leigh Wood, so it’s going to be interesting.”

And should Conlan navigate his way beyond Lopez, he reiterated his desire to enter a tournament with some of the other best featherweights in the world, in one of the sport’s deepest divisions. To find out who is the best.

“I would definitely want it, I can’t see it happening,” said Conlan. “You know how these promoters are, some of them are very selfish and even some fighters will probably not be too keen on it, but we’re not in the Floyd Mayweather age where nobody loses and you can’t take a loss and it’s terrible. That’s gone. Let’s mix in and we all fight. I wouldn’t mind that, and if someone comes in and says we’ll put that in place, 100 per cent my name would be first in, but I don’t know who else would go in it. I know a few would go in but does it happen? Will someone come in and do it? I don’t know. I would love them to but I don’t think there will be anybody coming to do it.”

Two names that would or should go in the hat are Leigh Wood and Mauricio Lara. They rematch in Manchester on the same night Conlan meets Lopez but Conlan can’t pay any mind to what happens there.

“I’ll be interested, the first one I was interested and it was Leigh’s first fight since our fight and this one, I’ll be honest I haven’t even paid attention to it,” Conlan said.

“I think it’s the same result, so I haven’t given any attention to it. This whole time, my sole focus has been Lopez, and I know the challenge ahead of me is a very big one and I know I have the ability to win that, and do it well. But he [Lopez] can be the only thing I can focus on. I can’t worry about what else is going on in the division. I know that there’s potential with me and Leigh and even Lara and stuff, and whatever happens next, but if I don’t win this, none of that happens so there’s no point even looking at it.”

Conaln is close friends with Katie Taylor and he will be keen to give the Irish something to cheer about. Days before Taylor’s loss to Chantelle Cameron, Conlan said: “It’s possibly the biggest week ever in Irish boxing and one of the biggest weeks in Irish sport if Katie wins and I win… Look how big that is for the whole country, and it sets the whole thing alight again and I’m proud to be a part of it.”

Conlan is now fighting to salvage momentum and to give his countrymen and women something to celebratre as they mourn the first professional loss of the iconic Taylor.

“Me and Katie, we went to two Olympic Games together and I’ve known her so long that I just appreciate her as a friend, as a fighter, and for me to be creating history along with her, around the same time after both coming through the 2016 Olympics, it’s a special feeling and I think it makes Irish boxing stand up and be noticed again.”

The weight now falls upon Conlan to let the world know that boxing is still very much an Irish business.