After a crushing TKO loss, Michael Conlan begins his quest to bounce back – again


After being knocked out of the ring in a stinging loss five months ago, Michael Conlan would have been forgiven had he picked an easier opponent than Miguel Marriaga for his comeback on Saturday (ESPN+, 2 p.m. ET).

In one of the best fights of 2022 on March 12, Conlan entered the final round with a narrow points lead but was then knocked out by Leigh Wood, fell backwards through the ropes and out of the ring apron. .

“Fortunately, my brother Jamie [former boxer who challenged for the junior bantamweight title in 2017] was there to grab me,” Conlan told ESPN. “He was standing at ringside, shouting instructions, saw what was happening and ran and got me, which was lucky because it could have been much more dangerous than it was.

“But it was more dramatic than what actually happened. The paramedics were trying to put an oxygen mask on me while my mouth guard was in it, and people thought I was dead, and that was stupid . It wasn’t handled well.”

Conlan, 30, from Belfast, Northern Ireland, had controlled much of the fight, but Wood rallied in the later rounds to smash Conlan late in the 11th and then claimed victory in the final round with a group of punches in front of his audience in Nottingham, England.

Conlan (16-1, 8 KOs) insists he didn’t take much punishment in the fight, despite the ominous ending, and is happy to face a proper test this weekend.

“The punch that got me was [more] fatigue than the actual damage done on me,” Conlan told ESPN. “None of his front punches hurt me. Until the last half of a round I was completely in control and didn’t take much stick in the fight, or a beating. So I wanted to go straight back to it.

“There’s no one better for me to face right now than Marriaga. He’s proven himself, he’s fought at a good level.”

Marriaga (30-5, 26 KO), 35, from Colombia, also lost his last fight (a decision to Eduardo Ramirez in December) but is heavyweight and experienced, having faced top fighters such as Vasiliy Lomachenko and Oscar Valdez in vain. world title challenges.

Conlan reflects on his first world title fight against Wood as a learning experience and hopes a win in his hometown of Belfast at the SSE Arena will set up a rematch with Wood (26-2, 16 KOs), 33 years old, the WBA “regular” featherweight champion. Wood is linked with a fight against Leo Santa Cruz, the distinguished Mexican who holds the WBA “super” featherweight world title.

“What I learned from that [Wood] the fight is, don’t get drunk on your own success,” Conlan told ESPN. I was doing more than I had to – I could have fought for the win in the last half of the fight. That said, the dashboards were somehow tight [105-102, 104-103 and 104-103 in favor of Conlan at the time of the stoppage], I do not understand that. But I got more from this loss than I would [have] to win it. I made a lot of silly mistakes and rectified them with my coach, Adam Booth.”

Conlan said promoter Matchroom was looking to make the rematch with Woods in the winter, but the WBA ordered the Santa Cruz-Woods fight and Santa Cruz agreed.

“Of course I want the rematch. He won the lottery that night with that punch, and you can see it in his reaction,” Conlan said. “When is it [Santa Cruz] fight is going to happen, and will it ever happen? I’m not so sure, but I hope Leigh wins if so so we can do the rematch. If this drags on, I’ll hunt another champion. I’m ready to fight the best right away. I’ve already shown that I can hang out with the best guys in the world.”

It’s the second time Conlan has tried to bounce back from a shock loss. The first was a controversial loss at the 2016 Olympics, before turning pro and racking up 16 straight wins. But Conlan insists it would be wrong to expect him to take a safety-first approach.

“I’m not a keen fighter anyway, but against Leigh Wood I went to war a bit because of what happened in the fight,” Conlan told ESPN.

“My plan is to box like I usually do. I haven’t been fight shy. I just want to go out there and right the wrong. I’m comfortable in my mindset.”

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