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In This Corner With Russ Anber: Unforgettable Belfast

Boxing Social columnist Russ Anber reflects on what it was like to work Michael Conlan’s corner for his victory against TJ Doheny and admits no atmosphere he has experienced in his boxing career so far has come close to Falls Park on Friday night…

I was really sad to leave Belfast on Sunday after nine days. I really love that city. As well as working Mick Conlan’s corner for his fight against TJ Doheny on Friday night I was blessed to have played a ton of snooker while I was over. In fact, I was at the beautiful Blackstaff snooker club for approximately four hours every night!

It was the first time I’ve played for an extended period of matchplay snooker since the pandemic began and – oh boy – what a wonderful feeling it was. Playing in such a prestigious club raised my game, I felt I could knock them in off the lampshade. Jamie Conlan even sent me a voice message on WhatsApp saying that the owner of the club had told him I was chasing away his patrons with how well I was playing! That’s the best compliment I had all week!

I played anybody that would give me a game but also spent a lot of time playing a gentleman named Michael Hawkins Jr whose father and I go way back – 33 years in fact. We met when we were both at the Seoul Olympics, I was with the Canadian team, and he was the Head Coach with the Irish National Team. We used to meet up at various international competitions through the years and the last time I came to Belfast I reconnected with him, and I did the same again on this trip. 

Michael Sr. and his son run the Holy Trinity Boxing Club in Belfast and Michael Jr is also an avid snooker player, so we played an endless amount of frames together. He is a strong player and forced me to player better. I love that kind of competition. Same feeling as when I play Liam ‘Beefy’ Smith!

As for the fight, well, let me tell you something… I’ve worked main events at Madison Square Garden, at the old Montreal Forum, the Bell Centre, the MGM Grand and many of the other biggest venues in boxing and – I swear to God – nothing has ever come close to the atmosphere I felt, the chills I got and the goosebumps I experienced on Friday night at this event at Falls Park.

When Mick walked out to that live performance of the song ‘Grace’ it was a truly incredible moment. I don’t usually get emotional at such times, but it was a challenge to not get caught up in that moment. Of course, you can’t get caught up in it – you’re there to work – and we did just that and we stayed focused. But it was a riveting moment. A beautiful moment.

I think Mick produced his best performance as a pro to date. He showed everything you want in a boxer – he boxed on the inside, he boxed on the outside, he boxed great off the ropes, and he sustained a body attack. It was the most complete performance I’ve seen from him since he turned pro.

He kept his emotions in check brilliantly, which is one of the things that Adam Booth kept telling him to do in the corner. Adam kept saying, ‘Stay focused, don’t lose your focus.’ That was a great call on his part because he really succeeded in keeping Mick grounded. Every time Mick came back to the corner, he was surprisingly calm and collected which speaks very well of his temperament.

There was one moment – I think it was at the end of the 10th  or 11th round – when Mick came back to the corner and I had to scream at him: ‘Stay the fuck off the ropes, you’re staying too long on the fucking ropes!’ He heard me alright and the point was made.

Having said that Mick fights so well on the ropes. Watching him reminded me of someone like Wilfred Benitez, who used to beat up opponents while laying on the ropes. Whenever I see a fighter dominate an opponent with his back to the ropes I always think of Benitez. Conlan did the same thing to TJ at times. You know you’re dealing with a class boxer when they’re able to do that. It’s a massive lost art. Not too many guys come to mind if you try and think of fighters right now who fight well on the ropes, but Mick sure does.

Although Mick won in convincing fashion, TJ showed real massive heart out there. He was hurt real bad as early as the fifth round I think when that body attack came from Mick, but he hung in there for another seven rounds and took some hellacious shots. Full credit to him.

It really was a special night; I was so glad I was there. Another thing that made it such a special fight is that it was a well-matched fight between two local fighters. Boxing needs more fights like that, and less of this A-side versus no-hoper B-side bullshit. Fights – in fact – like Liam Smith versus Anthony Fowler, which I’ll be working in a few weeks when I’m also over in the UK for the massive Anthony Joshua-Oleksandr Usyk fight.

Russ Anber was talking to Luke G. Williams.

Russ Anber is the founder/ CEO of Rival Boxing, as well as a highly respected trainer (of both pros and amateurs), a gym owner, a cut-man, an entrepreneur, a broadcaster and one of the best hand wrappers in the boxing business. Vasiliy Lomachenko, Oleksandr Usyk, Artur Beterbiev, Callum Smith and Michael Conlan are among the many top boxers Russ currently works with.

Main image: Conlan Boxing