Michael Conlan returns to Falls Park, Belfast, tomorrow night almost two years to the day since he beat Diego Ruiz.
That night the local hero walked out to sights and sounds that sent goosebumps around the venue and through the television sets to those watching at home. Drinks raised, phone cameras on, fans full of song, memories to last a lifetime. Falls Park, Conlan’s local park and he gets to go home once again and fight in front of 8,000 fans.
Speaking to Boxing Social last week Conlan recalled that heady night from 2019. “It was unbelievable, it was special.”
“No matter what for me on fight day I feel the nerves. I’m always wary of that. This was different, it was Belfast, it was an outdoor arena. First time in Belfast having a fight in my local festival [Féile an Phobail] which I grew up going to in my local park which I grew up having fights. It was a special atmosphere that night, walking out to that crazy, manic fan base, was unbelievable and I can’t wait to do it again.”
Conlan rewarded the thousands who cheered him on with victory. Ruiz was drafted in as replacement for Vladimir Nikitin, the 2016 Olympic finalist who took the gold medal that should have been Conlan’s. The Russian stepped forward four months after his original rematch date and proved no match for the Northern Irishman.
Those were fights 12 and 13 for Conlan. Number 16 will come in the shape of TJ Doheny. Thus, giving us an all-Irish fight. North v South. An aspiring world champion against one who did the business at super-bantamweight beating Ryosuke Iwasa in Japan. An historic moment for Irish boxing. Doheny has reached the ‘mountain top’ as Conlan says and he knows that his opponent will be giving his all to get back there once again.
“I’m expecting it to be a very tough fight, with it being an all-Irish fight I’ll definitely be nervous. I feel like this is a real fight. This isn’t one where I’m expected to have a walk in the park, I know how good TJ is. He’s been to the mountain top as has been spoken about before. He wants to get there again obviously. He’s got so much riding on this fight. This is everything for him. He’s going to be like a man possessed and I’ve got to be the best Michael Conlan on the night to beat him.”
The Conlans know Doheny after the latter handed a loss to brother Jamie in the amateurs. This isn’t a foolish revenge mission from years ago. Michael has admiration for Doheny and what he has achieved in the sport, particularly when beating Iwasa overseas.
“He’s done an awful lot in pro boxing for Ireland,” Conlan says.
An Irish derby then at Falls Park. A night for cool heads. Emotion will be a driving force for all the fighters on the night and we’ll find out soon enough who has managed to control theirs. Conlan is aware of what could happen during the fight. National pride can do funny things but there’s too much at stake, too much to lose.
As he told Boxing Social, this fight is his World Cup semi-final. A world title shot isn’t far away, whether that be at super-bantamweight where he is the No.1 contender with the WBO, or at featherweight. His fight versus Doheny will be at 126lbs after the WBA approved the bout for their Interim title.
“I think that there will be some type of it,” he says of the national pride factor. “I know TJ, and in the past, has fought on emotion a lot. In terms of experience, he has a lot more in the pro game than me but the experience I have over him is definitely in atmosphere, at big events and I wouldn’t say he’s fought at this level of event yet. It’s an interesting one. I know there’s a chance that could happen. For me, I don’t think it will happen. I think I will be much more smart in terms of what I’m doing in there. I’ve been in this arena; I’ve seen what it does and what it can do to fans and to opponents. It’s something I’m prepared for.
“I’m looking forward to it, I’m revelling in it if I’m honest. This is my hardest fight so far because TJ is a former world champion, as I said he’s been to the mountain top. He’s seen the pinnacle of the sport and he wants to get back there. If he fails, there would be no way back for him to get back in the mix for the big one. I know the job which I have in front of me is a tough one but one that I’m more than ready for.”
Main image: Queensberry Promotions.