Rejuvenated Conlan eyes super-bantam domination

Several months of lockdown have helped make up Michael Conlan’s mind about two important matters: the Irish icon will be moving from featherweight (126lbs) to super-bantamweight (122lbs) as soon as possible, and he has had enough of baking.

Conlan created plenty of social media chatter during the early stages of the Coronavirus pandemic when he revealed he had turned to home baking in a bid to banish the lockdown blues.

Faster than you could say ‘Mary Berry’, the 2012 Olympic bronze medallist and 2015 world amateur champion had perfected banana bread, although he found Victoria Sponge a tough bake.

With lockdown now easing and Conlan among those boxers fortunate enough to be back in action already, the 28-year-old has decided it’s time to focus on boxing not baking – starting with this weekend’s clash against Sofiane Takoucht on the latest Frank Warren/BT Sport behind-closed-doors show.

“At the start of lockdown I was baking like crazy,” the genial Conlan (13-0, 7 KOs) told Boxing Social as he relaxed inbetween some games of Call of Duty on Monday evening, the day before he was due to enter the BT Sport bubble.

“I enjoyed baking at the start, but in the end I got fed up with it. I wanted to get back into shape. There was no point in me just sitting around eating cakes. I couldn’t take the cakes to anybody [because of lockdown] so I had to eat them myself!”

Conlan is switching his sights to super-bantam after recently campaigning as a feather.
Photo: Mikey Williams/Top Rank.

Conlan was one of the first boxers to suffer a cancellation due to lockdown when his planned St. Patrick’s Day showdown against Belmar Preciado at Madison Square Garden was called off just four days before the opening bell.

Conlan and his team were already in New York for the bout. But, despite the wasted training camp and all the monetary expense that entailed, the ever-philosophical Conlan took the cancellation in his stride.

“The fact it got called off so last minute was mental. I didn’t expect that to happen, but when it happened I made peace with it very quickly. It wasn’t something that got me down too much,” he said.

Further evidence of Conlan’s naturally positive mindset comes when he reflects on his experiences of lockdown life. While many struggled with the strictures of isolation and social distancing, the Irishman emphasises that the change of pace in his life for several months acted as something of a restorative.

“I learned a new skill [baking], which was really good,” he said. “That was one of the enjoyable things about lockdown – I could do what I wanted to do. I could live like a normal person. I’ve been making weight and I’ve been competing consistently for a long, long time. I’ve never had that long of a break. So when I had that break it kind of normalised me as a person, I think. I think it was really good for me.”

Conlan used the lockdown to recharge, refocus and…..bake cakes.
Photo: Mikey Williams/Top Rank.

Lockdown – and his ability to stay in shape despite his increased cake consumption – also convinced Conlan that his plan to forsake featherweight and move down to super-bantamweight is the right move for his career.

“I was talking about moving down before,” he explained. “The fact that I’ve come out of lockdown in probably better condition and in better shape than what I expected has shown me that it’s very, very possible for me to make 122lbs with ease.

“It looks like that’s definitely going to be the next move – me moving to super-bantamweight. For this fight, I’ve made weight easier than I’ve ever made weight. ”

Conlan avenged his controversial Olympic loss to Vladimir Nikitin last time out in December.
Photo: Mikey Williams/Top Rank.

Conlan is hoping to be in line for a shot at the winner of a likely contest between newly crowned WBO 122lbs champion Angelo Leo and the governing body’s No.1 contender Stephen Fulton.

The duo were scheduled to face each other for the vacant crown on August 1, but Fulton was forced to withdraw after testing positive for Covid-19. Leo beat late replacement Tramaine Williams via unanimous decision to win the title.

“I’m happy to face any of the champions,” Conlan said. “Angelo Leo is now the WBO champion and I’m ranked No. 3 by them. I think he’ll probably have to face Stephen Fulton. I believe Fulton should beat him. And I believe I will beat him also. It’s definitely a division that has opened up a little bit.”

Conlan is now aiming for the WBO 122lbs crown currently held
by Albuquerque’s Angelo Leo. Photo: Mikey Williams/Top Rank.

First, though, Conlan must make his way past Frenchman Sofiane Takoucht 35-4-1, 14 KOs) this Saturday night in the BT Sport studio in Stratford, London.

The last time the 34-year-old from the Ardennes fought he was stopped in the second round by IBF featherweight ruler Josh Warrington. However, Conlan insists that Takoucht is more accomplished than he looked that night in Leeds.

“People will write off this guy because of the Josh Warrington fight, but I don’t read anything into that loss. He froze in the headlights and didn’t know what to do,” said Conlan. “He got caught up in the storm of Josh’s phenomenal aggression and strength. I think he tried to fight his fight and did the wrong thing in front of all those fans.

“But he’s had as many stoppages as I’ve had fights. He’s a good guy. Two of his losses were a majority decision and a split decision. So it’s a tough, tricky fight. I think he’s durable – I know he didn’t show it against Warrington but I do believe he is durable.”

Conlan with Boxing Social columnist and hand wrapper supreme Russ Anber (right).
Photo: Mikey Williams/Top Rank.

Despite the respect he has for his opponent, Conlan is confident that his arm will be raised on Saturday night and he will move a step closer to his world title dream.

“I’ve been over for eight weeks training in Surrey with Adam Booth. It’s been a great training camp. I’ve been happy. Everything has been sweet with social distancing and all that caper.

“I’m ready to put a performance on. I’ve been in fantastic form in the gym. This fight is at 126 for one simple reason – Takoucht could not make 122. So I said, ‘No problem. I’ll fight him at 126.”

Conlan has been training in Surrey with coach Adam Booth (left).
Photo: Mikey Williams/Top Rank.

Finally, as Conlan’s next game of Call of Duty nears, he takes the chance to pay tribute to fellow Belfast boy Carl Frampton – who also fights on Saturday’s event. 

“This is the second time I’ve been on the same bill as Carl [Frampton]. He’s probably achieved more than anyone else in Irish boxing. It’s always an honour to share a card with him,” said Conlan.

After decisioning old rival Nikitin, Conlan returns to action at
the BT Sport studio this Saturday. Photo: Mikey Williams/Top Rank.

Main image and all photos: Mikey Williams/Top Rank.