IBHOF inductee and boxing gambling expert Graham Houston looks ahead to Saturday night’s finely-poised featherweight title clash between WBA champion Leigh Wood and Belfast’s Michael Conlan.
Tension will be high in Nottingham tonight as local favourite Leigh Wood defends his WBA featherweight title against undefeated former amateur star Michael Conlan. Wood has home advantage but plenty of Irish fans will be on hand to support Belfast’s Conlan. If ever there was guaranteed to be an electric atmosphere at a fight, this is the one, and which boxer responds better to the big-night pressure could play a major part in how the contest will be decided.
Initially, Conlan opened as only a slight favourite but we’ve seen the odds widening and he is now priced at 10/21 at Betfred, with Wood offered at 6/4.
Brother Jamie says he believes it’s Conlan’s destiny to win a world title after the hugely controversial loss in the Olympics quarter-finals prevented him from capturing at least a bronze medal in Rio in 2016.
Conlan wore sunglasses with Irish tricolour-painted lenses at Friday’s weigh-in. He looked highly confident. Wood, meanwhile. looked a bit more subdued although told the last of the pre-fight press conferences that he’ll “get the job done and look good doing it”.
I thought Wood looked a little drained at the weigh-in and he took swigs of bottled water after making weight. But after rehydrating, Wood is expected to be huge in the ring tonight.
Conlan brings speed and versatility. He is adept at switching from orthodox to southpaw and he’s a good body puncher. Wood can bang and he possesses solid technical ability, but Conlan seems to have more flair. It’s an intriguing match-up.
I think it’s fair to call Wood, 30, a late bloomer. He was the underdog against Can Xu last July but gave a career-best showing as he broke down and beat up the Chinese fighter to become WBA champion. However, Conlan is a faster, slicker, smarter fighter than the straight-ahead Xu.
Those who like Conlan’s chances on Saturday might point to Wood’s defeat against James ‘Jazza’ Dickens two years ago. It was a close fight but the southpaw Dickens had Wood almost out on his feet in the ninth round. However, Wood sucked it up and actually came back well in the 10th and last round. But if Dickens could hurt Wood, Conlan is capable of hurting him, too.
Those who like Wood’s chances will be encouraged by Conlan’s struggling performance against Ionut Baluta 11 months ago. Conlan fought in spurts that night and almost blew the decision. However, Conlan dropped down to 122 pounds for the Baluta fight and might have been a bit diminished by making weight. He looked strong and sharp when clearly outscoring TJ Doheny in his last fight.
But there are question marks over Conlan. He is 30 and this is the first time he hasn’t been a huge favourite in one of his fights, so we can’t be sure how good he is. And did Conlan leave something behind in his long amateur career?
I’ve gone back and forth on this one. Wood’s the puncher in the fight and he’ll likely be the stronger man in the ring. And while Conlan fights well in either the orthodox or southpaw posture, Wood, too, is able to switch stances to good effect.
For me, this is just not a fight where I can make an investment with any confidence. It looks like being a long fight but the “over 10.5 rounds” proposition is priced highly at about 1/3 (-300). Wood inside the distance has been raised from 4/1 to 5/1 in a special Boxing Social Boost with BetFred.
The general view is that Conlan’s best strategy will be to pick up points by being smart and not getting careless. But it wouldn’t shock me to see Conlan looking to hurt Wood to the body rather than playing it safe for 12 rounds.
Of course, if Conlan fights aggressively it gives Wood a better shot at nailing him with a big punch.
As the fight gets close I’m getting the sense that this could be the night Conlan puts it all together but I don’t want to lay almost 1/2 (-200). “Distance — No” is available at 2/1 (+200) and that might be worth thinking about, if only because the electric atmosphere in the arena could produce more of a firefight than is generally expected.
There’s nothing on the Nottingham undercard that grabs my attention for wagering purposes. All the favourites should win but the odds are not appealing. However, I do think that undefeated middleweight Caoimhin Agyarko can get a stoppage win against Mexico’s Juan Carlos Rubio. Although Rubio has a respectable record he’s been beating ordinary opponents and in his last fight he was destroyed in the third round by rising star Charles Conwell. I don’t see Agyarko getting Rubio out of there in three rounds, but I do think he can get to him inside the scheduled 10 rounds. The price isn’t attractive, though, at 4/11 (-275).
In Panama City, local favourite Liborio Solis is rightly favoured over Mexico’s Alejandro Jair Gonzalez in a 10-round bantamweight bout, but I don’t make this a walk in the park for the veteran former 115lbs champion. Solis is 39 years old, and that’s getting on a bit for a bantam; Gonzalez is 22. The Mexican fighter is tough and gutsy. He won in Scotland against Billy Stuart and lost a hard-fought decision to the flashy Frency Fortunato in the DR in his last two fights. I think this could be a tough fight for Solis against a determined young gun, so a stab at the 12/5 (+240) odds on Gonzalez isn’t a terrible idea. Ageing fighters can lose at any time, as we saw with Guillermo Rigondeaux a couple of weeks ago.
Main image: Wood (left) and Conlan collide tonight in Nottingham. Photo: Mark Robinson/Matchroom Boxing.