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Career on the line for Michael Conlan after devastating Lopez loss
Plus, big win for Big Bang and Okolie pays the price
In the end, it all happened so quickly. A challenger trying to duck out of harm’s way, met by a champion waiting for an opening to exploit. One flick of the wrist and a stunned arena gently hushed itself back into reality.
In real time, at ringside, it seemed close and competitive for the first couple of rounds at least. As I wrote in my report, Michael Conlan was doing well, using his speed and movement to evade the bombs while stepping in to range with some powerful one-twos. However, the cost of standing for respect was starting to add up as early as the close of the second session.
Watching back on television the next day it became apparent that the champion, Luis Alberto Lopez, was relishing his role as dispenser of pain. In round three an uppercut landed, sending the Belfast man rolling back into the ropes. The unorthodox Mexican champion had a subtly vicious grin across his face as he leapt forward to follow up. Breakthrough achieved. Now onto the next part of the show…an inevitable dissection.
Photo Credit: Sky Sports
Once the heavy shots started to land, the atmosphere in the arena became eerily similar to Bernard Dunne’s first and last title defence against Poonsawat in 2009. The Dublin man was getting hit clean and often. Cue an almighty rallying cry to try and pull him through. Unfortunately, each time the home fighter had success, the initial roar died down almost instantly as return fire put him firmly back in his place.
Dunne was in a different position given that he was the champion and had already produced a superhuman effort in the same O2 arena to win the title (against Ricardo Cordoba, in March 2009, the best live fight I’ve ever witnessed). Every time Poonsawat landed flush, Bernard was either shaken or dropped. RTE pundit Dave ‘Boy’ McAuley struggled to identify the punches that had even done the damage.
There was no doubting the shots Luis Alberto Lopez was landing. They echoed across the ring. Carl Frampton and his BT colleague Steve Bunce grimaced under the ropes as the beating gathered pace. The uppercut that ended Conlan’s evening was a peach of a shot, fit to end any world title fight.
Talk around the arena immediately moved in one direction. Retirement. This surprised me, as I think Conlan may still have something left to offer. More importantly, he will think he still has something to offer. I can’t imagine being brutally knocked out in front of his home faithful will be the lasting inscription Michael would wish to leave on the record books.
Remaining marketable, even with 10 or 20 percent wiped off the Odyssey crowd, Mick could conceivably return for one last run at glory. He is not without options. Perhaps a move up to super-featherweight to try and reset the hard drive. They punch even harder up there though. The beasts rehydrate even bigger. For a fighter who once campaigned at super-bantamweight, edging towards a fight with Stephen Fulton, the tasks would be sizeable on every level.
I have a question for you dear reader: if he were to hang up the gloves now, how would you rate Conlan’s career? The Falls Road man turned pro in 2017 off the back of an Olympic injustice. Images of the distraught Irishman, gold medal dream shattered, circled the globe as he offered a middle finger salute to the rotten amateur establishment.
Many power players courted his pro signature. Bob Arum’s Top Rank won the race. The wily old fox saw an East Coast home for his new cash cow, plucked from the green fields of the Emerald Isle.
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I was at the homecoming press conference to announce the rise of a new dawn. It was held in the plush surrounds of the Titanic building. Todd DeBoeuf made the trek across the pond and Matthew Macklin was on hand to answer questions.
Talk of a domestic rivalry with Carl Frampton was blossoming, until the Tigers Bay talent joined the ranks of MTK. An inevitable clash with Olympic contemporary Shakur Stevenson sat down the road. Winning a world strap was considered by some as a formality. Title unifications and undisputed showdowns, across multiple weight classes, was under serious discussion.
Suffice to say, it has not quite panned out that way. Intimate Top Rank footage taken in the aftermath of defeat showed Michael’s older brother Jamie consoling him in defeat. Telling his younger sibling that he’d fought the wrong fight and would be back.
“I’m devastated,” responded Michael.
‘BIG BANG’ O’LEARY READY TO WHIP UP A STORM
During the ringside post mortem, as yet another star of Irish boxing dissolved from the limelight, talk turned to who would be the next boxer to headline big events. While the task of holding up an Odyssey or 3Arena is beyond the reach of many right now, Pierce O’Leary could be on track to pack out the National Stadium soon. His first-round blast of Alin Florin Cioercei was punch perfect.
While the Romanian may not be the sturdiest of tests, he had fought at a decent level in the past and the way young Pierce went about his business was impressive. The Dubliner also brings a crowd along for the ride. Shifting tickets is always a massive plus for any prospect/contender looking for future opportunities. Along with Paddy Donovan, O’Leary could pick up the mantle left by the likes of Carl Frampton, Katie Taylor, and now Michael Conlan.
I love his nickname as well: ‘Big Bang’. The same as Limerick’s Willie Casey. Regular readers or listeners to the podcast will know all about my love for Casey, who produced a fantastic Cinderella story, bringing massive excitement during his unexpected run to world level (via the Prizefighter tournament).
Photo Credit: Tapology
With three cards all clashing last weekend we were told that the Conlan main event would go live around 9pm. I was sceptical about this from the start and it was after 10pm until they eventually got rumbling. Not entirely the fault of the promoters, however, as Nick Ball’s opponent Ludumo Lamati was rushed to hospital after collapsing at the end of their fight. I was slightly surprised when the South African's corner threw the towel in midway through round 12. ‘9mm’ was clearly tiring but appeared to be capable of making it to the end of the fight despite Ball’s pressure.
Turns out I was completely wrong and they knew their fighter well enough to try and get him out of there in time. As the doctors and paramedics raced into the ring and swiftly pulled Lamati out of the arena on a stretcher it made for grim viewing. At the time of writing Lamati is said to be sedated but stable, which doesn’t give too much away.
One of my journalistic colleagues was speaking to the medical staff at the end of the night and, while they could not reveal masses of information due to patient confidentiality, it didn’t seem overly positive.
Lawrence Okolie’s bizarre world title reign came to a predictably controversial ending when Chris Billam-Smith defeated him last weekend. The spidery fighter who loves a cuddle, Okolie’s jab-and-grab style was always going to land him in hot water at some point with an impatient referee. Marcus McDonnell was the man in the middle who grew so frustrated with the Hackney hugger, he deducted two points for excessive holding.
‘The Sauce’ was also dropped three times and yet still Illinois judge Benjamin Rodriguez managed to score the fight 112-112. Okolie was doing better in some rounds but Billam-Smith surely did enough to get the nod in front of his hometown fans.
The other two judges thought so and awarded him a majority decision which earned ‘CBS’ the WBO cruiserweight title. Training out in the States under Sugar Hill, Okolie later stated he would be pushing for a rematch. I’ll definitely be keeping an eagle eye on the calendar for that one - to make sure it is avoided at all costs.
Hugger: Okolie likes to grab hold of opponents
In a weird weekend of domestic dust-ups, Leigh Wood took back possession of his WBA featherweight crown, right from the man who had bludgeoned him for it in the first place. Many thought a rematch with Mexican wildman Mauricio Lara was a bad idea when first suggested (myself included). That sentiment remained right up until fight week when it transpired that Lara was struggling badly to make weight.
It was a miracle the bout went ahead and when it did, Lara looked weak and listless. Wood took full advantage, boxing to a decision win and on to bigger opportunities, possibly against Lopez or Josh Warrington. Lara, meanwhile, must surely move up to 130 pounds.
Thanks for reading! Drop a little heart or even a comment if you get a minute. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Speak to you all next week…
About Steve: Experienced boxing writer, author of 8 books and podcaster of over 400 eps. 15+ years in the sport. Covered hundreds of shows for newspapers and Boxing News magazine. Chief video script writer for Motivedia channel and BN+. For enquiries: firstname.lastname@example.org.