Super-talented featherweight star Michael Conlan believes that his world title coronation is within touching distance as he prepares for battle against IBF titleholder Luis Alberto Lopez at the SSE Arena in his home city of Belfast on Saturday.
Conlan (18-1, 9 KOs) has seen what we’ve all seen. Lopez thumped then-unbeaten prospect Isaac Lowe (KO 7) into submission in December 2021, confirming himself as an authentic danger man at 126 pounds. Just one year later, the Mexican slugger scored a career-best triumph over a terrific fighter in Josh Warrington (MD 12) to lift the IBF championship.
However, despite acknowledging his opponent’s quality, the challenger is anything but overawed.
WATCH: Lopez vs. Conlan, exclusively on ESPN+ in the U.S.
“I think he’s a fantastic fighter and very reckless,” said Conlan in a recent interview with The Sporting News. “He’s very unorthodox, jumps in, does things that most fighters don’t do. That’s his advantage, but his biggest strength will be his biggest weakness. There’s an awful lot I can pick out and capitalize on.
“[I will win because of] my skillset, the experience I’ve got from my last world title fight… just my all-round experience. My boxing skills, my boxing mindset, my IQ… everything. I think [winning this fight] is a no-brainer for me.”
When Conlan mentions his “last world title fight,” he is of course referring to that epic struggle against then-WBA regular champion Leigh Wood in March 2022. Southpaw Conlan decked Wood with a terrific left hand in the opening round and fought brilliantly before succumbing to a dramatic, last-gasp 12th-round knockout defeat.
Both men’s reputations were enhanced after what was later named The Ring Magazine’s Fight of the Year.
“I’ve learned an awful lot about myself as a fighter and as a person,” stated Conlan with regards to his first pro defeat. “I’ve experienced the agony of defeat, being so close to victory. The performance I put in [against Wood] and the tempo I fought at, it was a ferocious pace. I feel like I’ve learned how to handle and manage things differently in fights now.
“Against Leigh Wood, I didn’t prepare to almost have him gone in the first round. This time, [for Lopez], I’ve prepared for that if it happens. I’ve prepared for a ferocious pace. I’ve prepared for a chess match. I’ve prepared for every single thing I can for this one. I can only see me by victory.”
Around the same time as Lopez vs. Conlan, across the Irish sea in Manchester, Leigh Wood will fight a rematch against another rampaging Mexican world champion, Mauricio Lara. In February, Lara came from behind to score a sizzling seventh-round stoppage over Wood to lift the WBA version of the title.
There was a direct rematch clause, and Wood exercised that quickly.
“I think it’s too soon for Leigh,” offered Conlan without hesitation. “I think he’s jumped into this fight too soon, and I think Lara does him quicker this time. He’s come off two fights in a row where he’s had concussive damage.
“In my fight, he was concussed a few times, and in the Lara fight, he was concussed once or twice. It’s not good for his health, and I don’t think it’s the right fight to jump into. I think if he’d took a bit of time and had a bit more rest, he probably could have adjusted.
“In that [first] fight, [Wood’s] the one that lost that fight for himself by trading hooks with a hooker. If he’d stuck to his boxing, he may have boxed and won. But, for Leigh, I think that will be quite hard to do that this time. It’s not like he has a really high-level IQ.
“To do that consistently will be very tough against someone like Lara. He was on his way to doing it. If he had a bit more time, that could have happened, but I think it’s too soon.”
MORE: All you need to know about Lopez vs. Conlan
As intriguing as Lara vs. Wood 2 may be, there’s only one thing on Conlan’s mind. It’s been over six years since the Belfast man closed the lid on a brilliant amateur career and the skids were greased for him to attain professional glory.
What does he see when Lopez enters his mind?
“Me winning by any means necessary: stoppage, points, close, wide,” said Conlan. “It does not matter as long as my hand is raised, that’s all I see is me with the belt around my waist.
“I’ve had a photo on my phone from, I think, the 3rd of April of me and my younger brother (Jamie), who does all the grafting and work for Conlan Boxing, holding the belt. It’s a photo I’ve looked at every day and I cannot wait to replicate that photo. That’s what I see, holding that belt, proud and happy.”
WATCH: Lopez vs. Conlan, exclusively on ESPN+ in the U.S.2023-05-25T19:28:53Z dg43tfdfdgfd