'A loss is not going to define me' - How Michael Conlan picked his boxing career off the floor

The Irish Olympian's knockout – at the hands of Leigh Wood - was one that families have nightmares about.
'A loss is not going to define me' - How Michael Conlan picked his boxing career off the floor

Down and out: Leigh Wood knocks out Michael Conlan during their titanic WBA World Featherweight Title fight at Motorpoint Arena Nottingham on March 12. Pic: Nigel Roddis/Getty Images

The last sight many will have seen of Michael Conlan was of his lifeless form falling head-first from the ring. 

It was the sort of knockout – at the hands of Leigh Wood - that families have nightmares about.

It had been the biggest fight of his career and, for 10½ rounds it went to plan. Then things unravelled horribly.

“People thought I was dead,” Conlan said. “There was such a big show made about it.

“It’s boxing, people get knocked out. That was the first time in my life I have ever been knocked out. The most hurt thing was my ego.” 

It had been the biggest night of his career, as he challenged Wood for the WBA featherweight title in Nottingham in March. For most of the 12 rounds things had been going well. He knocked Wood down in the first round, dominated most of the rest, but he tired dramatically in the eleventh when he was knocked down.

In the twelfth, he was exhausted. As he backed up and sat on the ropes, he was hit by a punch and slumped through the ropes, crashing straight onto the arena floor. The scene was horrific. Paramedics rushed to help Conlan, but because he had fallen out of the ring on the far side from the television cameras and production team, viewers were left in the dark about his condition.

He was soon on a stretcher and being rushed to hospital.

“I was awake on the floor,” Conlan said. “But because you are concussed, you lose your memory.

“The last thing I remember is going out for the twelfth and then it’s vague. I remember being tired and then being in close and going back to the ropes and doing some stupid defensive moves instead of just ducking down and under.

“I was up on the floor because my father said he was trying to get the oxygen mask off so he could take out the gumshield.

“Then I remember being on the stretcher going out and I saw my brother and he said ‘What happened, did you lose? Was it bad?’ And I said ‘We’ll talk about it later’.” 

After checks in hospital, Conlan was allowed to go back to his hotel. By the next morning, he was already talking about coming back to Nottingham for a rematch.

“The only way I can look at it is to say ‘that’s boxing, it happens’,” he said. “My brother, Jamie, said ‘I don’t want to see that, what’s the point?’ That’s understandable. But everyone else knows. When I watched him, I said the same things when I saw him getting hurt.

“I always felt I was comfortable in the fight, I felt it was easy. He winced every time I hit him to the body and he was hurt every time I hit him to the head. He’s tough and resilient and he showed that. So fair play to him.

“I got too greedy, I was punching when I didn’t need to punch. I was trying to get him out of there. Probably the worst thing was me knocking him down in the first round because it made me expend so much energy trying to get him out of there.

“I am not a one-punch knockout artist, I hadn’t prepared myself for that. So I tried to finish him in the next round and he was out on his feet for most of that round. Going out for the twelfth, I was f***ed.” 

The rematch never came, but on Saturday, Conlan returns to the ring, with his dreams still in place, as he faces Miguel Marriaga, of Colombia, at the Odyssey Arena, Belfast.

It is a tough return against a boxer who challenged both Vasyl Lomachenko and Oscar Valdez for world titles, but if Conlan, 30, wants to be a world champion himself one day, he does not believe he can afford too long away.

“A lot of fighters would take a lot of time out and say they need to recover,” he said. “I need to stay active. A loss is not going to define me, I won’t let it. The worst thing I could do is sit and wait.

“People soon forget. I’m in a good position still. What happened was one punch changed the fight. I know for me to get back in that position I need to have a good fight, a hard fight and a credible opponent.

“I’m in this to make as much money as I can and win as many belts as I can. I’ll know when to finish. I have always had an age and a time when I know to get out. I don’t have loads of years left, but I believe I will still achieve my goal of becoming a world champion.”

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