Michael Conlan claimed you can call him ‘Mystic Mick’ or the ‘Conor McGregor of boxing’ when it comes to successful predictions, but ‘champion of the world’ would be a more appropriate sobriquet this morning after he last night became the first Irishman to claim world championship gold.
The 23-year-old Belfast bantamweight was ecstatic after his win, although slightl embarrassed after a final-round knockdown at the hands of Uzbek Murodjon Akhmadaliev.
That emotion was understandable if slightly different to the terror which surely struck Conlan’s friends, family and supporters watching live on TV, while a stunned hush descended on the previously vocal crowd of Irish ex-pats in the Ali Bin Hamad Al Attiya Arena.
Conlan rose back to his feet after Akhmadaliev’s right hook put him on the floor, seeing out the last 20 seconds or so to become world champion on scorecards of 29-28, 29-28, 30-27 in a 3-0 unanimous points win.
Curiously, even the final round was scored to Conlan by two of the judges, despite the knockdown, although it was a deserved win as the Belfast native managed to brawl his way to victory having been forced to abandon his usual slick style due to the relentless aggression of Akhmadaliev.
“I knew it was going to be a tough fight because he boxes with aggression and he comes forward all the time,” said Conlan. “I actually thought I made it a bit easier by going for it, I felt in control, but the shot he hit me with was a peach. If I wasn’t as fit as I am, I wouldn’t have been able to get up.
“It was the first time I’ve ever been down in my life, I’ve never had to worry about that so maybe it’s a bit of a wake-up call just to stick to my boxing and get the longevity in my career by keeping out of the way,” added the Irish team captain, who picked up his nation’s first male gold in the 41-year history of the tournament.
“You can call me ‘the Conor McGregor of boxing’ — I predict everything I do and I’m coming through successful! I didn’t want to leave the amateurs without being world champion. To be a world champion heading into an Olympic Games is some achievement.
“Call me Mystic Mick! I’m coming through with everything I’m saying, I’m not just making false promises. I promised I was going to be world champion, I promised I was going to qualify for the Olympics through the WSB, I promised I’d be European and Commonwealth champion and I’ve done everything I said I’d do.”
There was no joy for Portlaoise middleweight Michael O’Reilly, however, who lost out to Egypt’s Hosam Abdin in an Olympic box-off on identical scores of 29-28 from Uzbek, Cuban and Mongolian judges.
If the final-round scorecards for Conlan’s bout appeared odd, the scores of O’Reilly’s fight were downright bizarre as the 22-year-old Irishman dominated the bout but only won the final round, according to the judges.
The loss was a major blow to O’Reilly’s chances of Olympic qualification, although other qualifiers are to come, while a quota loophole may yet see him book a ticket to Rio through his world bronze medal as a losing semi-finalist.
“I thought in my own mind that I won three rounds,” said O’Reilly. “Now I’m after hearing I was down in the first two rounds, so there’s something going on because anyone who watched that fight would know I won.”
Joe Ward bids to become the second Irishman to claim senior world gold when he takes on Cuba’s two-time world champion Julio La Cruz tonight in the light-heavyweight final. The Moate man is on the plane to Rio thanks to his top-two finish here, but head coach Billy Walsh said: ““He wants to beat this Cuban, he’s not going in there to make up the numbers.”
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