MICHAEL CONLAN HAS been sensationally defeated on his return to the ring tonight in Belfast.
The 32-year-old Irishman (18-3, 9KOs) was stopped in the seventh round by unfancied Englishman Jordan Gill (28–2-1, 9 KOs) at the SSE Arena.
Dropped in round two and hurt repeatedly throughout the contest, Conlan showed enormous fighting spirit but was eventually halted on his feet by the visiting underdog and now finds his career in tatters.
Stopped painfully in five rounds when challenging IBF featherweight champion Luis Alberto Lopez at the same venue back in May, Conlan had elected to continue in his search for world title honours, fighting at super featherweight tonight but his third tilt was over before it began.
In the wake of that defeat Conlan parted company with trainer Adam Booth and promoter Top Rank, relocating to Miami and the care of Cuban maestro Pedro Diaz. Promotionally, Conlan’s own outfit recently struck a partnership with Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom Boxing, bringing the British giants back to the city for the first time since their run of nights with Ryan Burnett back in 2017 for what appeared to be a relatively straightforward fight.
Diaz was instrumental in a Cuban amateur team which claimed 30 medals (including 20 golds) across four Olympic Games from 1992 to 2004 before moving to America and working with professional champions such as Miguel Cotto and Guillermo Rigondeaux. However, any chance that tonight would be a smooth trial run or bedding-in process ahead of bigger things were quickly shattered by an inspired Gill.
The Cambridgeshire fighter started aggressively and gave Conlan an early chin check, momentarily stiffening the home favourite’s legs in the opening round with an overhand right and he would go one better at the start of the second. A chopping left hook sent a stunned Conlan down in the corner, silencing the arena. On unsteady legs, Conlan fought hard to survive and made it out of the round, wobbling back to Diaz in the corner.
With this fight taking place at super featherweight, it was Gill who looked to be the stronger man and he remained on the front foot in the third as Conlan sought to return to his boxing but he was quickly dragged into a pitched battle. Trading shots with the former Commonwealth and European champion, Conlan was again rattled but managed to keep his feet under himself.
The drama spun once again at the start of the fourth, this time with Conlan twice hurting Gill to the body and forcing him to shell up. However, the visitor was still having success himself when he managed to back the Belfast boxer to the ropes. Conlan then enjoyed a solid and more controlled fifth but, after such a nightmare start, he was walking a tightrope as he attempted to claw back enough rounds on the scorecards.
The 2015 World Amateur champion’s reflexes were quite vividly not what they once were as he continued to be caught and buzzed by Gill – who is not a noted puncher – but Conlan’s heart could not be doubted as he continued to dig in and trade with ‘The Thrill’, rousing the uneasy crowd.
The cards would be irrelevant as it all came crashing down in the seventh for Conlan. Trapped against the ropes and taking heavy leather from Gill, referee Howard Foster jumped to end the fight and empty the arena.
Conlan and his team quickly departed the ring and his next move, considering the narrative in the build-up to this fight, could now be retirement after a storied career in which he can lay claim to being one of Ireland’s greatest amateur boxers but never made it to the very, very top of the cut-throat professional ranks.
The pick of an outstanding undercard was the all-Belfast welterweight clash between Lewis Crocker (18-0, 10 KOs) and Tyrone McKenna (23-4-1, 6 KOs).
The biggest Titanic City derby since the epic fights of the late Hugh Russell and Davy Larmour over 40 years ago, it pitted the ridiculous chin of West Belfast veteran McKenna against the much-vaunted power of rising South Belfast prospect Crocker. In the end, it was the unstoppable force that was victorious, but the immovable object remained standing after ten brutal rounds.
Olympic bronze medallist Russell, who passed away in October at the age of just 63, was honoured with a ten-bell salute before the fight and his name was emblazoned on the fight kit of McKenna who showed incredible grit but could not put a dent in Crocker.
Following memorable ringwalks for both as their respective sets of fans created a deafening atmosphere, Crocker started violently. The Sandy Row slugger spent the opening two rounds hammering shots into McKenna who did well to survive the early onslaught. With plenty of play-acting between the two following a heated build-up, a smiling Crocker would walk through any shots thrown by his Lenadoon foe and had McKenna hurt to the body at the end of the fifth.
McKenna’s tactic, the obvious tactic, was to try and bring his inexperienced foe into deep waters, looking to tire, frustrate, and rile him up at every opportunity. While McKenna did land his best work in the second of the fight, it was in small pockets and Crocker continued to impress and largely dominate as he claimed a near shut-out on the cards.
In a major step-up, West Belfast light middleweight Caoimhín Agyarko (14-0, 7 KOs) squeezed past recent British champion Troy Williamson on a split-decision. Nip and tuck to start, Agyarko began to take control from the fifth round onwards in a close-quarters scrap with the bull-strong Darlington fighter. ‘Black Thunder’ had to overcome a few hairy moments in the eighth which led to him change tact and box on the back foot for the remainder, circling the constantly advancing Williamson and edge the fight on two of the three cards for a well-deserved coming-of-age win.
The other major undercard bout saw another Westie, Turf Lodge light welterweight Sean McComb (18-1 5 KOs), largely bamboozle faded former British champion Sam Maxwell. The European Games bronze medallist scored flash knockdowns in the third and fifth rounds before putting Maxwell, his former housemate and training partner, down heavily in the ninth, en-route to a wide points win.
In a mini Belfast derby, novice super bantamweights Ruadhan Farrell (4-1-1, 2 KOs) and Gerard Hughes (4-0-1) duked it out on the early undercard in a bout controversially ruled a draw. Farrell appeared to have done more than enough across the six rounds but this opinion was not shared by the scoring referee.
There were also wins early on for English prospects Leli Buttigieg and Cameron Vuong who stopped Mario Oliveira and Michal Dufek respectively while bruising Armagh middleweight Fearghus Quinn (9-0, 3 KOs) opened the show with a gruelling points triumph over Bulgarian journeyman Angel Emilov.2023-12-03T00:01:57Z dg43tfdfdgfd