Three Irish boxers impress in their own ways as they advance to last 16 in Almaty
Conlan puts Mexican Gonzalez to the sword with mix of surgeon’s skill and fighter’s ferocity
Michael Conlan (blue) lands a left to the jaw of Mexican Brian Gonzalez on his way to victory at the Wortld Boxing Champoionships in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho
A breezy Michael Conlan referred to himself as a “tough old kid” yesterday in Almaty. The over-riding sense was the 22-year-old from Beechmount in West Belfast was vastly under-selling himself.
A common theme in Irish boxing was, however, set to a dramatic back drop. In a clean sweep, Conlan, Donegal’s Jason Quigley and heavyweight Tommy McCarthy advanced to the quarter-finals of the World Championships and stand one win away from a medal.
In neither of his two fights so far has Conlan been anything other than a superintendent of the ring, an inflated presence discharging his 56kg with a mixture of subtle choreography and wilful brutishness.
He has shown himself to have a surgeon’s hands and the ferocity of a rock breaker over three minutes, a wrecking suite of skills flailing Mexican Brian Gonzalez found out to his cost.
Once more, the bantamweight obliged the judges to award him the bout, this time in the round of 16 and unanimously sent him into the last eight, where the margins will now considerably narrow against better opponents.
Today flyweight Paddy Barnes, light heavyweight Joe Ward and lightweight Seán McComb threaten to add to the current three in the quarter-finals; Barnes, a double-Olympic medal winner and Ward a former European champion, proven competitors at this level.
It will be McComb’s first venture this deep into a major championship, Azerbaijan’s unseeded Elvin Isayev standing in his way.
If Gonzalez had any tactic against Conlan it was to hope one of his wild, arching swings would find contact. But the Irish boxer had poise as well as movement and more than once it was possible to look on as he preternaturally watched Gonzalez’s glove feather the top of his head or almost brush the skin of his turning cheek.
When the bell rang at the end of the second round Conlan raised his arms in the air as he walked towards his corner in a show of confidence that after six minutes allowed him feel the fight was won.
It was, 30-27, 30-27, 30-27.
“I knew I had it in the bag,” he said. “I’m a tough old kid myself. I knew I was not going to get hurt. Look, I sparred with John Joe Nevin, one of the biggest hitters in bantam. I’ve sparred light welterweights in Belfast and in Dublin and I’m standing with them. That fight there, I knew I had it won.”
Conlan meets Russia’s Vladimir Nikitin in tomorrow’s quarter-final, while McCarthy faces the fight of his career against the number two seed, Argentina’s Yamil Peralta.
Quigley, seeded five, will fight Hungarian number four seed Zoltan Harsca for a medal.
European champion Quigley changed tactics midway through his bout with Scotland’s Ashton Brown. From struggling at a distance, Quigley worked Brown from close in the second round.
It was a busy, bruising match against the robust and hard-hitting Scot. But Quigley’s enduring quality is he brings fearless self-belief to the ring along with high-tempo punching.
It was a curious meeting for him as he explained Brown was just a couple of doors away in the team hotel and like a comedy sketch the two kept meeting in the corridors knowing they were about to fight.
Trip on the canvas
The 22-year-old did go down on one knee in the second round and while it looked like Brown had tagged him, it was later shown to be more of a trip on the canvas.
The judges saw it like that too and awarded him all three rounds 30-27, 30-27, 29-28.
“I started hitting him with some heavy shots,” said Quigley after the bout. “When I did that he smiled back at me. I knew then that I was hurting.”
He knows the days ahead are fraught with danger and tomorrow for the first time meets a boxer ranked one place higher.
“I dedicated my life to boxing and this is where it all pays off,” added Quigley. “The closer you get to the final, the closer everybody finds it. I know boys are going to fight 10 per cent better.”
McCarthy’s 29-28, 29-28, 29-28 win over Ahmatovic marks the high point of his career.
The Belfast man has been looking in for some years without moving into medal territory but yesterday he kept his engine revving in a ferocious three-round exchange of punches.
“I’m delighted but I want to go all the way,” said McCarthy. “I dug deep today. I felt it was going my way. But I wasn’t even thinking about winning – all I thought about was hitting him as hard as I could.”
Today (Irish time): (Lightweight) Seán McComb v Elvin Isayev (Aze) 9.30am; (Light heavyweight) Joe Ward v Norbert Harsca (Hun) 10.30am; (Flyweight) Paddy Barnes v Simon Nzioki (Ken) 245pm.