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Keeping up with Katie: Michael Conlan seeks to continue parallels with Taylor in Jordan Gill bout

Former amateur World Champion faces England’s Gill in the SSE Arena in a career-defining fight

There has been occasional symmetry to the careers of Michael Conlan and Katie Taylor, one Conlan hopes will continue this week. In 2012 when Taylor became the first Irish woman to win a lightweight Olympic gold medal in London, Conlan, her occasional sparring partner, was with her winning flyweight bronze.

In Rio 2016, as a crushed Taylor departed the Olympic Games with no medal, a furious Conlan followed with a profanity-laden tirade calling the whole enterprise corrupt from top to bottom, an accusation that was later supported by the 2021 McLaren report. Defeat in Rio also pushed the pair into professional boxing.

When Taylor lost to Chantelle Cameron earlier in May of this year, a week later in Belfast Conlan lost to Mexico’s IBF featherweight world champion Luis Alberto Lopez, who silenced the Belfast crowd with a knockout win in the fifth round.

Taylor’s redemption was last weekend, when she beat Cameron by majority decision and this weekend Conlan is again in the ring against former European and Commonwealth champion, Jordan Gill.

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Defeat in Belfast by Gill and 31-year-old Conlan’s professional career probably won’t survive, having also lost to Leigh Wood in 2022. While he had two wins after Wood against Miguel Marriaga and Karim Guerfi, the defeat to Lopez, his second crack at a world title, was crushing. Conlan must beat Gill at super featherweight in the SSE Arena on Saturday.

“I think the Lopez defeat was the first time I kind of considered ‘f**k this I’m done’,” said Conlan in his promotional video. “On fight night something just felt off. It’s the first time I ever felt ‘f**k me what’s going on here’. Why didn’t I perform? You’re trying to piece things together. It’s hard to go through especially when the eyes of the world are on you. It’s how you react to things and how you come back from things. I think it defines who you are as a person.”

As Taylor did last week in Liffey Valley, the west Belfast boxer took part in a public workout at Common Market in the city’s Cathedral Quarter on Wednesday. He has changed everything and has also followed Taylor by moving in under the wing of Matchroom and promoter Eddie Hearn.

More Importantly, Conlan has changed his trainer in the hope of “refreshing” his methods, motivation and the way he had been going about preparing for fights. There have been no bad words spoken about his former coach, the London-based Adam Booth, who until last August had been guiding him for the previous five years.

“I don’t blame anybody but I’m shaking things up in terms of my team and how I’m moving forward,” said Conlan, when they parted. “I think a fresh start, a fresh set-up is the best option. I’m pointing no fingers or blaming anybody. I just think I need something different.”

The principal difference came in the shape of the Cuban-born American Pedro Diaz, who Conlan has had as his coach since leaving Booth. Based in Miami, Diaz worked with the amateur boxers of the Cuban national team for four Olympic Games in 1992, 1996, 2000 and 2004 and has been connected with a string of professionals including Miguel Cotto and Guillermo Rigondeaux.

Founder of Mundo boxing, Diaz works out of Florida where Conlan has been preparing. Part of the 61-year-old’s reputation is that he rebuilds fighters. Cotto lost in Las Vegas to Manny Pacquiao in 2009 but went on to win the WBA World Super welterweight title. Diaz is also vastly experienced.

Gill (27-2-1, 8 KOs) fights for the first time since his fourth-round stoppage loss to Spain’s two-weight world champion Kiko Martinez at Wembley Arena back in October 2022, and like Conlan he is hoping to work his name back into the mix for world title action by upsetting the local draw.

“I’ve had many great nights here and I’m looking forward to creating more. Jordan is a good fighter but one standing in my way to where I want to go,” said Conlan expressing a long-held wish to become a world champion professional. “It’s somewhere I know I’m going to land. I get it. People can say what they want, have an opinion. That’s on them. It’s on me not to take it in or value it.

“It’s going to be a great fight while it lasts. But I do think I’ll knock Jordan out. No matter where I fight in Belfast, whether it’s the park (Falls) or the arena (SSE Arena), it’s loud. Jordan is going into the arena to an atmosphere he’s never experienced.”

This week has been from the Hearn playbook: public workout, press conference, weigh-in, fight. All just as Taylor did last week – and from Conlan’s point of view, he will be hoping that the symmetry can play through to the end.