Michael Conlan ‘over the moon’ after world title win
Irish fighter survives first knockdown of his career to claim world title in Doha
Michael Conlan returned to his corner at the end of the first round of his World Championship final and a resigned Billy Walsh asked him: “So I guess we’re going to war?” The 23-year-old Belfast bantamweight responded in kind and he is now the first Irishman in history to claim a world title.
Irish head coach Walsh was not so much exasperated by Conlan’s decision to trade punches and mix it up, but acceptant and supportive of the necessary tactic.
Taking on the aggressive Uzbek Murodjon Akhmadaliev in the 56kg bantamweight decider, Conlan was forced on the back foot by his opponent who made the Falls Road fighter uncomfortable from the opening bell.
Fighting on the inside after abandoning his usual hit-and-move style, the Irish team captain managed to win the first round on two of the three judges’ scorecards before claiming a clean sweep in the second.
Then disaster struck in the final round as with little more than half-a-minute remaining, Conlan was flattened by a big right hook from Akhmadaliev.
Silence fell on the Ali Bin Hamad Al Attiya Arena, with a vocal section of Irish ex-pats left in shock. Conlan rose to his feet, indicated to the referee that he could continue as the official issued the mandatory eight count.
Conlan still won the last round on two of the three scorecards, despite suffering the knockdown the 23-year-old managed to see out the win (29-28, 29-29, 30-27) to become Ireland’s first male world champion after 41 years and 18 editions of the tournament.
“I’m over the moon, it was a very tough fight,” said Conlan afterwards. “It felt like he could punch from the start, but I didn’t think he had anything to put me down with.
“It was the first time I’ve ever been down in my life - I’m more embarrassed than anything, but he caught me right on the button.
“I was dazed when I was on the ground, but as soon as I stood up I thought ‘there’s no way he’s beating me here, no way!’”
While Conlan appeared to box recklessly at times when opting to trade with the Uzbek (the world No 22 and Asian silver medallist), the 23-year-old explained that it was a necessary tactic: “The gameplan was to move, but as soon as the first bell went he was on me and I thought I wouldn’t be able to keep it up for three rounds so it was time to go to war . . . I needed to beat him at his own game.”
After surviving his final-round scare, Conlan added World gold to his medal collection, which also includes European and Commonwealth titles, along with an Olympic bronze which he hopes to improve on in Rio next year.
“You can call me the Conor McGregor of boxing - I predict everything I do and I’m coming through successful,” said a delighted Conlan with a laugh.
“I was going to leave (the amateur set-up), but to be a world champion heading into an Olympic Games is some achievement,” who rued the absence of his father and club coach, John, but dedicated the win to his fiancée and his daughter.
The night was not such a happy one for Portlaoise middleweight Michael O’Reilly, who somehow lost his 75kg Olympic box-off against Hosam Abdin of Egypt.
The 22-year-old dominated the bout, despite coming under intelligent pressure from African champion Abdin, but Cuban, Uzbek and Mongolian judges produced identical 29-28 scorecards in favour of the Egyptian, scoring each round exactly the same.
“I wasn’t worried . . . I thought in my own mind that I won three rounds,” said O’Reilly. “There’s something going on because anyone who watched that fight would know I won.”
O’Reilly has other Olympic routes he may be able to pursue, while there is a slight chance he may yet qualify for the 2016 Rio Games should a convoluted qualification quota call go his way.