Sporting Advent Calendar #19: Michael Conlan becomes a world champion

Irish boxer answered the increasing demand for success - but it proved a bitter sweet end to 2015

All with their world championship medals, Michael O’Reilly with his son MJ, Michael Conlon with his daughter Luisne and Joe Ward. Photograph: Inpho

All with their world championship medals, Michael O’Reilly with his son MJ, Michael Conlon with his daughter Luisne and Joe Ward. Photograph: Inpho

 

It was a year of upheaval; a year of boxing again rising to the ever growing demand for medals and looking at the world as a place it can do business and flourish.

It was a year of the wispy Michael Conlan from the terraced streets of Beechmount in west Belfast greening the desert and delivering gold for Ireland in Doha.

Weighing in at 56 kilos, Conlan didn’t starve Irish fans of high drama when he stepped through the ropes against Uzbekistan’s Murodjon Akhmadaliev for the world bantamweight title.

Rather than a cautious hit and move strategy that had served him so well through the earlier rounds, Conlan went to war with the Uzbek and almost paid a heavy price.

Alkhmadaliev, who had immediately set out to unnerve the Irishman and draw him into a brawl found an opportunity. Throwing a big right hook in the final round, he caught the 23-year-old clean and floored him.

It was the first time in his career that Conlan had ever been knocked to the canvas. He survived that indignity, which he later said was ‘embarrassing’ but was not so dazed as to be incapable of defending himself for the final stages.

The judges marked it in his favour 30-27, 29-28, 29-28 for a 3-0 unanimous decision and the first time in the 41-year history of the tournament that an Irish fighter, other than Katie Taylor, had won the gold medal.

In his corner were Head Coach Billy Walsh and assistant Zaur Antia, the last time the pair would work an Irish corner at a major championships.

On return to Ireland Walsh left to work with the USA Women’s Boxing Programme claiming he was badly treated by the governing IABA. After a public hearing on the matter, the IABA conceded that they had suffered reputational damage over the mishandling of their most successful coach. Conlan and Walsh, a bitter sweet end to 2015.

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