Stakes huge for Michael Conlan as he bids to get career back on track

Belfast man in confident mood as he faces a must-win fight with Jordan ‘The Thrill’ Gill

Not a man to mince his words, Michael Conlan’s promoter Eddie Hearn said the quiet bit out loud at the official press conference this week in Belfast. Conlan, looking relaxed with a black beanie pulled down to his eyes sat, impassively as Hearn laid it out.

“If Michael Conlan loses, his career is over. But if he wins and wins well . . . It’s a funny old game, isn’t it? You lose: Bye-bye. You win: Wow! What’s ahead – Joe Cordina [IBF Champion]?”

Conlan barely blinked. At 32-years-old and having lost two of his last four fights, both of them world title shots, the former amateur world champion and Olympic bronze medalist understands the consequences of defeat to Jordan ‘The Thrill’ Gill on Saturday night.

Gill also has two defeats to his record in 2019 to Mario Enrique Tinoco and more recently in 2022 to Kiko Martinez by TKO. That was Gill’s last outing almost a year ago and, like Conlan, he’s hoping to use the evening as a stepping stone to better things in the division. Both are moving up in weight to 130 pounds.


“I know Jordan. I know he’s a good fighter. I know he has skills. He’s a smart boxer when he wants to be,” said Conlan.

“So, I need to be on my game. Going to Miami training with Pedro [Diaz], I’ve a new lease of life. I feel like I’ve hit the reset button. We spoke about it recently. He’s not going to teach me anything in eight weeks. He’s just dusted me off, got me doing what I do best.”

Conlan is an excellent technical boxer from his decorated amateur days and he has great footwork. But Leigh Wood knocked him out even as Conlan was winning the fight, and Luis Lopez stopped him with a stunning body shot. Conlan’s then coach, Adam Booth, saw he was in distress and threw in the towel.

Gill too has made changes to ‘freshen up’ and left long-time trainer Dave Coldwell’s training base in Sheffield. He will have Barry Smith in his corner in the Odyssey Arena. On form Gill is a clever fighter and can look good in the ring and it’s that form he hopes to rekindle. It hasn’t been around for a while.

But he has shown he has grit in his game. His knockout of Karim Guerfi in February of last year arrived after he had come through a serious amount of punishment before landing a fight-ending uppercut.

The two have also sparred together in the past so there is little they don’t know about each other’s strengths.

“I should have moved up maybe three or four years ago,” said Gill.

“One fight that highlighted that I have no quit in me is the Guerfi fight. Whether I have to do that again we’ll find out on Saturday. I’m really excited and ready to go. All of the pressure is on him. He’s the star of the show. I’m just the opponent.”

Conlan always draws a crowd and they expect 7,000 in Belfast, with other names on the card such as Caoimhin Agyarko, Sean McComb, Tyrone McKenna and Lewis Crocker also bringing in local support. West Belfast welterweight McKenna and Crocker, from the East of the city, come from contrasting backgrounds and bring a uniquely Belfast rivalry.

“I don’t like to bring politics or religion into it,” McKenna told the Irish News. “It’s a big enough fight that you don’t need that. But it is coming into it a wee bit. I’m getting mails with certain flags and I’m getting tortured on Instagram a bit.”

If Conlan wins at the top of the bill, Hearn, who also promotes Katie Taylor, will have the pair on the same show sometime soon. Aiming for the stars, if Croke Park ever materialises, Irish team-mates from the 2012 London Olympic Games would likely see themselves appearing together again.

“There’s an awful lot of reasons why I know I’ll get him out of there,” said Conlan. “He lacks something. he has quit in him. And that’s it. I’m not going back and saying this happened in sparring, this happened in sparring. Sparring is sparring. Things happen.

“But if you wanted to take confidence from anything, you know, I definitely can. And I’ve seen an awful lot of things throughout that time and even in his performances since that time, I’ve seen an awful lot of things where you go ‘yeah okay, I understand’. I know what I got to do.”

Conlan’s record is 18-2-0 with southpaw Gill 10 fights better off experience wise at 27-2-1.

The event begins at 7pm with the ring walk for the main event around 10.30pm. #

The rest of the card is:

Tyrone McKenna v Lewis Crocker; Welterweight

Caoimhin Agyarko v Troy Williamson; Super-welterweight

Sean McComb v Sam Maxwell; Super-lightweight

Gerard Hughes v Ruadhan Farrell; Super-bantamweight

Cameron Vuong v TBA; Lightweight

Fearghus Quinn v TBA; Middleweight

The event will be shown live exclusively on DAZN.

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson is a sports writer with The Irish Times