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Michael Conlan: Title tilt with Leigh Wood is just the start of my journey to become the best fighter in the world

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Leigh Wood, promoter Eddie Hearn and Michael Conlan at the Europa Hotel in Belfast

Leigh Wood, promoter Eddie Hearn and Michael Conlan at the Europa Hotel in Belfast

©INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

Michael Conlan has a laugh with Leigh Wood’s promoter Eddie Hearn at the Europa Hotel in Belfast

Michael Conlan has a laugh with Leigh Wood’s promoter Eddie Hearn at the Europa Hotel in Belfast

©INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

Caoimhin Agyarko with promoter Eddie Hearn

Caoimhin Agyarko with promoter Eddie Hearn

©INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

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Leigh Wood, promoter Eddie Hearn and Michael Conlan at the Europa Hotel in Belfast

The pressure of the occasion could be a key factor on March 12 when Michael Conlan travels to Nottingham to challenge Leigh Wood for the WBA featherweight title and the Belfast man insists he will be the one to come out triumphant.

With both camps confident they will emerge victorious, the mind games were cranked up a notch this week during the media tour that began in Nottingham on Wednesday before rolling into Europa Hotel 24 hours later.

Ahead of the scheduled start in Belfast’s city centre, Conlan presented Wood with a signed glove, a tongue-in-cheek nod to a tweet that resurfaced over the weekend from the Nottingham man back in 2019 asking where he could get signed Conlan gloves.

Wood proceeded to toss the glove away to jeers from the large crowd, while Conlan and older brother Jamie continued to throw jibes at rival trainer Ben Davison, who they claim had expressed little confidence to members of the media ahead of his fighter’s win over Reece Mould early last year.

It all added an extra element of spice to a fight that looks set to take place in a cauldron of an atmosphere at an expected sold-out Motorpoint Arena, with both camps reporting healthy ticket sales.

That will bring its own pressure on the night and Conlan insists his experience of fighting under such conditions gives him the upper hand.

“I know exactly what it is like to fight under that pressure at home,” he stressed.

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“I’ve done it three times and every show has been massive with so much expectation.

“This guy doesn’t understand that, never felt it, and it seems his demeanour has changed since yesterday when he was walking about Nottingham shaking hands with people. Today he sits backstage quiet.

“He had the opportunity to fight at Madison Square Garden and could have come to Belfast if he wanted to, but he wants to fight in Nottingham before he retires, so he knows I’ll beat him.”

Wood won the title last time out with a surprise yet conclusive victory over Can Xu when he dominated throughout before finding the finish in the final round.

The Nottingham man has had to dust himself off and rebuild following defeats to Gavin McDonnell and Jazza Dickens earlier in his career, but has done so quietly as he built to that crescendo last summer when dethroning Xu at Matchroom Fight Camp during the first lockdown.

The 33-year-old has had to do it the hard way and insists his experience of overcoming the odds will stand to him when the bell rings on March 12.

“I’m not a performing monkey, I’m a fighter,” he said of his quiet demeanour yesterday.

“In my opinion, Mick has never been in a 50-50 fight. This is new for him, whereas I have come through those challenges.

“He’s right, there is going to be a lot of pressure, but I thrive on pressure. We have seven weeks to find out and I cannot wait.

“Jamie says they are going to come and rip the belt from me; Michael says he is going to punch my head in, then says he is going to come and win on points.

“For me, coming to rip my belt from me and coming to win on points are two totally different things. Michael is a really good challenge, but all the best to him as he’s going to need it.”

While Leo Santa Cruz remains the WBA ‘Super’ champion, and the winner is slated to face the Mexican next, there is still a possibility that the WBA’s top prize will be on offer on March 12 or that the winner will be elevated after, paving the way for a unification against the winner of the IBF meeting between champion Kiko Martinez and Josh Warrington that is set to take place at the end of March.

The dream scenario for Conlan would be a unification fight taking place back in Belfast in summer and, while he has ambitions to leave no doubt as to who is top dog at 126lb, he knows he will need a big performance to get the better of Wood and is ready.

“There are possibilities anyone can lose so I’m not going to say it’s impossible, but he will not beat me,” said the former world amateur champion, who is bidding to do likewise as a pro.

“This fight means everything to me. This is my life. All I know is boxing so, believe me, March 12, ‘And the new’ 100%.

“This is the start of my journey to become the best fighter in the world and once I win this belt, I’ll go on to do whatever I have to do, but I have to win this first.”

It was also confirmed yesterday that Belfast middleweight Caoimhin Agyarko will defend his WBA international title on the undercard, with his opponent to be revealed in the coming days.


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