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Michael Conlan knows he faces a tricky test against Miguel Marriaga as he aims to bounce back from first pro defeat

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Michael Conlan will be determined to avoid a second straight defeat

Michael Conlan will be determined to avoid a second straight defeat

Sportsfile via Getty Images

Miguel Marriaga will pose a tricky test

Miguel Marriaga will pose a tricky test

Top Rank Inc via Getty Images

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Michael Conlan will be determined to avoid a second straight defeat

Recovering from a first career loss in professional boxing can be a tricky process.

Having built a perfect record, suddenly the air of invincibility is gone and that can play tricks with the mind.

Michael Conlan travelled to Nottingham back in March convinced he would relieve Leigh Wood of the WBA featherweight title, and for long stages the confidence was well placed as he dropped the champion heavily and had him in a world of trouble in the second.

As the rounds ticked by, Conlan was the most likely victor, but things began to turn as Wood gathered a head of steam and a knockdown in the 11th which was part slip swung momentum towards the champion, who took advantage of the exhausted Belfast man to knock him out of the ring and shatter his dreams.

Conlan was keen to jump straight back into a rematch of the Fight of the Year contender, but with that not forthcoming for now, he accepted a dangerous assignment against the heavy-handed Miguel Marriaga at the SSE Arena on Saturday night in order to put himself right back at the front of the queue.

He would have been forgiven for taking an easier challenge, but going the easy route is not in his nature and while he has learned the lessons of his first defeat, his mindset remains as strong as ever.

“I was devastated,” he reflected. “No matter what anybody said, it’s my first loss since before 2016 — I don’t count that (Rio Olympics ‘defeat’ to Vladimir Nikitin) as a loss. It really hurt me. It took time and if you ask me now if I’m over it, I’ll still say no as I still want to right the wrong.

“This fight is the right one to do as it gets me right back into a good place mentally and gets me right back into that (world title) position.

“I know the reasons why things happened and the only thing I can put it down to is that it was meant to happen that way. Unfortunately, it did so. I just have to get back on the horse.

“This is my story, my journey and the way it is going to go. It’s not how I thought it would be, but it’s the road I have to travel.”

Despite that defeat, Conlan’s performance won new admirers, but that is cold comfort having come agonisingly close to world honours as a pro after doing so as an amateur in 2015.

He desperately wants another crack at the big one, but then so too does Marriaga who arrives in Belfast with a record of 30-5 with 28 of those wins inside the distance, so he is a very dangerous opponent for Conlan.

‘The Scorpion’ may be at the veteran stage of his career, but he has been in with the best and on three occasions has challenged for top honours — each ending in defeat to a who’s who of sport including Vasiliy Lomachenko, Oscar Valdez and Nicholas Walters.

With 28 stoppages, Conlan is well aware that he needs to be switched on from the opening bell until the last, but insists the lessons from Nottingham have been absorbed and he is ready to deliver the performance he needs to get his world title aspirations back on track.

“This is not an easy fight,” he accepted. “I know people are commenting that he is older now, but you don’t have 30 wins and 28 knockouts for no reason. Lomachenko is the only person to stop him and it wasn’t even really a stoppage, he just retired in the corner.

“Nicholas Walters and Oscar Valdez couldn’t stop him and they are big-punching guys. I was there when he fought Oscar and it was a war, a Fight of the Year contender, so I know the task ahead and that it’s not going to be an easy fight. I need to be on my ‘A’ game, which I will be.”


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