The mindset is different, but the emotion is still there. For a long time, Michael Conlan was hurt following his devastating if thrilling knockout defeat to Leigh Wood in the only loss of his career so far.
That was in March, and he subsequently licked his wounds. The 30-year-old sulked and moped, went to Portugal for a month to spend time with those important to him and then started the healing process. He began to explore what went wrong, how and why, and as his resolved stiffened, he returned to trainer Adam Booth to set about the comeback.
Conlan meets Colombian Miguel Marriaga in Belfast on August 6 with points to prove and the same goal to achieve, to become a world champion.
And as he’s gone about his business back in the gym, he’s already broken his 5km personal best, going sub-16 minutes in a time he hopes to take down closer to 15 by fight time.
“I enjoyed it,” he said of the run. “I reckon I could definitely do low 15s. Sub 15.30 definitely. There was no stage where I said, ‘This was too hard.’ There was no doubt.”
Yet he wasn’t being driven by the haunting images of the Wood battle but by a stablemate who said he was going to beat Conlan’s previous best.
Conlan is not being inspired by revenge as he returns to the ring but by his passion for the sport and his desire to wear a world title.
The Irishman has ghosts to lay to rest against Marriaga in his first bout since he was unceremoniously dumped out of the ring in Nottingham with 95 seconds left in a fight he had been winning.
“I’m excited,” Conlan insisted of August 6. “I’m really looking forward to get back in there and getting rid of the last fight, getting that out of the psyche and moving back in to the winning bracket. I just want to get on the horse as quickly as possible. I don’t think there’s any need to sit and dwell on the past. I look towards the future and becoming a world champion and achieving my goal. From that last fight, I think people will look at me a bit differently now – in a good way probably, with a bit more respect for my skillset ¬– but now I’ve got to go in and prove to myself I’m what I know I can be, a world champion.”
Conlan sounds different now. Post-fight gloom descended for weeks and months and even the Portuguese sun couldn’t breakthrough the darkness.
“It took a while, I’ll be honest,” he admitted. “I dwelled on it, I sat on it, I slept on it and it won’t be nice until I rewrite it but, at the same time, I saw the good stuff that happened [from it]. I understand the mistakes I made and it helps me progress towards the future and become a better fighter so I’ll have taken more from that fight than any of my wins as a professional so far and it’s going to make me a better fighter. It’s win or learn, and I had to learn the hard way but I’ve learned really well so I’m happy in a sense.”
He also has a built-in motivator. While he won’t rule out facing Wood again, he gets the feeling the WBA champion won’t be keen to do it once more but being so close to glory that he could taste it has given Conlan a glimpse of the promised land. That it all came apart in the final seconds is a driving force that will never leave him.
“It will be the biggest motivator for me that I’ll ever have in my boxing career because of the silly things that happened that I should have corrected myself,” he continued. “But I’ll always kick myself for it. There are times I’ll be lying there thinking, ‘If I had done this, if I had done that…’ Shoulda, woulda, coulda… But those little questions will always creep in. Leigh Wood’s career will probably be remembered for that moment and my career up until now, until I go on and do what I know I’m capable of, I will be remembered for that and the Olympics… I’m going to start to flip the board here and become the world champion I know I can be. It’s not like I’m getting slower or getting worse. I’m getting more mature. I’m getting better with age so I’m looking forward to the next few fights and regaining my position to become world champion and I know I will.”
It starts again with battle-tested Marriaga, someone Conlan has plenty of respect for. Then there’s the added pressure of confronting the demons that could manifest in the build-up from the Wood night.
Conlan’s even-handed about what might be going through his mind as the return draws near.
“You’ll never know until you experience it and you go through it,” Conlan concluded. “I could have been forgiven for having an easier fight than Miguel Marriaga but, in my opinion, I need to get back in to the level I know I can compete at. I think I can beat him and look good doing it, but it’s a stern test. It’s not an easy fight. He’s a serious competitor who’s coming to win. The only person to stop him is Lomachenko and he’s been in some tough fights with top fighters and world champions. If I was to go in against Joe Bloggs, people wouldn’t blink an eye saying I was coming back off a knockout loss and my first loss, but I think for me to get back to where I want to get to as quickly as possible, Marriaga is the right guy.”