Michael Conlan has been around boxing long enough to know how to do a pre-fight interview having already tipped the scales before his fight this weekend.
A two-time Olympian who is now 17-1, Conlan fights Frenchman Karim Guerfi inside Belfast’s SSE Arena on Saturday night. So what does the ideal pre-fight interview consist of?
1. Telling the reporter that you’ve had a great camp.
2. Talking up the opponent.
3. Talking about the plans that come afterwards.
Conlan is a pro. He’s done this all before and is perfectly at ease saying, “I feel great. I’m very excited. I know everyone says it but I’ve had good preparation or this one. Everything seemed to fall into place at the right time, we’ve done the right things, I’ve made weight so easy and it’s gone really well, so I’m looking forward to being in there and putting a performance on.”
It's a box ticked. Conlan says the right things but understands the difference between saying the right things and doing the right things. It is only then that focus shifts to Guerfi and the threat he poses, because if Conlan ignores point two and goes straight to point three, the third point might not even come about.
Guerfi is known to UK fans after a dramatic battle with Jordan Gill, a one-round stoppage loss to Lee McGregor and other visits to face the likes of Ryan Farrag and Zhanat Zhakiyanov. Conlan has done his homework.
“He’s had a good few fights in the UK, with people from the UK, so I’ve seen a lot of him,” Conlan said. “I know what he does and what he can’t do. I know he has a bit of pop [power] and stuff, so I’ve got to be aware but I do believe I’m a few levels above him and I’ll show it on the night.”
That is not to say Conlan is looking beyond Guerfi. He knows what can happen if he takes his eye off the ball and the dangers of doing that, so he is paying the visitor to Belfast respect.
“I rate him as a risky fight, a banana skin-type fight,” Conlan continued. “He can punch and he has that kind of Kiko Martinez-like thing where he always comes to win every time. He doesn’t come to lie down and he’s a potential banana-skin. I think he’s a good fighter. I don’t think he’s an easy fight.”
Besides, there are no free passes in the gym where the Irishman trains. Conlan is coached by Adam Booth and Conlan’s stablemates Harlem Eubank and Josh Kelly have won their most recent fights on consecutive weekends. They have been training hard together, pushing one another, and Conlan was happy for both his friends, with Kelly winning the British title against Troy Williamson.
“It's stuff we see every day in the gym [of Kelly’s impressive win over Williamson] and stuff Adam has been saying about and what I see, so the mood is very good, we’re all in a good place and two wins back-to-back with Josh and Harlem, now it’s time to go again with me,” Conlan added. “I’m always learning. The moment you stop learning is the moment you should probably hang them up. My relationship with Adam is as strong as it was at the start, probably stronger, we gel brilliantly. We know each other now and we know the things that work and the things that don’t work but we’re always trying to find different things to get better.”
But Guerfi is the underdog. Conlan is expected to come through and the speculation is the Irishman will be boxing for a world title in his next fight. Conlan’s a fixture in the ring on St Patrick’s Day.
“Potentially, that does seem to be the plan,” Michael admitted. “I know I could have sat on my hands and waited to March and fought in March but the plan was to stick to what we do, have three months in 12 months instead of waiting until March. I fought in August and maybe some people didn’t want me to fight too soon before March but I don’t want to be inactive and I wanted to get back to it.”
Venues in New York and Belfast have already been booked in advance but Conlan must navigate Guerfi before getting too far ahead of himself. Conlan will only allow himself to say he’d like to face “any champion” next. “Any belt that comes available, I’ll fight for.”
This weekend, Josh Warrington defends his IBF featherweight championship against Alberto Lopez. Warrington wants to fight in America, and while he’s talked about having his name up in lights in Las Vegas, a huge fight in Madison Square Garden with the Leeds warrior would be appealing for Conlan. However, Warrington is a Matchroom fighter, Conlan is with rivals Top Rank, so it’s not an easy fight to make.
“Massive,” said Conlan, of how big it could be if Warrington and his legion of Leeds fans descended on New York to meet the Irish on St Patrick’s Day. “It’s a fight that could do massive numbers, possibly sell out the Garden, and that’s the big room, so I would hope that politics wouldn’t be in the way and it could happen, but it would probably be better for me if Lopez wins because he is with Top Rank and it’s a fight that could be made much easier. I like Josh, and I actually hope he wins. I think he’s a good fighter and I think it would be a very good fight with me and him.”
Conlan knows about good fights. He was in a frontrunner for the Fight of the Year this year, having lost his dramatic clash with Leigh Wood back in March in Nottingham. But even if that fight wins awards, they won’t mean much to Conlan for the role he played.
“No, it means nothing to me,” Conlan said. “Nothing. If I had won, when I retire it would probably be nice to see but it’s not one I’ve celebrated. It probably will win because it was a top fight and you always need that dance partner in boxing and that night mine was Leigh Wood, and I would love it to happen again – but whether or not Leigh Wood does, that’s another question.”
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