Michael Conlan looked sharp on his return to action as he stopped former world-title challenger Sofiane Takoucht in the 66 seconds from the final bell of their ten-rounder at York Hall in East London to extend his unbeaten professional record and stay on target for a title shot of his own.
The Frenchman proved a dogged opponent for Conlan, who mixed his punches well, despite a tendency to stray low. Still it was job done for the Irishman who is hopeful of a shot at a version of the world super-bantamweight title inside the next nine months, with a fight against either Stephen Fulton or Angelo Leo for the WBO title most likely.
“I don’t have a clue,” Conlan said when asked about his world-title prospects. “I just have the best team and leave it in their hands. If they (Fulton and Leo) have to fight each other, so be it, if, it’s St Paddy’s Day, so be it. I don’t care. But I know next time when I fight for the world title at 122, which I will do, I will be world champion, whether it is Fulton or it is Leo.
“It will be a completely different fight. Fighting an opponent like that (Takoucht) is almost harder, because he was so jittery and novicey and unorthodox. Because he is a southpaw he does some crazy sh-t.”
It was not Conlan’s first appearance at York Hall, in 2013, six months after claiming an Olympic bronze medal at the ExCeL a few miles to the east, he faced Andrew Selby there in a World Series of Boxing match, representing the USA Knockouts. Selby won on points.
The biggest danger he faced against Takoucht was being disqualified, as he went low early on and kept doing it, despite the constant warnings and two points off from referee Steve Gray. Takoucht, who had been stopped in two rounds in a shot at Josh Warrington’s IBF featherweight title last year,
Conlan started at a fast pace, ripping southpaw right hooks to Takoucht’s body and moving the Frenchman around the ring, although some of the punches were straying low. The Irish former world amateur champion boxed well in the second round, using his jab with menace and sometimes leading with a left hook.
In the third round, Conlan received a ticking off from Gray after another low punch and the two went head-to-head as the bell sounded.
Despite the warnings, the Belfast fighter kept going to the body, and midway through the fourth round, three hooks to the body hurt the Frenchman, who dropped his hands, leaving himself open to a left hook to the head. Another right to the body made Takoucht stumble backwards, who then whipped over three overhand lefts to the head.
But as the seconds ticked out in the round, another right strayed below the belt and led to Gray taking a point off. He didn’t learn his lesson, though, and after another low right in the sixth, Gray deducted another point.
“You’ll have to watch yourself or you will be out of here,” Gray said. But despite treading on thin ice, Conlan landed another low right later in the round, although that one went unnoticed.
Finally, in the seventh, Conlan raised his sights to Takoucht’s head, as the Frenchman rocked and rolled and tried to stay out of trouble.
But Conlan was not finished with going downstairs and a brutal left to the body badly hurt Takoucht in the seventh round and had him trying to hold. Conlan opened up and tried to pin him down, but the Frenchman showed his toughness to see out the round.
Takoucht was not particularly competitive, but he was sticking with it and he had some success in the eighth as Conlan’s pace dropped a bit.
For most of the last two rounds, Conlan looked happy to go the distance, but midway through the tenth and final round, he rocked Takoucht up against the ropes and ploughed in, unloading with both hands as Takoucht tried to hold and Gray stopping the fight after a big right rocked the Frenchman’s head back. The time was 1: 54 of the round.
“I didn’t mean to hit him low,” Conlan said. “I just love to hit them on the sweet spot and there is a fine line. It was hard to adjust mid-fight because some of them I don’t think were low, they just swayed low – a lot of them must have swayed low. I’m experienced enough in the fight game to know I can just go to the head.”