Big-time boxing is back in Belfast. The fighting city has a chance to crown yet another world champion boxer as Michael Conlan looks to claim world honours against the IBF World Featherweight Champion, Luis Alberto Lopez.
The last time the rowdy Belfast crowd witnessed world title action in the ring was back in October 2017 when Ryan Burnett unified the bantamweight division by defeating Zhanat Zhakiyanov via unanimous decision. Now, Belfast has another chance to crown their newest king and add yet another world title to the city’s illustrious collection.
On Saturday night, Michael Conlan has the chance to win a world title at the second time of asking. First time around, he of course fell agonisingly short against Leigh Wood when he was up on the scorecards before getting knocked out of the ring in Nottingham back in March 2022.
Without dwelling on that fight too much, Conlan could almost taste victory. He had one hand on Wood’s WBA World Featherweight Title. There was less than a minute left in the round. Conlan was becoming world champion at the first time of asking. BANG! ‘Not so fast, Mick!’ as Leigh Wood knocked his Irish counterpart out of the ring, defending his world title in the most dramatic of fashion in his home city.
Now, Conlan has the chance to right those wrongs as he bids to become a world champion once again. Since that agonising Wood defeat, ‘Mick’ has bounced back in impressive fashion. A wide unanimous decision victory over Miguel Marriaga in his first comeback fight followed by a concussive first round knockout of Karim Guerfi last time out has catapulted Conlan right back up to the top table at 126-pounds.
Conlan is aiming to become world champion at the second time of asking (Photo: Irish News)
Not only has Conlan looked impressive since suffering that first career defeat, but he looks to be punching harder than ever too. The 31-year-old of course knocked Leigh Wood down in the first round of their fight last year. Despite going the distance with Marriaga on his comeback, Conlan had the Columbian down on the canvas on three separate occasions in that fight.
Then, look at his last fight when he sent Guerfi wilting to the floor with an emphatic flurry of shots on the ropes. Michael Conlan is clearly punching harder than ever. Of that there is no doubt. In the past, the fighting pride of Belfast has been criticised for having ‘pillow fists’. However, now he has proved the doubters ever so wrong. You wouldn’t put it past Michael Conlan winning this fight via stoppage once again. Imagine the sheer scenes in Belfast. Pure pandemonium.
In the opposite corner to Conlan will be the reigning IBF World Featherweight Champion - Luis Alberto Lopez. The Mexican warrior boasts an impressive 27-2 professional record consisting of 15 stoppage victories. Lopez aims to successfully defend his IBF crown for the very first time on his travels to Northern Ireland and right into the back yard of Mick Conlan.
Luis Alberto Lopez is a fighter who hasn’t been hyped up as much as some of the British or Irish featherweights. However, that doesn’t matter anymore as his record speaks for itself. He is the defending world champion here and won’t be giving up his belt easily in Belfast. If Conlan is to win on Saturday night, he really will have to rip that title from the champion.
Last time out, Lopez was crowned the new IBF king after defeating Josh Warrington via majority decision in their fight back in December in Leeds. Lopez was brilliant on the night. He went to Warrington’s hometown and came away with the belt, much to the dismay and disbelief of the Leeds faithful. Can Lopez do the same thing this weekend and silence the noisy Belfast crowd? Time will tell.
Luis Alberto Lopez celebrates becoming world champions vs Josh Warrington last time out (Photo: Boxing Scene)
Lopez also has some other credible wins on his resumé such as Isaac Lowe, Gabriel Flores Jr and Andy Vences. He also beat Cristian Baez in an undefeated Mexican battle - a fight that was a genuine 50/50. Lopez hasn’t lost in over four years now, and won’t want to suffer a defeat this weekend either, that is for sure. The 29-year-old is a worthy world champion and could be the best in the entire division. Who knows?
However, if Luis Alberto Lopez thinks Saturday night in Belfast is going to be the same kind of atmosphere as he faced last time in Leeds, then he is in for an almighty shock. The atmosphere in Belfast when Michael Conlan fights is entirely different. It’s unique. You can barely hear yourself think.
The entire arena will be against Lopez, of that there is no doubt. Whilst Conlan is walking to the ring and Lopez is waiting backstage to make his ring walk second as the champion, he will be quaking in his boots. The sheer noise generated from the Belfast crowd as they partake in a rendition of ‘Grace’ makes the hairs on your neck stand on end. It is something totally unique and will be an atmosphere that Lopez has never ever seen in his entire life.
Of course, he may be up to it. Lopez may relish that cauldron atmosphere and could put on the performance of his life. But that is what it will take to beat Conlan in his hometown. There is no chance ‘Mick’ isn’t putting in the performance of his life on Saturday night. The reigning world champion will need to bring his A-game if he is to have any chance of making a successful first defence of his title.
What. A. Fight.
Luis Alberto Lopez (27-2, 15 KOs)
Josh Warrington - WIN - MD (115-113, 115-113, 114-114)
Yeison Vargas - WIN - KO Round 2
Raul Chirino - WIN - KO Round 4
Isaac Lowe - WIN - KO Round 7
Michael Conlan (18-1, 9 KOs)
Karim Guerfi - WIN - TKO Round 1
Miguel Marriaga - WIN - UD (99-89, 99-88, 99-88)
Leigh Wood - LOSS - TKO Round 12
TJ Doheny - WIN - UD (116-111, 116-111, 119-108)
Date: May 27th 2023
Time: Approx. 10.30PM Ring Walk (GMT)
Venue: SSE Arena, Belfast, Northern Ireland, UK
Promoter: Conlan Boxing (live on BT Sport)
Official Lopez vs Conlan Fight Night Poster (Photo: @ConlanBoxing on Twitter)
Elsewhere on the undercard in Belfast, reigning IBO World Super-Featherweight Champion Anthony Cacace is in action. Padraig McCrory, the IBO World Light-Heavyweight Title holder, also features in his hometown. The likes of hot bantamweight prospect Conor Quinn and fierce Irish middleweight Fearghus Quinn also feature on this undercard stacked with local talent. Jamesy Freeman also makes his professional debut.