Saturday night at the SSE Arena, Belfast, sees the ‘Return of Mick’, as the show is being billed. That’s right, Michael Conlan makes his return to the ring after his heavy last-gasp knockout defeat to Leigh Wood in March. He faces former three time world title challenger, Miguel Marriaga in a featherweight contest.
Big time boxing is well and truly back in Belfast, with 12 fights on this stacked bill from the Northern Irish capital. Celtic title fights, undefeated Irish vs undefeated Irish and big names such as Tyrone McKenna, Lewis Crocker, Padraig McCrory and Sean McComb all feature on this stellar night of boxing at the sold out SSE Arena.
Looking at the main event, it is most certainly an intriguing one. You’ve got the hometown hero, Mick Conlan, returning after a devastating knockout defeat which saw him wilt unconsciously through the ropes and onto the floor in front of his brother and father against Leigh Wood. Conlan will be hopeful of getting back to winning ways and accelerating towards a world title shot in the featherweight division next year, but first he must come through this tough, durable Colombian who will come to fight.
What makes this contest so intriguing is that, on paper at least, it seems like a boxer versus a puncher. Conlan being the slick mover with the fast hands, exceptional footwork and higher boxing IQ, against a man who has stopped 26 of his 30 victims in the ring.
In Michael Conlan, you have a man who was a standout amateur for Ireland and won several titles in the unpaid ranks. The four-time Irish Champion also won the Commonwealth Games, the European Championships and AIBA World Championships as an amateur, as well as fighting in two Olympic Games.
Since moving over to the professional game, Conlan has brought his loyal Irish fans with him, and has filled arenas in New York and Belfast since his debut. None other than Conor McGregor, UFC superstar and Irish royalty, walked Conlan to the ring for his professional debut at Madison Square Garden back in 2017 on St Patrick’s Day. This is the type of superstar Conlan is, his fans travel in their masses and get behind their man, no matter what.
Michael Conlan is hoping to get back to winning ways after suffering defeat to Leigh Wood (Photo: Belfast Live)
Conlan has slowly but surely made his way up the rankings as a pro, flirting with both super-bantamweight and featherweight. Some notable wins over the likes of Vladimir Nikitin, his former amateur rival who was on the right end of a dodgy decision at the 2016 Rio Olympics, TJ Doheny and Jason Cunningham have seen Conlan rise to the cusp of a world title shot, which he seemingly got against Leigh Wood in Nottingham in March earlier this year.
In what was quite possibly one of the fights of the year so far and potentially one of the knockouts of the year too, Conlan came unstuck against a relentless Wood, who simply had more left in the tank in the final round and capitalised on the Irishman’s exhaustion.
There is no doubt that Conlan was winning the fight right up until he was caught in the 11th and seemingly halted in the 12th, which shows that world level is where Michael Conlan should be. This fight is a pure stepping stone on his path back to the boxing summit, in which the 30-year-old will be hoping of it bearing fruit second time around.
In the opposite corner you have Miguel Marriaga. The Colombian powerhouse has been floating around the upper echelons of the 126 and 130-pound divisions for almost a decade. ‘The Scorpion’ has had a taster of world title fights on three occasions. Marriaga has shared a ring with Nicholas Walters, Oscar Valdez and Vasyl Lomachenko, all in world title fights, and succumbing to defeat in all three contests.
However, despite possibly entering the final few fights of his career, the 35-year-old most certainly still has aspirations of giving it at least one more go at world title glory. A win for Marriaga on Saturday night would catapult him right to the very top of potential world title challengers in the featherweight division in 2023.
The most interesting aspect of this fight if you are looking at it from a neutral perspective is that Marriaga has an 87% knockout ratio in the 30 fights he has had his hand raised in. That added to the fact that Conlan isn’t known as a big puncher and the fact the Irishman got knocked out in his last fight, makes this battle in Belfast a very intriguing one.
Miguel Marriaga has had three world title shots in his career to date (Photo: NotiFight)