IN between pad sequences, Adam Booth, having finished with Ryan Burnett, his double world bantamweight champion, approaches Michael Conlan and proceeds to whack him in the stomach over and over again with his pads. The gifted featherweight, taken by surprise, tenses his muscles, grimaces, rides it out, and watches as Burnett, now stood in the opposite corner of the ring, smiles the smile of someone who knows only too well what this means.
“I didn’t see him (Burnett) getting this s**t!” Conlan yells, poker-facing the punches aimed at his midsection.
Unbeknown to Conlan, a World amateur champion and Olympic bronze medallist, who is currently 5-0 as a professional, he passed the test.
“He has a sogginess to his body that allows him to take body shots really well,” Booth later explains. “He can sort of flow with it.
“George [Groves] has it; Mitchell Smith has it. Not everybody does, though. You hit some fighters in the stomach and it’s hard, you can feel the muscle. Those are the ones who struggle taking body shots in a fight.”
It’s official: Michael Conlan is the latest boxer to join Adam Booth’s stable and will be accompanied by his new trainer when he fights at Madison Square Garden, New York on March 17.
“Adam was the only coach I wanted to work with in the UK,” Conlan tells Boxing News. “I don’t feel there’s another coach who can do for me what Adam can do for me. I thought that before I even knew him. I want to be the best and that means I need to work with the best.
“As soon as I arrived, I started to see everything I was doing wrong. He was pointing it out to me. It was just simple, little things, but he was explaining them to me and sticking with them until I understood and corrected them. That’s what I want. I want to be with someone who isn’t just a coach but is also a teacher and a mentor.
“I’ve observed his work over the years and like the way he bonds with fighters and teaches fighters. I feel Adam is an actual teacher. He’s not just a pad-man. I feel he’s the best coach in the UK and one of the best in the world.”
Conlan’s decision to leave Los Angeles, where he spent the best part of a year, was inspired not only by the need to be closer to home but also the need to return to his roots in a boxing sense. In America, he felt he was in danger of losing his way, succumbing to the hype, trying to prove himself and be something he is not. It’s a testament to the Irishman’s intelligence, therefore, that he detected this before it was too late.
“Out there, even when you had a bad day, it was like, ‘Good job, kid, well done,'” he says. “But I knew, deep down, it wasn’t good enough and I’d say to myself, ‘What the f**k happened there?’
“You’d go back in the gym the next day, re-focus and keep working hard, but how much of it was actual learning? I felt like out there I was fighting differently to what I am used to and what I do naturally and do well.
“I learned a lot, and learned a different style of boxing, which will come in handy. I know how those Mexican-American boxers fight and know how to deal with that in sparring. But I felt like my boxing skills were starting to slide.
“On fight night, when I’m beating these opponents, I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing but am not doing it technically right. I’m just trying to take them out, instead of working on things and trying things.
“It would be very easy to keep winning, keep beating opponents I’m supposed to beat, and fall into a style I can’t come back from. I’m very aware of what I do and what surrounds me. I was worried I was developing a boxing style I didn’t like.
“I was comfortable doing that at that level, but I wasn’t comfortable with the idea of fighting like that against an elite fighter. Those guys know how to deal with sluggers. I need to get back to doing what I do best, and that means returning to my boxing skills.”
For better or worse, Conlan calls the American experience a ‘learning year’. It matured him, both as a fighter and a man, and he’s grateful for that.
Now, though, the messing around, swinging for the fences and finding his feet period is over. Time to knuckle down, time to refocus, he feels relocating to London, cutting out distractions and having Adam Booth rip apart and rebuild his pro style will bear fruit in the long run.
“I have another baby on the way and was living in LA, with my fiancée and my daughter, and it was starting to get tough,” he says. “I thought it would be a good reason to come back to the UK.
“I did a good year in America – a good, tough, learning year – and now I can come back here and be taught more technical stuff and be known as more than a real good Mexican-style Irish guy who has been slugging away in the pros.
“It’s only an hour away from home, but I’m kind of sheltered here, there’s nothing going on, and I’m not getting pulled left, right and centre to do appearances or meet people. I don’t have those distractions. I’m also surrounded by other world-class fighters. That’s what I need.”
Now part of the Boxing Booth set-up, Conlan can look forward to friendly rivalries with fellow Irishman Ryan Burnett, the WBA and IBF world bantamweight champion, and also Josh Kelly, one of the premier prospects in Great Britain, a man against whom he will be racing to become Booth’s next world champion.
“They’re super-competitive and I need them to push me,” he says. “But, at the same time, we have fun. You can’t think of it like a job. You’ll fall out of love with it if you do. That’s kind of what the last year was like for me. I was just working hard. There was no enjoyment. It’s not meant to be like that.
“I’ve always loved boxing, but sometimes, when you’re just slugging it out, it’s tough mentally. You’re saying to yourself, ‘Do I really want to be doing this all the time? No, I don’t. I want to be enjoying it and having fun. I want to work hard but enjoy myself.’ That’s what I’ve found here. I’ve found a real team bond.
“In my first session I did hill sprints with Ryan [Burnett] and I know he is super-competitive because I’ve known him since the amateurs. As soon as we did hill sprints, though, he was hitting it 100 miles per hour. I thought, wow, is this what we’re here for?”
Conlan’s sixth pro fight, and first with Booth in his corner, takes place on March 17 and will, he promises, offer fans a glimpse of something old and something new.
“I can’t wait,” he says. “It’s time to see the old me – the good, skilful me – but with that viciousness I learned in America. I want the best of both worlds.
“So far in my career I don’t feel like I’ve even shown 50% of what I’m capable of. There’s so much more to come and I honestly feel comfortable now and confident I have found the guy [Booth] who is going to unlock that other 50%.”