MICHAEL CONLAN’S world title dream was shattered for the second time as he fell under Luis Alberto Lopez’s dynamite fists. The Mexican IBF featherweight belt-holder may bring an unusual style to the ring, but he is devastatingly effective when in range. Slick Mick found that out in the fifth round when a right uppercut left him sprawled on the canvas. Trainer Adam Booth stepped up to the ring apron offering a white towel of submission. The finishing shot was so heavy, not even a fervent SSE Arena crowd could roar their man to victory.
14 months ago, in the Nottingham Arena, Michael was ahead when Leigh Wood dramatically knocked him through the ropes and out in a frenetic final round. After regrouping with two strong displays back at home, while Conlan’s latest assignment was always going to be tough, it seemed achievable given his speed and movement.
The hometown hero started confidently, taking centre ring behind his southpaw jab, poking a left to the body. The unorthodox champion may have been missing at times, but his varied right hand already carried danger. The Falls Road man entered the trenches in round two, looking to gain Lopez’s respect. Fighting hard to scrape out rounds, Michael’s face displayed early battle scars and Lopez started touching the body. The challenger’s success was already coming at a price.
Rocking Conlan with a pre-emptive right uppercut in the third, ‘El Venado’ chased after his stricken foe with a menacing grin as Conlan fell into the ropes. Referee Michael Alexander burrowed in for a closer inspection. The Top Rank talent grabbed and grappled to the end of the session. Lopez launched another haymaker in the fourth. Buzzed again, Michael’s guts and fitness, helped by a motivational war cry from the crowd, retained his live status.
Lopez’s underrated ring IQ was in full effect in the fifth as he switched downstairs at all the correct times to land some sneakily productive body blows. Operating in top gear just to stay in the fight, Conlan ducked on to a sizzling right uppercut that conclusively closed the show. A world class punch, worthy of ending a world class affair, terminated at 1-14. The unused judges were Terry O’Connor, Benoit Roussel and John McKaie.
Understandably absent for any kind of post-fight dissection, Conlan took to social media to reassure his followers that he was in good health and would take some time away from the ring before assessing his options.
Thriving in a career resurgence, the excellent Lopez believes this statement win will enhance his credentials as a “true champion”. Now eyeing fights with fellow titlists, the Mexicali native will be very difficult to beat.
Nick Ball pounded out a 12th-round stoppage on the chief support slot, but the Liverpool puncher’s win came at a cost for his willing South African foe. Just moments after Ludumo Lamati’s corner had thrown in the towel to save their tired fighter, Lamati collapsed in his corner. This led to concerning scenes as the 31-year-old was rushed out of the arena on a stretcher and off to hospital.
Ball spent the early going trying to find an acceptable distance to let go with his heavy bombs. Employing a tasty rangefinder, Lamati did a good job of keeping out of danger. Ball was throwing his weight around in the clinches and referee Kevin Parker toiled to keep it clean and warned Ball about use of the forearm.
Ball turned southpaw in the fifth to try and build on his early success. Lamati was going back downstairs by the eighth, but leaving himself open to Ball’s over-the-top offensive. Mr Parker was back on Ball’s case in round nine, threatening to take a point if the Liverpudlian did not clean up his act.
Finally, at the end of round 10, Ball created something of a breakthrough. Shelling Lamati with left hands, suddenly the South African looked a little ragged and weary. Lamati’s resistance swiftly evaporated and his corner saw the immense fatigue in their fighter, ending his challenge at 2-15 of the 12th round.
At the time of this writing, Lamati remained in an induced coma with his team hoping for a full recovery. Our thoughts are with him.
Anthony Cacace stayed on track for more big nights after defeating Damian Wrzesinski over 12 rounds. The margins were wide and the judges’ verdict unanimous as Terry O’Connor (118-111), Jean-Robert Laine (117-111) and Mike Fitzgerald (116-112) all found in his favour.
The gifted switch-hitter swayed nonchalantly from side-to-side as light-punching Wrzesinski matched his movement. Cacace retreated into his shell a little at times and later revealed that he had hurt both hands early on. The Belfast man planted his feet in the seventh and let some harder blows go. Wrzesinski offered defiant two-fisted ripostes, despite blood dripping from the left eye. Referee Michael Alexander kept it flowing.
Fighting for the first time since September, Cacace is talented and has more gears to reach. After winning on cruise control, ‘The Apache’ has sights set on either Emanuel Navarrete or Joe Cordina.
Dublin’s original ‘Big Bang’ Pierce O’Leary sent his fanbase into raptures with a crushing first-round KO over Alin Florin Ciorceri. Barely seconds had passed before O’Leary unleashed a left hook that had Florin down for a count. The Romanian tentatively opted to continue.
Piling on the pain, not everything for O’Leary landed flush, but the key shots rocked Florin’s head around enough to persuade Victor Loughlin to intervene at 1-11. Pleased with what he described as a “calm performance” O’Leary seems ready to step up a level following this scheduled 10-rounder.
Boxing after the main event, well-supported Padraig McCrory defeated Diego Ramirez over 10 functional rounds. McCrory held a size advantage over an opponent who turned pro at welterweight. Stalking the smaller man behind a solid left jab, ‘The Hammer’ worked patiently towards a 99-91 win on Hugh Russell Jnr’s card.
Lisburn’s Kurt Walker enhanced his unbeaten slate with a win over Spanish-based Colombian Maicol Velazco. Walker bounced in and out on his toes, spraying a solid left jab. Adding some spite to his work as the rounds flashed by, the 2020 Olympian laboured for a stoppage that never arrived. Velazco held out to concede a 60-54 verdict on Hugh Russell Jr’s reckoning.
Belfast’s Conor Quinn got a good eight-round workout from Spanish-based Peruvian Juan Hinostroza. Quinn boxed neatly behind a long jab, keeping the southpaw at bay with a left hook. Only when backed against the ropes did the 25-year-old look uncomfortable. Manager Mark Dunlop fancies Quinn against any super-flyweight in Britain. Third man Eamonn Magill awarded ‘The Magnificent’ every session here.
William Hayden had to endure a few hairy moments while outpointing Durham’s Jordan Ellison. The Dubliner punched with authority as Ellison soaked up the pressure and kept swinging. Hayden was buzzed in round three but fought back well. ‘Willo’ suffered a blemish over his left eye that turned into a cut. Eamonn Magill totalled 59-55 in his favour.
Kirby’s Callum Thompson opened the lengthy evening’s action with a four-round points win over Romania’s Marian Istrate. The Joe Gallagher-trained lightweight won 40-36 on Russell Jnr’s card.
Armagh’s James Freeman closed the show with a 39-37 debut win over London journeyman Jordan Grannum. Eamonn Magill refereed this contest and also Belleek middleweight Fearghus Quinn’s 60-54 shutout of Colombia’s Ruben Angulo.
THE VERDICT: Conlan’s future hangs in the balance following a crushing stoppage loss.