LIKE any good crossroads fight, Friday’s (August 6) super-bantamweight clash between Michael Conlan and TJ Doheny features one former belt-holder and one potential champion coming together at different stages in their respective careers. Not only that, though they will meet in the same place (Falls Park, Belfast) at the same time this weekend, they have experienced vastly different journeys to get there, guided by different approaches to the same goal.
In Conlan, you have the darling of Northern Irish boxing, someone who won countless international medals as an amateur before rising to fame at the 2016 Olympics. He has since turned pro, raced to 15-0 (8), and has been both built up carefully and backed to the hilt by Bob Arum and Top Rank. All-action and charismatic, he has superstar potential, no question, and has been treated accordingly by promoters and managers.
In Doheny, meanwhile, you have someone who for so long operated in the shadows and therefore had no option but to take the scenic route. Far less known, and nowhere near as outspoken as Conlan, the man from Portlaoise, Ireland spent the formative years of his pro career boxing in Australia, where he built his record on opponents primarily from Thailand. He then had his Cinderella moment in August 2018, when travelling to Tokyo, Japan to outpoint Ryosuke Iwasa and take the IBF super-bantamweight belt.
That win, one few saw coming, brought Doheny to relevance and shone a light on his story and the gruelling nature of his journey. He followed it with victory against Ryohei Takahashi, whom he stopped inside 11 rounds, before eventually losing the belt against talented American Daniel Roman in April 2019.
Since then, Conlan, 15-0 (8), has got busier and burned brighter, and Doheny, a former belt-holder with miles on the clock, has become that most appealing of commodities for up-and-coming prospects and contenders: prey. At 34, he now not only promises action and a stiff challenge but brings some name value and is considered, by some, to be in the Indian summer of what has been a successful and somewhat surprising nine-year professional career. His last fight, an eight-round decision loss against Ionut Baluta in March 2020, only adds credence to this theory, while Conlan’s last fight, a 12-round (majority) decision win against the same opponent in April 2021, suggests Conlan is more than ready to fight Doheny next.
Still, if there is one career box left for TJ Doheny to tick, it will be ticked this weekend, when, for the first time as a pro, he competes in Belfast. Better yet, if at this stage of his fighting life “The Power” is in need of extra motivation or inspiration, he will get all he requires and then some at Falls Park on Friday night.
“This will be my first time fighting on Irish soil, and I can’t think of a better homecoming,” Doheny, 22-2 (16), said. “It doesn’t get much bigger than this for an all-Irish clash, and the fans are in for a real treat. This is the kind of fight that I have been craving since my close majority-decision loss to Daniel Roman. Top opposition is what motivates me and helps me raise my game. I cannot wait for this.”
Historically, boxers in the lower weight classes age quicker than their heavier counterparts and most will presume, because of this, a 34-year-old super-bantamweight to be nearing the end of their career. Whether that’s true or not, a fighter like Doheny, at this point in his career, is clearly in need of an opponent like Michael Conlan and a fight like Friday’s if he is to have any hope of both reaching the levels of old and confounding the doubters all over again (as he did in Tokyo against Iwasa). Without it, he is liable to tread water, go through the motions, and perhaps even come unstuck. Without it, there is a temptation to dine out on past glories.
Here, he has the fight he needs and the fight he wants and this alone could elevate both Doheny and the fight itself. If nothing else, it will certainly raise the stakes and ensure Conlan, 29, is at his best.
“It will be an honour to share the ring with TJ,” he said. “I have a lot of respect for him and his achievements. I believe it’s my toughest fight to date and, with that, I will make my biggest statement in my quest to become a world champion.”
Given this is the first time Conlan has come up against a former belt-holder in his pro career, he has, despite Doheny experiencing some patchy form of late, every right to call his fellow Irishman his toughest test to date. However, in the cold light of day, it is Conlan who has the momentum and the more developed set of skills and it is Conlan, five years Doheny’s junior, who has the benefit of entering the ring confident Father Time has no interest in him this weekend.
Unfettered by this belief, he can outpoint Doheny over 12 rounds. Neither fighter is ranked in the world top 10 but the winner will be knocking on the door.
Also on the Falls Park card, a decent one, is a European bantamweight title fight between Lee McGregor and unbeaten Frenchman Vincent Legrand. Admittedly, Legrand’s 32-0 (17) record looks and sounds great, but is, in truth, far less frightening when analysed, with most of his wins coming in France against unfamiliar names and much of his best work coming at flyweight. But Scotland’s McGregor, 10-0 (8) and ranked nine in the world, is moving in the right direction nonetheless and this fight is just the latest in a line of fights signalling his ambition. In other action, Tyrone McKenna, 21-2-1 (6), fights Mexico’s Jose Felix, 39-4-1 (30), at super-lightweight and Padraig McCrory, 11-0 (5), puts his undefeated record on the line against Russian Sergei Gorokhov, 11-2-2 (7).
The Verdict Conlan can outpoint the older Doheny over 12 rounds.