IT is customary following any big knockout loss for us to look for weaknesses or evidence of reticence in the knocked-out boxer as they attempt to resume his or her career.
Often, their comeback fight will take place some time after, giving them space to fully recover, and often, too, it will be an easy fight against a beatable and light-hitting opponent.
Yet, tellingly, in the case of Ireland’s Michael Conlan, a lot can already be deduced from the fact he has gone against the grain in this respect. Before even fighting, we can view him boxing again this weekend (August 6), five months after his loss to Leigh Wood in March, as evidence of his desire to get that loss out of his mind. We can also look at the fact that he has chosen to fight Miguel Marriaga, a Colombian with 26 knockouts from 30 wins, as evidence he has no concerns about taking big punches.
“Some people were saying I should take more time out, but what’s the point?” Conlan, 16-1 (8), told Boxing News. “I took no f**king damage (against Wood). One punch doesn’t mean I took damage. I know what level I’m at now and one punch doesn’t change anything. I’m happy to kind of push on and get back in there right away.
“The choice of opponent says everything. I don’t need to go back a step or drop down a level. I’m not here to fight Tom, Dick and Harry. I want to fight the best fighters and get back into the position I was in before. That’s why I’m fighting someone like Marriaga right away.
“I’m going in there with a big puncher, but, at the same time, I didn’t feel it was Leigh Wood’s power that done me. I thought it was more fatigue than anything. If you look at the punch that landed (in the 12th round), it was an arm punch. I’m happy enough to go straight back in and fight a puncher. I want to be back in the mix for world titles and I know someone like Marriaga is the perfect opponent to get me there.”
Now 35, Marriaga has been competing in and around a world-class level since 2015, the year he lasted 12 rounds with Jamaican puncher Nicholas Walters. Admittedly, he tends to come up short whenever he makes this step up in class, but, as with the Walters loss, a couple of 2017 defeats against Oscar Valdez (a unanimous decision) and the brilliant Vasyl Lomachenko (RTD 7) hardly disgraced him.
“I was in the same gym as Oscar Valdez when he fought Marriaga and I also went to the fight in Carson, California,” said Conlan. “That was a ‘Fight of the Year’ contender; an unbelievable fight. I know how tough Oscar is and he managed to hurt Oscar, so I know he’s a tough opponent. Lomachenko is the only guy to stop him and that says a lot. It wasn’t like he stopped him with power or will, either. It was more due to skill and frustration; a ‘No Mas’ kind of job.
“He’s very tough, Marriaga, and he punches hard. He doesn’t have the fastest feet but he has fast enough hands. He is someone who will come to win. I’ve seen an awful lot of him and I’ve started watching a lot more of him to get more of a read on him.
“He went the distance with a massive puncher in Walters, a massive puncher in Valdez, and even recently he’s fought some young Mexicans and gone the distance.”
Since losing against Lomachenko five years ago, Marriaga, 30-5 (26), has fought seven times, winning five of these fights and losing two. In truth, his defeats against Joet Gonzalez (in 2020) and Eduardo Ramirez (last December) show signs of regression, given neither man are in the class of those who previously bested Marriaga, but he nevertheless remains a more than adequate test for Conlan, particularly given the context and the year Conlan has had so far.
“I’m expecting a tough 10-round fight,” said the 30-year-old. “I’m not going to try to take him out. I’m going to outbox him and show my skills as I always do. If I can get him out of there, fantastic, but I know it’s a big ask, with Lomachenko being the only one to do it. If it comes, it comes. I never try to get my opponent out of there early but maybe after my last fight I should try that a bit more. People always say I have no power but every shot I was landing on Leigh was hurting him, to body and head. I showed I have enough power there to get people’s respect and hurt people and put them on the canvas.”