Michael Conlan exclusive: Leigh Wood title fight should have been in Belfast, not Nottingham
There’s nothing but excitement emanating from Michael Conlan as the Belfast man prepares for his maiden world title crack against Leigh Wood on March 12th, exclusively on DAZN worldwide except Australia and New Zealand.
Sporting a beaming smile, Conlan can’t hide his delight when thinking about his imminent crack at glory and it’s a shot that the star amateur has expected since childhood.
A big goal setter, Conlan’s obvious talent when representing his country allowed him to dream big. Medals at World championships and Olympic Games aren't always transferred into professional glory, but Conlan has come too far to not let his vested platform be a springboard for pro success.
To him, the next phase of his development comes in just under nine weeks when he takes on boxing’s recent overnight success story.
“If someone would've told me I'd be fighting Leigh Wood for a world title at the start of my career then I’d be all over that,” said Conlan during his exclusive chat with DAZN.
“No disrespect to Leigh, he’s done what I want to achieve by becoming world champion but there’s a lot harder ways to reach the top than fighting Leigh Wood. He’s not the fighter that I thought would be against me when I finally reached this stage in my career.”
12 months ago, Conlan’s path to world glory was not obstructed by Wood and it’s fair to say that Nottingham fighter didn’t appear anywhere on the 30-year old’s radar. Operating somewhere between featherweight and the division below, Conlan’s focus was set on the likes of Stephen Fulton, Leo Santa Cruz, Josh Warrington, and Emmanuel Navarette.
The sport’s leading fighters operating around Conlan’s weight class were all identified as targets, but Wood, a fighter who had failed at domestic level in losses to Gavin McDonnell and Jazza Dickens, was still trying to establish himself. A British title defence against the unknown Reece Mould was Wood’s major priority at the start of 2021, but it wouldn’t be long before he became a fighter that Conlan was fixated on.
At Matchroom’s 2021 instalment of Fight Camp, Wood was handed an unlikely opportunity against WBA belt holder, Can Xu. The Chinese fighter arrived in Essex possessing a formidable reputation, but that profile was soon vanished as Wood turned in the performance of his career.
With doubts surrounding Wood’s durability due to previous losses against Gavin McDonnell and Jazza Dickens, his showdown with Xu was not a fight expected to go favourably. Instead, Wood was outstanding from the first bell as he controlled the oncoming champion with an accurate jab throughout before scoring a last round stoppage. It was a contest that made Wood Conlan’s immediate priority.
“Leigh did what he had to do and I suppose I have to give him credit for the win. Do I think it was the best Can Xu? I’m not so sure but even though I can’t be certain, I’m going to say it was the best version of Can Xu and that Leigh boxed brilliantly to win. I’m preparing for the best version possible of Leigh Wood. The Can Xu fight has gone and now I have to give it everything and go out there and beat the best ever Leigh Wood.”
Displaying an admirable confidence ahead of his inaugural world title chance, Conlan must travel to hostile territory to complete his transition from vested superstar to world champion. His one finger salute to incompetent judges following his loss to Vladimer Nikitin at the 2016 Olympics has been the iconic image surrounding Conlan’s career.
In Nottingham, in two months' time, Conlan can take a big step towards changing that forever.
“Nottingham doesn’t bother me," he said of the fight's location. "It’ll feel like Belfast anyway when you see the support I bring over.
"This fight should've been in Belfast or New York. It would've done big numbers in both places, but I understand why Matchroom have gone to Nottingham with this. Leigh is their fighter, but it won’t make no difference.
"This means so much to me that I’m not going to let the venue make a difference. It’s my moment and I’m going to do everything I can to make the most of this.”