Despite final round KO loss in last attempt, Michael Conlan remains focused on world title-News

Michael Conlan has denied being kicked out of the ring in the final round of his first fight as a painful and humbling experience.

Instead, he thinks last year’s loss to Leigh Wood for the WBA featherweight world title as a pivotal moment in his development. It’s an upset he believes has prepared him for Saturday’s shot at IBF featherweight champion Luis Alberto Lopez (Watch on ESPN+, 1:30 pm ET).

Conlan (18-1, 9 KOs), who was slowly ahead before being knocked out by Wood in the ESPN’s 2022 fight of the yearhe quickly rebuilt his career with two wins – a decision he agreed upon against Miguel Marriaga in August and a Karim Gueri’s first suspension in December.

“I learned a lot from the Wood loss, knowing how to fight a 12-round fight, knowing when to put the foot on the gas, knowing when to make the right defense,” Conlan told ESPN. “I’ve learned how to take a loss and build back up. Marriaga was a tough puncher and I fought him at my pace and hit a good shot. When Marriaga tried to put me down in the last round, I still won the round.”

Conlan, 31, will get another shot at his first title shot when he takes on Lopez, 29, at The SSE Arena in his home city of Belfast, Northern Ireland. Conlan believes his response since defeating Wood will ensure he becomes Northern Ireland’s first featherweight champion since Carl Frampton. Now retired, Frampton won his first title when he defeated Kiko Martinez for the IBF junior featherweight belt in 2014. Conlan was there that night as a spectator in a specially built outdoor arena on the site of the Titanic.

“There are parallels when Carl Frampton beat Kiko Martinez,” Conlan told ESPN. “This was his first international victory and obviously I want to do the same in my hometown [of] Belfast, too. The IBF world title is on the line as was Carl’s fight, too. I have to use my brain like Carl did to win. “

Lopez (27-2, 15 KOs), from Baja California, Mexico, won the IBF belt via majority decision over Josh Warrington in December. Conlan believes Lopez is a better opponent for him than Wood (26-3, 16 KOs), who lost his WBA title when he was stopped by Mauricio Lara in February. Wood meets Lara, ranked No. 1 in the ESPN featherweight rankingsin repetition, and on Saturday.

“Luis is a good striker in his own right and is probably better than Mauricio Lara against Leigh Wood,” said Conlan. “Wood would have had me for double the money and it was a risk to go back to a rematch with Lara after fighting Lara and me. It’s suicide in my opinion. There’s only one way Wood can punch and when he gets hit he seems to be devastated.

“Lopez is a tougher fight than Wood for me and he’s more of a threat because he can hit hard, he’s a very well-rounded guy and he’s got a lot of challenges.”

Conlan won against women’s lightweight champion, Katie Taylor during her pre-match run at the 2012 London Olympics. Taylor won gold at lightweight in the first women’s boxing tournament at the Olympics. Conlan won bronze in the men’s flyweight division.

“I was a flyweight and a bantamweight at the time, so he was bigger than me. The spars were always tough,” Conlan told ESPN. “You can’t stop shooting someone like Katie Taylor. I remember the first time I stopped with her and I remember saying that I’m not going back. At that time she was a big country and in Europe. A champion in the amateurs.”

Conlan hopes that his experience combined with his development since losing his first challenge will culminate in him achieving all of his dreams on Saturday.

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