By Craig Daly: Michael Conlan has a big decision he needs to make about which direction he wants to take for his career after his fifth round knockout loss against IBF featherweight champion Luis Alberto Lopez last Saturday night in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Conlan is an old 31 due to the wear & tear from a long amateur career, and it’s clear that he lacks the power, defense, stamina, and punch resistance to be a major player in the 126-lb division.
These are things that will be resistant to change, no matter how much hard work Conlan puts in. As such, if Conlan’s goal is to be a contender and hope to get additional title shots in hopes of one day getting lucky, it might not be worth the effort.
Surprisingly, Conlan (18-2, 9 KOs), despite having loads of amateur experience, fought the wrong fight from the very start, ducking in front of the uppercut artist ‘El Venado’ Lopez (26-2, 16 KOs), seemingly begging to be nailed by that punch.
Conlan ducked into Lopez’s uppercuts
“I could tell after the second round that this was not Michal Conlan’s night. He looked really bad, and Lopez looked really sharp, took the shots well, and never let Michael Conlan get into any boxing rhythm,” said Dan Rafael to the Big Fight Weekend about IBF featherweight champion Luis Alberto Lopez’s victory over Michael Conlan last Saturday night.
“Michael has no problem fighting it out with a guy, but Michael’s bread & butter is he excels at being a boxer. He’s not a big puncher. He knows that throughout his whole career, and Lopez is the opposite. Lopez is a guy that tries to come and get you.
“He’s got a lot of knockouts. He did go the distance when he won the title against Warrington, but he inflicted some damage in that particular fight. I was right away pretty much at the beginning of the fight, I didn’t like Michael’s body language.
— Michael Conlan (@mickconlan11) May 28, 2023
“I thought he was getting hit too much. He was not defensive-minded at all. He wasn’t getting away from the shots. He never established the distance to keep or at least try to keep Lopez at the end of the jab, and it was all downhill from there.
“Good heart, he tried, and he hung in there, but there are only so many big punches you can take from those kinds of shots, and in the end, that big uppercut [in the fifth] just ruined him. Sometimes in boxing, there’s not a lot to read into. I don’t try to find every little excuse, problem, whatever,” Rafael said.
Lopez was a perfect match-up for Michael
“Sometimes, they just have a bad night, and I’m not saying this was the case that he would have won on some other night,” said Rafael. “It was just a case of Michael Conlan didn’t have a good night. Michael has been in with other big punchers also, and he didn’t have a problem taking the shots.
“I think this was a perfect match-up for him. It’s not a complicated opponent or a guy that’s much bigger than you or has a tremendous amount of experience. Michael is a tremendously experienced fighter in terms of a two-time Olympian with a medal, and plenty of experience in the professionals, fighting in front of big crowds against good opponents.
“Luis Alberto Lopez, he did what he does. He’s an aggressive puncher. His defense sucks but his hands are down, but it’s effective. Jamel Herring said, ‘Luis Alberto Lopez’s offense is his defense’ because he’s so wild with his shots.
“They come from every angle. He throws his shots from the hip, and he throws with both hands. So he’s constantly pressuring you, so he doesn’t allow the opponent to get back to him or get in any kind of groove. So that’s effective for his defense because he keeps up that pace and that pressure.
“The bottom line was that Michael Conlan, the game plan was, I have to assume, go and box him at a distance. Mix it up occasionally if you have to, but stick & move and do that for as long as you can and as good as you can. Luis Alberto Lopez wasn’t having any of that. He was not going to allow him to get into that kind of groove.
“You could tell after two rounds that Michael Conlan was going to be troubled horever how long this fight went, and then he dipped down into that wild uppercut, and he paid the price and went to sleep for a couple of seconds there. The fight was over.
“In fact, even before the referee could begin a count or waive it off, you saw the towel from Adam Booth, the trainer for Conlan, come flying into the ring.
“You could tell also after round four when he went to the corner, Adam was a little concerned. You don’t usually see urgency from a trainer after four rounds, but it felt like it was some urgency. Adam knew, ‘We don’t have it tonight,’” said Rafael.
Where does Conlan go from here?
“The problem that Michael now faces in his biggest two fights, both in title matches, a match against Leigh Wood three fights ago, a fight he was winning, but also got knocked out even more spectacularly than he did last Saturday. Where do you go?” said Rafael.
“I’m not sure. He’s not young. He’s had a ton of amateur fights, and he’s in his thirties. This was his best opportunity. That’s not to say that he can’t get another shot. Does he really want to go through that effort again, climb that mountain again? He’s not getting any younger and has taken some punishment in some fights.
“Michael is a fan favorite with Irish fans. Michael has been a fan-favorite for a long time, whether he’s fighting in New York City where he’s drawn lots of fans, and if he’s fighting in Northern Ireland.
“I wish Michael Conlan nothing but the best. He’s a good dude and a hard worker. But Luis Alberto Lopez, people write him off. We picked against him. This guy is the road warrior. All three of his championship victories have come in enemy territory.
“He went to London and annihilated Isaac Lowe in the elimination fight, which got him the opportunity fight for the title. He took a couple of tune-up fights while he was waiting to get the shot.
“Then went to Leeds, England for the title fight, the fortress where Josh Warrington fought him in his hometown and outfought and outslugged him and outboxed him and won a majority decision. That really should have been a unanimous decision.
“When you got to a guy’s hometown like that, and you win a majority decision, you know that was really a clean win. Then in his first defense, he didn’t have a big celebration homecoming fight, he didn’t take a soft touch or an easy mark.
“No, the guy went in with a very quality, reputable, legit contender in Michael Conlan and did it in Michael Conlan’s hometown. This isn’t like any old hometown. This is Belfast, Northern Ireland where they don’t f**k around,” said Rafael.