Five defining moments of Michael Conlan

Irish star Michael Conlan returns to the ring on Saturday, as he begins what could be his last build towards a world title.

Decorated amateur and two-time Olympian Conlan has been stopped in two previous world title events but retains his popularity in boxing having created some iconic moments of his career.

Now trained by exiled Cuban Pedro Diaz, after five years with Adam Booth, 32-year-old Conlan meets former sparmate Jordan Gill in Belfast, convinced he has another run at a world title in him.

Gill is aiming to join Luis Lopez and Leigh Wood as men who have defeated the 18-2 Irish franchise, but Conlan hopes this is a fresh start under new promoters Matchroom, having been with Top Rank since turning professional.

Here are five moments that have defined Conlan’s career to date.

  1. Giving the finger

When Conlan flipped the bird at the judges at the 2016 Rio Olympics, he did so collectively at the amateur boxing establishment who had denied him his dream. 

Conlan lost to Vlaimir Nikitin on a disputed split decision in the quarter-finals, but an independent investigation later revealed that as many as 11 fights from Rio had suffered from ‘bout manipulation.’

“I’ll never box for AIBA again,” Conaln said. “They're cheating bastards, they’re paying everybody. I came here to win Olympic gold. My dream has been shattered now.

“Amateur boxing stinks from the core right to the top. I thought I boxed the ears off him in the first round, and the score went against me.”

Images of Conlan giving the middle finger went viral, and the decision was widely denounced as beyond controversial. 

After the investigation, Conlan took to twitter and wrote: “Lads I want my medal, get it sorted and I’ll DM you my address. Thanks MC.” 

      2. Thriller with Leigh Wood

Conlan’s first crack at a world tile ended in a thrilling defeat against Leigh Wood in Nottingham. Conlan started so well, collapsing Wood in the first round with a shocking body shot. But Wood roared back in 2022’s Fight of the Year, dropping Conlan in the 11th and then applying a sensational finish in the 12th

With the fight on a knife edge, the Nottingham hero tracked Conlan to the ropes and nailed him with a huge shot that sent Conlan flying out of the ring and to the arena floor. 

      3. Olympic revenge over Nikitin 

The stage was set by Top Rank. Nikitin – who had actually beaten Conlan twice in the amateurs – was only 3-0 as a pro, Conlan was 12-0, but many felt the wrong of 2016 should be corrected, and sooner than later. 

So Top Rank made the fight and Conlan had the opportunity to exercise some of the ghosts of Rio.

While the Irishman was a worthy winner, many felt the cards after 10 rounds of boxing this time were unjust to Nikitin, who lost by margins of 100-90, 99-91 and 98-92.

      4. Falls Park

Conlan invested plenty of his own money to stage the show at Falls Park where he faced off with Irish road warrior TJ Doheny.

For Conlan, it was worth every penny. He dropped Doheny to the body in round five and won a decision against the veteran world champion.

      5. Stunned by Lopez

It seemed written in the stars, that after everything Conlan would finally fulfil his world title dreams in front of his adoring fans. Despite coming off a victory over Leeds warrior Josh Warrington, Luis Lopez – the IBF champion – was up against it, travelling to fight Conlan at the Odyssey Arena fortress.

But Conlan was not himself. He indulged the ferocious Mexican with too many early exchanges and was caught and knocked out in round five. A sickening uppercut caused trainer Adam Booth to send the towel in. 

Mature Conlan did not dispute the stoppage, and in the days that followed he contemplated retirement, but he decided that another run at the title, now with Diaz in his corner and Matchroom behind him, could see him strike gold at a third attempt.