Irish star Michael Conlan is starting a new chapter.
Conlan has moved out to Florida to work with coach Pedro Diaz as he prepares for his ring return against Jordan Gill on December 2 in Belfast.
The two-time Olympian is now 31 and has won 18 and lost two but in his pursuit of a world title, Conlan has linked up with promoters Matchroom – having previously worked with Top Rank – and Diaz is in for trainer Adam Booth, bringing their five-year working relationship to a close.
“It was a massive decision, a complete change of team, set-up, lifestyle and a friend in Adam,” explained Conlan. “It was five years we were together. It’s a long time. It wasn’t an easy decision but it was something for my career I felt was the correct thing to do and you might wonder, ‘Am I doing the right thing by staying or am I hindering myself?’ I don’t really know is the answer. I can’t tell you that until I finish my career. I just felt that we had two cracks at the world title [against Leigh Wood and Luis Lopez] and I wanted a complete change of set up from being close to home. Something different, take myself away, and get into that mindset again where I’m ready to lay everything on the line.”
Conlan was broken-hearted in the aftermath of his May stoppage to IBF champion Luis Alberto Lopez. Initially, he thought he had reached the end of the line and that retirement was beckoning. But he rolled up his sleeves and decided to go again. Does that mean he still has something to prove?
“No, because I don’t really care,” Conlan said. “I don’t really care about what people think or what people feel, I think people already know my skillset and I think people that talk shit are the people who just want to talk shit, so that doesn’t bother me. I don’t think I’ve really got anything to prove to them but maybe to myself, to win a world title, and that’s my goal. My goal is always to be a world champion in the professional game and that’s the only thing I’ve got to prove to myself, more so than to anybody else. I don’t care what anyone else thinks or says. It doesn’t put food on my table. It doesn’t affect how my kids treat me, how my partner and my family treat me…”
Conlan said the Diaz link up set off a spark within him.
He did trial sessions with Buddy McGirt and Jorge Rubio before deciding to commit to Diaz, and he was impressed with all three.
“They were all very very good,” Conlan added. “I really liked Buddy and Jorge, too. But the focus and everything I had with Pedro and how everything was catered to me and how he was a part of everything I was doing. I came into the gym and he already has a plan, from the day I arrived there until the fight, he has everything planned out and how he sees things, writing down notes every single day, and he had that little bit extra.
“It’s been great. It’s a good experience so far. Six o’clock starts, in the gym for 6, so 5 o’clock starts, really, up and it’s completely different to what I’ve been used to doing. I’ve completely thrown myself into it, following the instructions and doing what I’m meant to be doing. I’ve been learning every day.”
Conlan is enjoying the detail in the plans as he builds towards his return. He said that in the Lopez fight, he realised he was not himself on fight night in the dressing room. That was a crushing realisation on an evening many thought he would claim a world title in front of his own fans. Lopez stopped Conlan in the fifth round.
Diaz is now tasked with getting Conlan over the line and making his dream of winning a world title come true.
“He ticked every box for me,” the Irishman said of Diaz. “He was involved in every session we’ve been doing, on the track or in the gym. He’s up doing the boxing and the long runs, he’s been doing them with me… the recovery type runs, he’s on the ball and he’s trained many great fighters, over 20 Olympic champions I think, and then as a professional he’s trained great fighters. He trained Miguel Cotto on his comeback trail and what I’m seeing from him when I’m in the gym with him is just the guy’s like a genius. He knows so much about boxing. He’s a bundle of knowledge which you can only learn from.”
While behind closed doors the comeback is on, the real business begins against Gill in December. The two are familiar with one another, having sparred together several years ago. Gill was with the same trainer, Dave Coldwell, back then and Conlan was just starting with Booth having worked with Manny Robles. The fight is at super-featherweight (130lbs) but Conlan does not have plans to stay there.
“We sparred a few times back in 2018, a long time ago, which was my first year with Adam,” Conlan recalled. “It was good work. Jordan’s a good fighter and I’m looking forward to getting in there. He fought [Karim] Guerfi, who I also fought last year, and he was hurt very bad in that fight. He [Gill] also took a lot of damage form what looked like a DDT when he landed on his head and his eyes rolled back and I was like, ‘Jesus Christ’. His father and Dave [were] in the corner and I was thinking I would be stopping this fight, he was put down before and taking a beating and he pulled the shot out of the bag and got it done so credit to him for that. We shared the same opponent and I took the guy out on a round, so make of that what you will.”
Conlan speaks with a respectful confidence, but he knows he must come through Gill to keep his world title aspirations alive. “I need to look good doing it [winning] and plan for the next one. I still want to be world champion and I need those big fights. I’m buzzing and ready to rock.”
Conlan admits he has departed a familiar comfort zone of sorts. There are new sparring partners and he’s already been working with Cuban legend Guillermo Rigondeuax.
“I definitely do feel re-energised being out here,” Conlan continued. “You can hear it how I speak. I kind of have that little step again where I’m ready to go in there, I’m ready to do the business, wanting to go in there and show myself my own abilities and how good I am, because I know what I have and what I can do. I just need to let the world see it and I’m excited about this one.”
The fighter and Booth were undisputedly close, and Conlan said they remain on good terms. Booth still has the likes of Josh Kelly and Harlem Eubank, and with Conlan considering retirement, Michael’s first thought was not to change the team.
“I’m unsure if he suspected it, he probably did,” Conlan said, thoughtfully. “I was over [with Adam] a few weeks before and he said, ‘If you still want me to train you, I will still be a part of it,’ so I think he was thinking about it then. I wasn’t even thinking about it then, about next moves, because in my head then I was thinking I’m done. I’m finished. But then we [Conlan and his family] started to talk, I went away, had some time, spoke with my family and said it was best to change things up. It’s all been amicable. I thank him. I’m very grateful for everything we went through together and it was a great ride and we had a handshake and said goodbye to each other. I haven’t ended on bad terms.”