EXCLUSIVE: Michael Conlan ready for IBF champ Luis Lopez in Belfast on May 27

“Contracts have been signed, press conference on Thursday I know Lopez won’t be here for the press conference because it’s half way across the world,” said an elated Michael Conlan.

“SSE Arena, Belfast, May 27, Conlan-Lopez or Lopez-Conlan, whatever way you want to say it.”

The 31-year-old Irish star, 18-1 (9) takes on Mexico’s IBF featherweight champion Luis Alberto Lopez in his third fight since he lost in the 2022 Fight of the Year with Leigh Wood and it will cap a massive seven days for Irish boxing with Katie Taylor boxing in Dublin against Chantelle Cameron seven days earlier, on May 20.

Conlan is buzzing and positive about the Lopez fight. He’s also thrilled it will be in front of his own fans. 

“To win my first world title, to be in Belfast, it will be really special,” Conlan said. “I know the last three Irish world champions, Carl Frampton, Ryan Burnett and TJ Doheny, the first title they all won was the IBF, so there are loads of little things that make you say, ‘That works well.’ The IBF title in Belfast, it’s going to be good.”

But while Conlan is upbeat about his chances, he rates Lopez highly and is full of respect for the travelling champion, who is making the first defence of the crown he outpointed Josh Warrington for in December.

“I think he’s a fantastic fighter,” the Irish challenger continued. “He’s very dangerous, very unorthodox, very raw and he jumps in a lot and does a lot of crazy things in the ring but they seem to pay off for him. And if you’re the type of fighter who’s going to stand in front of him and try and fight him, it’s probably the wrong thing to do. You’ve got to be smart to beat someone like Lopez. I think he’s a very very good fighter, it’s going to be a tough fight. Possibly a tougher fight than Leigh Wood, so it’s going to be interesting.”

Warrington regretted starting slowly and coming into the fight only as the contest progressed after the Lopez battle in Leeds, but Conlan was keen to praise Lopez for stamping his authority on that fight.

“The power, the fitness, the strength of Lopez, he started at a high pace at the start so there’s a mixture of things [why the contest with Warrington went as it did] but I thought Lopez was very good in that fight,” Conlan added. “I thought he was the deserved winner and Josh’s experience showed in the end, when he started to pull himself back into it. It was a very good fight but I believe the right man won.”

Belfast is known for it’s intense fight atmospheres, and May 27 will be no different with the SSE transformed into hostile territory for the visiting champion. Conlan is looking forward to that, but also understands there is still a significant job in front of him if his hand is to be raised and a new king crowned.

“A regular Belfast atmosphere for me,” he joked, about what he is expecting on the night. “It’s going to be absolutely crazy, raucous. The SSE is like a cauldron when it’s filled and I know it’s going to be 99 per cent my fans and I think it’s going to be a massive atmosphere. I know it’s like an extra man on my shoulder, but Lopez travels well – he went to Leeds, which is similar to Belfast in that they back their man – and I know the Belfast people are like that but it didn’t affect Lopez there and I don’t expect it to here. I just need to fight my fight, fight to my gameplan and I honestly believe I’ll beat him very comfortably.” 

But the fact Lopez is travelling is another reason why Conlan has so much respect for the IBF champion.

“One hundred per cent,” Conlan concluded. “I know he didn’t want to [travel to Ireland], being the champion and travelling, but the pull is here in Belfast with me and I was delighted when I was told it would be here in Belfast, so fair play to him. It will be good.”