Conlan and Marriaga ready to enter the danger zone

IT’S high-risk, high-reward for Michael Conlan at the SSE Arena tomorrow night as he aims to put March’s world title defeat to Leigh Wood firmly behind him when he tangles with Colombia’s Miguel Marriaga (live on Fite TV from 7pm).

The Colombian veteran arrives in town with a record of 30-5 and 26 of those wins within the distance – a warning that a lapse in concentration will be ruthlessly punished.

Of his defeats, three came in world title fights against Nicholas Walters, Oscar Valdez and Vasiliy Lomachenko and while he has lost two of his last three, Marriaga has over twice as many fights as Conlan and brings a wealth of experience, know-how and durability to get through the tough moments.

Had Conlan taken a simpler task in his first fight back after his bid to claim the WBA featherweight title slipped away in the closing seconds of a grueling battle in Nottingham, there would not have been too may complaints, but he is determined to get back into the title picture immediately and also put any lingering demons to rest by coming through a fight against a big-punching rival.

“I’m expecting a tough fight on Saturday and know it’s no easy touch,” said Conlan earlier this week.

“People said I could have been forgiven for taking someone else and I probably could have, but what’s the point? I want back into the title picture as soon as possible and someone like Miguel Marriaga is a statement to do that.

“You win or you learn and I’ve done an awful lot of learning. I think this fight helps me wipe the slate and get back to where I need to.

“He is a guy with no quit in him and I think he will be there to the end. Am I expecting to take him out? No – if it happens, it happens, but I’m not expecting it as I know how tough hey ice

“I saw him fight Oscar Valdez live in LA and that was a fight of the year contender. He hurt Oscar and I know how tough he (Valdez) is.”

Conlan is wary of the power in the fists of ‘The Scorpion’ and having been punished in the final round against Wood, knows he can’t make the same mistakes and invite trouble.

That’s why he will box with patience and aim to put on a slick display, avoiding trouble and ensuring he doesn’t get lured into a firefight that would suit the visitor.

Despite being stopped last time, Conlan boxed well and defensively he was sold with his head and body movement resulting in more punches slipped than taken, but it was a slip of a different kind that came as a punch landed when trading in the 11th that gave Wood a lifeline and he took advantage in the final round. The West Belfast man has vowed there will be no such issue this week with so much riding on the outcome of this fight.

“There is no need for me to get into any trouble or get into a war,” he agreed.

“I’m just going there to put a performance on and plan a dominant boxing win.

“I just got greedy on my own success (against Wood) and that was the problem and my downfall. I suppose that’s experience and something I hadn’t had that 12-round experience before. I’ve had to learn the hard way by losing but I did and that’s a good thing.”

Marriaga is not in Belfast to make up the numbers and while respectful this week, is nevertheless confident that he can expose any lingering doubts Conlan may carry over for spring.

This may be his last realistic opportunity to get into a world title fight and he is in no mood to let it slip.

“I’m very confident I will win and what gives me confidence is training at the high altitude of Mexico City,” he said.

“I saw the fight he lost and I think because of that, he will lack confidence. I think that will affect him as he will try not to be over-confident.

“I’ve fought the best in the division and the world like Lomachenko and I bring that into this fight.”

Michael Conlan insists he has learned the lessons from March's defeat to Leigh Wood


Michael Conlan insists he has learned the lessons from March’s defeat to Leigh Wood

What Conlan suffered in March was a bump in the road, but a second straight loss would represent a much greater roadblock and set him back quite a way, so there can be no slip-up this weekend or his ambitions of claiming world honors as a pro will become a lot harder to fulfill.

Expect him to box with patience and maturity, taking no risks and giving Marriaga little encouragement.

A stoppage is unlikely given how tough the Colombian is, but Conlan can make a statement without an early night and with the backing of a packed SSE Arena, he can deliver just that.

The hunger to get to the top is as strong as ever and he is ready to do what it takes to get there.

“If you were to look at my journey from the outside, you would think it’s been a straight line, but it’s not,” he stressed.

“Now I’m on the windy road that 99 per cent of fighters are on and the route isn’t the same as what it was.

“It brings the hunger back and makes you want it even more. I’m happy with where I am, focused on what I need to do and I want to get there.

“I went into the opponent’s backyard in my last fight and tried to do it the hard way after people might have thought I’d had it the easy way before. It didn’t pay off – I was close – but I’m looking forward to going the hard way again if I need to.”

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