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Michael Conlan not worried about controversial decisions ahead of Leigh Wood title challenge

Michael Conlan is confident he will not be victim of another unfair outcome in Saturday’s world featherweight title challenge against Leigh Wood.

The last world title fight in the United Kingdom ended in one of the most controversial points decisions in recent years. Josh Taylor’s split points decision over England’s Jack Catterall on Feb. 26, to retain all four world junior welterweight titles, was investigated by the British Boxing Board of Control (BBBofC) and Ian John-Lewis, one of the judges who scored the fight in Taylor’s favor, has been downgraded. The result was also referred to the police by the Speaker of the House of Commons, Sir Lindsay Hoyle.

Conlan (16-0, 8 KOs), 30, from Belfast in Northern Ireland, is no stranger to controversial points decisions and knows how Catterall felt. Conlan was left without an medal at the 2016 Olympics when Vladimir Nikitin was awarded a controversial decision in their quarterfinal bout. Conlan then gave a middle finger salute in the ring and lashed out at the judges.

But Conlan is not expecting to experience similar frustration when he challenges Wood, who will be making a first defence of the WBA “regular” world featherweight title in front of his home fans at the Motorpoint Arena in Nottingham in England.

“I’m devastated for Jack Catterall but glad it happened then and not in my own fight,” Conlan said. “It’s probably going to be hard to happen now again after the Taylor-Catterall fight. There will be some international judges in this one too.

“Hopefully come March 12 after everything that has happened I don’t have to flip the f—ing bird again and go crazy. I think it will be clean and we won’t have to worry about that.

“Jack Catterall probably felt exactly how I felt and he may never have that opportunity again to become undisputed champion because if Josh Taylor moves up those belts go everywhere.

“With the outcry and public rage we could see sterner and better decisions right now because they don’t want it. Fans weren’t happy with what happened and it’s a good thing that the public have spoken up.

“It was an embarrassment, a stain on boxing. In my opinion, people [judges] probably had an opinion of who was going to win the fight before it started and that’s the only way they saw it and it was probably a subconscious thing. What they need to learn is what they are judging, and be more accountable for the decisions.”

Wood (25-2, 15 KOs) produced one of the biggest upsets of 2021 when he stopped China’s Xu Can in the final round to win the world title. It was an impressive performance from Wood, 33, one fight after he won the British title and who was outpointed by James “Jazza” Dickens two years ago.

Wood has home advantage, which will be an unusual experience for Conlan who has enjoyed big support at fights for most of his career at home in Belfast and also in New York.

But Conlan, bronze medallist at the 2012 Olympics as an amateur, is convinced Saturday will be the moment he fulfils a dream he has been chasing since he turned professional following controversy at the 2016 Olympics.

“I have this feeling of knowing and the hairs on my arms stand up on my arms, it’s almost overwhelming because I know what’s going to happen, I’m about to realise my destiny,” Conlan said.

“Leigh Wood has improved, he’s a very good and tough fighter, but everything has fallen into line for me and I get my confidence from preparation and this is the best I’ve felt. I will have realised a dream, it means the world for me.”

There are some potentially big fights in the pipeline for Conlan should he win his first world title Saturday, with Mexico’s Leo Santa Cruz the WBA’s most prestigious champion and Spain’s Kiko Martinez set to defend the IBF belt against England’s Josh Warrington on March 26.

“There’s possibly unification fights, Leo Santa Cruz, big fights over at Top Rank and my door is wide open to what I do next,” Conlan added.

“I’m not worried about knocking anybody out, it could come, I’m concentrating on being the best Michael Conlan there could be.”

ESPN Boxing

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