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Mick Conlan defeats TJ Doheny in Féile Thriller

Mick Conlan has emerged victorious in what was one of the biggest and best fights in modern Irish boxing history.

The Belfast world title chaser unanimously outpointed former titlist TJ Doheny of Portlaoise in an epic twelve rounder at the Falls Park

Minutes from Conlan’s childhood home in West Belfast, the amateur legend was able to show his skills, his grit, and his chin as he came through the toughest test in his career, being pushed all the way by Doheny but eventually winning wide on the cards.

Back in 2019, Conlan had stopped Argentine Diego Alberto Ruiz but he returned to the Falls Park tonight with the stakes much, much higher – and both he and Doheny rose to the occasion.

For Sydney-based southpaw Doheny, it was a case of seeking redemption after a head-spinning fall from prominence. Having lost his world title belt in 2019 in a sensational unification with Danny Roman, the road warrior’s trail back to the top was put on the skids when he lost a low-profile eight-rounder in Dubai to unheralded Romanian Ionut Baluta. Returning home for his first professional fight in Ireland – albeit still in the away corner as he almost always is – Doheny gave everything but just could not get through an inspired Conlan.

Conlan’s climb, while slower than perhaps originally expected, has been consistent. Having stopped Frenchman Sofiane Takoucht last Summer, he moved into world title pole by outpointing the in-form Baluta back in April – although the goings-on of fight week perhaps make his next steps somewhat unclear.

A largely respectful and quiet build-up exploded into life over the past few days. News emerged on Monday evening that the WBA ‘interim’ featherweight title would be on the line – something of a surprise considering both have been targeting titles in the super bantamweight division. Come press conference time, Doheny was not happy, claiming the switch to a 124lbs catchweight had been sprung on him less than a week out while Team Conlan insisted everything was above board.

At the weigh-ins, Conlan came in over the shaky 124lbs agreement but, with no knowledge of what is going on behind the scenes, we proceeded towards the Falls with pointed comments regarding ‘professionalism’ ringing in our ears.

The entrances for this fight perhaps requires a report of its own. Doheny entered first and was faced with a long wait as Conlan embarked on a three-song ring walk – with the fired-up Portlaoise puncher dancing and singing along in the ring. When they both found themselves in the ring it was akin to dogs marking territory as both looked to control the centre of the ring whilst being introduced, raising the temperatures in the Falls just that little bit more.

Following all the theatrics, though, it was cagey to start – with Doheny the aggressor but landing little as Conlan showed good elusiveness.

Fighting southpaw, the Conlan jab landed well in the second as Doheny roared forward. At one stage they found themselves tied up against the ropes, with ‘The Power’ trying to fight out but also receiving a ticking off from referee Howard Foster for use of the head.

Doheny managed to close the distance in round three and was able to force Conlan to fight on the ropes, landing well. Things were tetchy to say the least and Foster admonished both following some ungainly grapples. Conlan , though, was able to find a rhythm as the stanza progressed, countering with some eye-catching check-hooks.

Conlan arrowed out southpaw rights to start the fourth and walked Doheny onto a big shot as the pair traded words. The trash talk continued throughout the round until the close, with Conlan landing a big shot on the bell and roaring into the Midlander’s face and rousing the crowd.

The 2015 World Amateur Champion was starting to show his class at the start of the fifth, opening up and Doheny responded aggressively. It was, however, bodyshots from Conlan that looked to be doing the damage. With a minute to go, Conlan made his big breakthrough as a succession of meaty bodyshots forced Doheny to take a knee for a split second. Going in for the finish, Conlan drove Doheny to the ropes and somehow survived the barrage – even landing two powerful-looking uppercuts of his own.

Things cooled slightly in the sixth with Conlan in control but – after a bright spell for Doheny – there was a pause as the Belfast boxer was warned for continually straying low. When proceedings resumed it was furious stuff against the ropes, Conlan evading plenty but not all as Doheny fought for his career.

Moving into the second half of the fight, the pair traded in centre ring with Conlan wearing some huge Doheny shots well and ripping in slashing combinations of his own.

Boxing beautifully, Conlan enjoyed a strong eighth, landing almost at will and seemingly hurting Doheny in the corner before sensationally having a momentary wobble in the closing seconds after being timed clean.

A dramatic ninth saw both enjoy pockets of success and both were looking in some discomfort. It was gruelling stuff but the sense was that Doheny needed to continue upping the pace.

This didn’t particularly come in the tenth, as Conlan largely bossed proceedings – although there was a strong finish from Doheny as we moved into the championship rounds.

The more experienced fighter in these waters, 34-year-old Doheny enjoyed a stronger eleventh but needed a knockout in the last three minutes.

It didn’t come – but not from lack of trying. Doheny poured forward but was met head-on by Conlan in one of the most sensational few minutes of Irish boxing ever seen.

Going to the cards, Conlan was confirmed the victor on cards of 119-108 and 116-111 x2.

The win sees the Top Rank talent improve to 16(9)-0 while the gallant Doheny drops to 22(16)-3(0).

As previously mentioned, the winding road to world titles for Conlan, who turns 30 in November, is hard to decipher from the outside. The winner of the super bantamweight WBO-WBC unification between Stephen Fulton and Brandon Figueroa could still be an option but the weight question will linger. If featherweight is the new route, WBA ‘regular’ champion Leigh Wood comes into view – with the Nottingham fighter’s promoter, Eddie Hearn, pushing for ‘super’ champion Leo Santa Cruz to be stripped as he has not defended the belt in over two years.

Wherever he goes next, a return to the Féile next summer will be pencilled into every Irish boxing fan’s calendar.

Earlier on on the rain-soaked card, Tyrone McKenna provided chief support for the Irish. ‘The Mighty Celt’ traded knockdowns with Jose Felix Jr before wrestling his way on top to win a wide decision and the WBO Inter-Continental light welterweight title. There was also a rankings belt for Padraig McCrory who splattered the nose of Sergei Gorokov to take the Russian’s WBC International Silver super middleweight title while Paddy Donovan claimed an eye-catching knockout in the first versus Jose Luis Castillo.

In the pre-televised bouts, there was also a knockout for Fearghus Quinn while James McGivern, Callum Bradley, Sean McComb, and Cain Lewis all picked up whitewash points wins.

Joe O'Neill

Reporting on Irish boxing the past five years. Work has appeared on irish-boxing.com, Boxing News, the42.ie, and local and national media. Provide live ringside updates, occasional interviews, and special features on the future of Irish boxing. email: joneill6@tcd.ie