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The 13th Round: Conlan crowd can prove the clichés wrong

By Jonny Stapleton

You can put your mortgage on it.

At one or, most likely, many stages during fight week, Jerwin Ancajas will allude to the fact that the crowd won’t be able to fight for Jamie Conlan.

Ancajas [27(18)-1(0)-1] can’t deny that the SSE Odyssey Arena will be packed tight with a partisan home support, baying for blood in old-school gladiatorial fashion, but the IBF super flyweight world champion will point out that not one of those 9000 will be able to throw a punch in his direction.

The stock lines will come like cheap TV soap dialogue like via his translator – ‘There are only two of us in the ring’, followed by ‘the crowd can’t fight for him’ and so on and so forth.

In essence, it’s all true and it’s quite possible that if the boxing boot was on the other foot, Belfast’s ‘Mexican’ may have sang off a similarly well-trodden hymn sheet.

However, if there is one set of fans that can have an impact and one fighter that can feed off boisterous unwavering support it’s the Belfast crowd and one of the most likable and entertaining punchers in boxing, Jamie Conlan [19(11)-0].

There is no doubt that talent and the fact he finds himself with a management team willing to give top end backing, has meant a fighter that previously stepped on more snakes than ladders now has a massive life and legacy changing shot.

However, there is an argument that one brilliant moment when fan and fighter all but became one has proved one of the catalyst to the battler’s recent successful run.

Conlan may not admit it or even be conscious of it – and the more practical boxing scribes, fans, promoters and managers will laugh it off – but there were a few seconds, rounds even when Irish fight fans were not only in the ring with the puncher, but were helping him to victory.

A Night of Irish Boxing Legend

In the National Stadium back in 2015 one July eve, Junior Granados had pushed for a good six rounds, with a warning sign or two thrown in, but Conlan was winning widely on the cards.

Then a vicious body shot landed, a skimmer. The wind was taken out of Conlan and the crowd. Silence fell around the famous South Circular Road venue just as Conlan fell to the canvas.

The lion-hearted little man rose to his feet with the crowd imploring him to battle on. Granados came like a train with what seemed liked hours of the round still to go and bullied Conlan back against the ropes.

Punches lashed in at Conlan – who did his best to dodge, dip, duck, dive and dodge as many as he could. Granted you can’t swim without getting wet, but the fan favourite was being soaked. Pressure was applied that would have saw a lesser fight look for a way out. Indeed, it was a barrage that would have tempted most referees to step in.

The 2,000 in attendance pleaded with Conlan to hold and begged him to survive in trepid conditions that would have made a mouse of out Bear Grylls.

At first it looked like Conlan might battle through reach his stool, consume some of Danny Vaughan’s instruction, regroup, and recover accordingly – but the constant pressure led to ‘The Mexican’ hitting the floor again with mere seconds to go.

More buckling under the constant barrage than hurt by any one shot, but at that stage it looked like the fighter had nothing left.

When the legendary Mickey Vann started to flash fingers in the home favourite’s face, those in attendance all but readied themselves to go home disappointed. There looked no way back and fight fans were ready to bemoan Conlan’s lack of luck again. If only he had gotten the British or European title shots that had been talked about. Instead he has had to take on a relative unknown on a relatively small card outside his home town.

1,2,3,4… Mickey Vann was counting up to 10, and possibly counting down on the clock on Conlan’s World title hopes.

Then it happened. Something beautiful and uplifting borne out of a gruesome body shot.

It’s hard to say to say it’s one of those things you would only see in boxing, because it was more felt than witnessed.

There seemed to be a collective ‘feck this’ from the crowd. A sense they were not accepting defeat for Conlan, he had been through too much for things to go sour just when it look like career wise things were sweeter than ever.

A wave of defiant noise filled the arena and a wave of crowd generated emotion, passion and stubborn resistance washed over the ring.

It prompted Conlan to bash two fists of the canvas as if he was punching away the pain. The crowd intensity and emotion increased further at that point and those in attendance literally helped the brave battler to his feet.

It was audience participation at its best and it wasn’t over there.

The fighter did his part and showed immense courage to get up at nine, although credit too has to go to the referee with ballroom dancing feet and the courage of a lion, Mickey Vann, who didn’t step in when many would have minutes before.

Conlan survived the round, produced the round of his career in the eighth, more than made the final bell, won the fight, and began a journey that has ultimately led to a World title fight in his hometown on a massive TV card.

No doubt those that were not attendance will make the same points Ancajas will at some time deliver at today’s press conference.

The crowd were not in the ring with Conlan, they couldn’t take or throw punches, they certainly couldn’t lessen the pain the Belfast man felt.

All that is true and it was the bravery of a fighter who has more than proved his toughness that ultimately saw him through the fight.

However, anyone that was in the world’s first purpose built boxing Stadium that night in July 2015 will know something unique happened. They may not have taken the pain from the fighter or put power in his legs, but they helped give him the will, desire and ambition to not just bite down on the gum-shield but pierce through it to fight on.

No doubt some will suggest using guts to secure fight glory isn’t just a once off for the soon to be World title challenger. Indeed, he has produced two more get-off-the floor comebacks since, and been in more wars than Napoleon, and won.

Yet never since has he had to overcome a body shot or constant pressure like he did in that famous seventh round against the hard man from Mexico and if he had been his experience in Dublin would have proved to him that he is capable of dealing with ultimate pain and adversity.

That magic moment may be a once off. It may have been a fluke gathering of people that just brought positive vibes at one given moment and managed to effect a fighter.

If that is the case the champion may be proved right when he rattles of the ‘only two of us in the ring lines’.

However, there is a theory that suggest that fan fighter connection particularly during those 10 seconds was a Jamie Conlan thing. Such was the love and respect for held the hard-fighting, respectful gent with a glint in his eye, that those who paid to watch him and others that night couldn’t bare to see him lose in that manner- and as a result produced a near supernatural moment to help him get to his feet and save his World title dream.

Consider that happened in Dublin in front of a relatively modest crowd and it would be hard to argue that 9,000 of the fighter’s hometown dwellers can not have an impact in what could prove a famous night in Belfast this coming weekend.

Granted Conlan has Dublin connections, his father was born there, his mother took a shine to the aforementioned when they first met on St Patrick’s Day in the Phoenix Park, he has relations from the city, and had fought and often done the corner for his brother in that very venue as an amateur.

However, there is no place like home and home support. If any set of fans can give their man that bit extra it’s the brilliant Belfast fans – and if any fighter take it on board it’s Jamie Conlan.

Now, all of is this is not to say or expect that Conlan will need to be roared up from the canvas – although this assistance may be necessary at some point. Primarily though, this time round the 31 year old will need to be roared on, to be inspired from the start, to be elevated in level rather than altitude.

It’s the extra ten percent that headliner Carl Frampton has spoken of, the boost that only home advantage can bring.

Just wait until, from the confines of his dressing room, Ancajas hears the first few bars of The Irish Rover ring around the arena.

Photo Credit: Ricardo Guglielminotti – The Fighting Irish (@ThefIrish)



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