Michael Conlan came back exactly how he intended from his devastating defeat to Leigh Wood.
The Belfast native carefully but effectively out-boxed Colombian power puncher Miguel Marriaga, scored three knockdowns and won their 10-round junior lightweight fight by unanimous decision Saturday night at The SSE Arena Belfast. Conlan satisfied his hometown fans and judges Mark Lyson (99-88), Kevin Parker (99-88) and John Latham (99-89), each of whom scored their one-sided fight for the 2016 Olympian.
The 30-year-old Conlan (17-1, 8 KOs) responded positively to his scary 12th-round knockout loss to WBA world featherweight champ Leigh Wood in a fan-friendly championship match March 12 at Motorpoint Arena in Nottingham, England. Conlan led on all three scorecards through 11 rounds, but Nottingham’s Wood (26-2, 12 KOs) knocked him cold with a right hand and out of the ring in the 12th round.
An unconscious Conlan fell backward, through the middle ropes and toward the arena floor, from Wood’s punch. He didn’t suffer any serious injuries, however, and came back to beat Marriaga less than five months later.
Determined to prove that setback wouldn’t prevent him from fighting at a high level again, a disciplined Conlan comfortably out-boxed the limited Marriaga from his southpaw stance and picked him apart. Marriaga seemed frustrated at times, didn’t let his hands go with any consistency and rarely landed clean shots on an elusive Conlan.
“You know what? I had to get rid of a lot of demons tonight,” Conlan told Ali Drew during his post-fight interview. “Even in the f***in’ last round, he hit me with a shot. That guy can punch. [He has] 10 more knockouts than I have fights. So, he hit me with a jab in the first round and I was like, ‘Oh, this guy actually can bang.’ So, I had to be careful and use my skills, which I did. And in the last round, he caught me with a shot.
“I was saying, ‘Listen, I been using my legs all night.’ I was the better of the pace. He was pushing it. He landed a good shot. He buckled me a little bit and I felt it. And, for me, to kinda come through that and it’s the last round, I got knocked out in my last fight in the last round, I think that says a lot. I’m back, baby. I’m ready for any of them.”
The 35-year-old Marriaga (30-6, 26 KOs) has lost three of his past four fights, all on points.
Marriaga undoubtedly needed a knockout entering the 10th round, in which he tried to be physical with Conlan. The punch Conlan appeared to reference in his post-fight interview was a right hand by Marriaga that connected barely 30 seconds into the final round, while Conlan was backed up against the ropes.
Conlan leaned forward and held Marriaga after taking that shot, but Marriaga flung Conlan to the canvas approximately 40 seconds into the 10th round. Conlan came back to throw hard body shots at Marriaga for the remainder of their fight.
Despite acknowledging that he felt that shot from Marriaga, it was Conlan that sent Marriaga to the canvas once apiece in each of the three previous rounds.
Conlan caught Marriaga with a left hand that made Marriaga lose his balance and touch the canvas with his right glove with about 1:35 to go in the ninth round. That counted as the second knockdown of the fight for Conlan, but Marriaga again complained that he slipped on the slick canvas.
Marriaga struggled again during the eighth round to catch Conlan with clean punches. Conlan scored another knockdown when Marriaga appeared to slip to one knee a couple seconds after Conlan connected with just under a minute remaining in the eighth round.
Marriaga went down to his gloves and right knee with 1:32 to go in the seventh round, but Marriaga complained that Conlan’s right hand landed on the back of his head. Conlan landed a short left hand as Marriaga was already falling to the canvas.
Conlan’s straight left moved Marriaga backward with just under 20 seconds to go in the seventh round.
Marriaga slipped to his gloves and knees with just under a minute to go in the sixth round. Conlan caught him with a left hand that moved Marriaga backward with a little under 30 seconds remaining in the sixth round.
A right hook by Conlan landed with about 1:20 on the clock in the fifth round. Marriaga landed a right hand to Conlan’s chin with just over 30 seconds remaining in the fifth round.
Conlan connected with a left hand a few seconds after the halfway point of the fourth round. Conlan controlled the action again in the fourth round, as Marriaga struggled to land flush punches.
Marriaga caught Conlan with a counter left 1:05 into the third round. Conlan came back to land a left hand just before the midway mark of the third round.
A right hook by Conlan knocked Marriaga off balance later in the third round.
Conlan landed a left hand approximately 1:15 into the second round. The hometown fighter continually made Marriaga miss during the second round.
Conlan caught Marriaga with a right hook about 25 seconds into the first round. Marriaga went down at almost exactly halfway through the opening round, but referee Victor Loughlin ruled Conlan pushed him down.
Conlan cautiously approached Marriaga in those first three minutes and made Marriaga reach with his punches.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.