Michael Conlan conceded that he’ll have to be the absolute best version of himself Saturday night to dethrone Luis Alberto Lopez.
Northern Ireland’s Conlan considers Lopez a better fighter overall than Leigh Wood, who knocked Conlan out of the ring in the 12th round of Conlan’s first featherweight world title shot 14 months ago. Lopez especially impressed Conlan by traveling to Josh Warrington’s hometown of Leeds, England, and beating Warrington to win the IBF featherweight title in Lopez’s last fight.
Lopez (27-2, 15 KOs) will defend his IBF 126-pound championship for the first time when he encounters Conlan (18-1, 9 KOs) at The SSE Arena in Belfast, Conlan’s hometown.
“I think he’s a fantastic fighter,” Conlan told BoxingScene.com. “To go to Leeds and beat Josh Warrington, it’s a big ask and, you know, he done that and he did it well. It was a very, very good performance, but Josh Warrington is a completely different fighter than me. We’re opposites. I don’t stand there, with my hands up in front of somebody, and I know that’s what Lopez likes and kind of needs.”
Conlan nevertheless applauded Lopez for the Mexicali, Mexico native’s willingness to travel to another opponent’s hometown in his first fight since he became a world champion.
“He’s got balls,” Conlan said. “I have the utmost respect for Lopez. He’s a ballsy road warrior. He’s on the road, defending his title. It’s crazy.”
Warrington was a slight favorite, but Lopez outpointed him on two scorecards and won a majority decision December 10 at First Direct Arena. Wisconsin’s Mike Fitzgerald (115-113) and Australia’s Adam Height (115-113) both scored their 12-round battle for Lopez and England’s Howard Foster felt it was a draw (114-114).
Conlan feels Lopez did enough to win.
“You know, sometimes the scoring is a bit crazy,” Conlan said. “But it was a tight fight. It wasn’t completely an easy fight for [Lopez] or anything like that. It was a fight at times where he did what he wanted and Warrington didn’t look like he knew what he was doing. But, you know, Josh did enough to win rounds and then he did lose rounds. But Luis likes to put on a big push early on and then be there towards the back end and had enough in the tank that he could [win]. But yeah, I think [Lopez] won.”
The 31-year-old Conlan’s fight with Wood was a very competitive, fantastic action fight until Wood’s right hand knocked Conlan unconscious and through the ropes in the 12th round in March 2022 at Motorpoint Arena in Wood’s hometown of Nottingham, England. Conlan was narrowly ahead on all three scorecards – 105-102, 104-103 and 104-103 – entering the final round, but he knows he’ll have to be better to topple Lopez.
“He’s definitely a better fighter,” Conlan said of Lopez. “He has more things than Leigh. Leigh has power, toughness, grit and determination, whereas as Luis has plenty of explosive movements, great shot selection. He’s a good puncher to the head and body and has a lot of good attributes, more than Leigh. I think he’s a better all-around fighter than Leigh.”
Wood (26-3, 16 KOs) will attempt to win back his WBA featherweight title against Mexico’s Mauricio Lara (26-2-1, 19 KOs) in their 12-round rematch Saturday night at AO Arena in Manchester, England (DAZN; 7 p.m. BST; 2 p.m. EDT).
Lara stopped Wood in the seventh round of their February 18 bout at Motorpoint Arena to win the WBA 126-pound championship. Lara came in overweight Friday, however, thus the WBA featherweight title will only be at stake for Wood.
BT Sport 2 will televise Lopez-Conlan as the main event of a show set to start at 6:30 p.m. BST in the United Kingdom and Ireland. ESPN+ will begin its coverage of the Lopez-Conlan card at 1:30 p.m. EDT.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.