Michael Conlan believes win No. 16 will take him to within touching distance of a world title fight.

The 15-0 Belfastman faces former world champion TJ Doheny on August 6 at Falls Park in Belfast in an all-Irish battle and while there will be fans, Conlan expects the majority will get behind him.

“Of course, 100 percent,” Conlan said, assuredly. “It’s my back garden. I couldn’t see it being any other way. TJ’s based in Australia. To Northern Irish boxing fans he’s not really known, even though he was world champion he hasn’t had the media set up or reach that I’ve had from the start. Obviously coming from the Olympics helped me an awful lot, maybe unfairly for him, but he chose the path of Australia and he got there without that big fanfare. He will have fans in the arena and I’m sure they’ll be loud but they’ll be very hard to hear over the noise of my fans.”

Falls Park will be set up for 8,000 fans and it’s just about sold out with around 90 per cent of the tickets selling in the first few hours of going on sale. 

“The atmosphere is going to be special,” Conlan added. “Falls Park is a special place, as we saw at the last bill [when Conlan fought Argentine Diego Ruiz in August 2019].” 

Since then, Conlan has fought in a world altered by the pandemic and he’s been unable to capitalize upon his extraordinary fanbase. 

He’s boxed behind closed doors, and while he loves a crowd, he’s also been able to take care of business with wins over Sofiane Takouchet and Ionut Baluta.

“I’m a guy who thrives on the audience and I’ve had a big audience since day one, with big fanfares and my last two fights have had no one there,” he continued. “I’m not going to say it’s been hard, it’s been okay, but I think the last one with fans [Baluta] would have been even better and it would have got even more out of me, even though I did enough. I think it would have fit the fans well but now we’re back. [We are] three weeks away and it’s something I can’t wait for, standing in front of those fans ready to walk out and go in to battle, facing a fellow Irishman for the first time in the professional game and it’s something that I’m excited about.”

And Conlan is well familiar with Doheny, he’s known of him for years and rates him highly.

“He beat my brother [Jamie] in the amateurs, I’m friendly enough with him and I’ve spoken to him many times and I’m a fan, I really like TJ,” said Conlan. “Now we’ve got to face each other and to achieve that world title I need to beat TJ Doheny and I’m looking forward to facing him.”

And Conlan admitted that Doheny, 22-2, is the best he has faced so far in the professionals.  

“One hundred per cent,” Michael added. “You have to say he is. I haven’t fought any former world champions yet, I’ve fought guys who fought for world titles but this guy was world champion, he was in a unification fight, he has power, 16 knockouts from 22 wins and he can be dangerous when he wants to be, tricky when he wants to be, he’s a southpaw, there’s loads of chemistry in there that bodes well for him – but I think I have the answers for everything he has.” 

Conlan has been in camp with trainer Adam Booth and will head to Belfast around a week before his Friday night fight next month. He’s had 14-0 Norway-based Filipino Bernard Torres in sparring for three weeks and said he’s been “perfect, exactly what I needed.” 

And then it’s on to Doheny and then… a world title? That’s certainly the plan.

“In the world of boxing…” Conlan started, explaining the haphazard nature of the sport before checking himself, “I’ll say yes, because that’s what I’ve been told. I don’t think there’ll be one between this and before a world title. This is my World Cup semi-final and I need to win it to get that world title shot. I can’t think about what’s after this because the guy in front of me is a former world champion and a serious competitor, someone who has been to the mountain top and seen the peaks and fought at elite level and performed very well.

"He lost a decision to Daniel Roman but he didn’t disgrace himself in any way, he put on a class performance and showed guts, strength, power, determination, and heart, and that’s probably something I haven’t had to show yet to a certain extent. There are people outside of my circle wondering if I have that in me, but I know my pedigree, I know what’s deep down inside me and any questions that will be asked will be answered with flying colors.”