Michael Conlan was less than two minutes from glory. The Irishman’s silky skills had confounded Leigh Wood for eleven rounds, putting him well ahead on the judges’ scorecards.
The situation was clear. Wood, the WBA featherweight champion, needed a knockout in the final round of the fight, while Conlan only needed to stay on his feet to achieve a lifelong dream.
But Boxing is a cruel sport and as the cliche goes, one punch can change everything.
Not only did Conlan fail to stay on his feet, he failed to stay in the ring, as the Champion delivered a savage right hook, when he needed it most.
Wood sent Conlan through the ropes, delivering a dramatic ending to what was surely the fight of the year – so far.
Michael Conlan slumps through the ropes as Leigh Wood completes a dramatic comeback victory. Photo: Zach Goodwin/PA Images via Getty Images.
Conlan dominated the fight early, knocking Wood down in the 1st round, and almost finishing him.
A well-disguised left hook found the Englishman’s jaw and put him flat on his back. In the 2nd round, he ate similar left hooks over and over again. He was dazed, he was wobbly, he looked shot.
It took Wood several rounds to recover from that early damage, eventually findings his legs down the stretch.
By then, he was well behind on the cards and his trainer, Ben Davison, let him know all about it.
A dazed Wood rises from the canvas in Round one. Photo: Zac Goodwin/PA Images via Getty Images.
Conlan had been cleaner, faster and calmer. He made all the right choices, pressing the action and throwing intelligent combinations at the correct moments, and stepping out of range when his heavy-handed nemesis looked threatening.
It was the Olympic Bronze medallist’s fight to lose.
Conlan’s career had been carefully managed up to this point. Despite his ready-made Irish fanbase and amateur credentials, his team avoided rushing him into a world title fight.
Some of the Belfast man’s previous outings left experts questioning if he really had the ability to reach the very top of the professional ranks.
Not tonight, it seemed. They were preparing to eat their words as Conlan gave a gritty world champion a lesson. That is, until Conlan himself was given the most painful lesson of all.
In the 5th and 6th rounds, Wood upped the ante, attacking Conlan with quick flurries, rather than loading up with singular attacks.
Photo: Zac Goodwin/PA Images via Getty Images
The fight was becoming more competitive, but Conlan was still taking the rounds with cleaner and sharper punches.
In the 8th, Wood was hurt again with heavy shots, but he wore them well, continuing to pour on the pressure.
That pressure began to tell in the 10th, when he pinned Conlan to the ropes and began to drain him with aggressive bodywork.
Then came the 11th, where things really started to turn. Wood sent Conlan to the canvas with a big left hook. The Irishman disputed the knockdown, claiming he’d slipped, but it gave Wood the momentum he needed to turn it on in the final round.
Conlan hits the canvas in Rd 11. Photo: Zac Goodwin/PA Images via Getty Images.
With 1:44 left in the 12th, Wood pinned Conlan against the ropes again and let vicious flurries fly.
One of those punches caught Conlan, putting him unconscious against the ropes, before slumping through them, as the referee stopped the fight.
Conlan had failed to put a proud champion away when he was there for the taking – and he paid the ultimate price.
If this was a “Hail Mary”, Wood’s prayers had certainly been answered. It was his second 12th round stoppage in a row.
Photo: Nigel Roddis via Getty Images.
But the way Conlan flew through the ropes was so disturbing, that celebrations were muted.
Watching someone go limp and free-fall out of the ring in such a manner – made you wonder if he would ever be the same. Not Michael Conlan, the fighter. But Michael Conlan, the person.
Can we be certain that he will make a full and speedy recovery? I truly hope so and my thoughts are with him and his family.
The result did not go his way, but he still put on an exceptional performance against world-class opposition. Conlan was almost perfect from start to finish, but almost was not enough.
“Thank you to all the fans. All the Irish travelling fans. First of all I just want to say I hope Michael is ok. I can’t celebrate until I know he’s alright. My thoughts are with him at the minute,” Wood said after the fight.
He said what we were all thinking. Classy words from a humble and worthy champion.
We all hope that both men return to their families safely.