9:34 AM ET
- •Reports on boxing for ESPN.co.uk, as well as several national newspapers
•Has been reporting on British boxing for over 15 years
•Appears on BoxNation’s Boxing Matters show
There may be no fight fans in attendance, but when Northern Irish boxing duo Michael Conlan and Carl Frampton step back into the ring on Saturday, they will have the backing of their biggest supporters: each other.
Conlan (13-0, 7 KOs), 28, boxes Ardennes, France-based Sofiane Takoucht (35-4-1, 13 KOs) in his first fight sincehe beat Russian Vladimir Nikitinvia unanimous points decision at Madison Square Garden, New York, last December.
Conlan has spent the last two months training in London and is aiming to eventually become a three-weight world champion along with friend Frampton, who is also boxing onSaturday’s ESPN+ showat a television studio in London without fans due to coronavirus restrictions.
Frampton has already won belts at junior featherweight and featherweight and has been an inspiration for Conlan, who is five years younger and now operating two weight divisions below.
“Becoming a three-weight world champion would be creating history for Irish boxing as no one has done it before,” Conlan told ESPN.
“Hopefully Carl can beat me to it, but if he doesn’t do then I will be doing my best to become the first Irish boxer to be a three-weight world champion. I’m friends with Carl and in my opinion he’s the best boxer from here [Northern Ireland and Ireland] ever with what he has achieved. He’s the best fighter we’ve had from here.
“It gives you inspiration and belief seeing what he has done. He has come from the same working class background as me, same city, and I know him, so yeah, it’s inspiring. I want to emulate that or even better what he has done. If Carl doesn’t do it [three-weight world champion], I want to do it.”
Frampton (27-2, 15 KOs), 33, who faces Darren Traynor (16-3, 7 KOs) in a ten-round non-title bout on Saturday, is a big admirer of Conlan’s skill set and is convinced he will fulfil his potential.
Frampton told ESPN: “He’s one of the most skilled boxers I’ve seen and certainly the most skilled fighter from Ireland.
“I always thought he was a big featherweight but he knows his body more than anyone else and says he can do 122 lbs, so he’s going to be a very hard task for anyone at junior featherweight.”
Meanwhile, Conlan reckonshe can eat some of his own baking creationsand still make the junior featherweight limit.
“I could have made junior featherweight for this fight against Takoucht, but it is actually going to be at featherweight,” Conlan said.
“I can make junior featherweight easily so I’ve not had to be too strict with my diet. When I’m making weight I can probably eat a bit of cake and still make junior featherweight.”
Conlan is dropping down a division after finding he could comfortably make the junior featherweight limit of 122 lbs since beating Nikitin.
“It’s a natural move to 122 lbs, it’s not about titles or anything else,” Conlan added.
“I put going to 122 lbs on hold for a bit and for the Nikitin fight. There was nothing in the pipeline during lockdown, no fights, so I started eating normally again. I’ve always been in the gym and making weight and I don’t think that’s healthy all the time. The lockdown gave me time to press the reset button and the weight has just come naturally.
“The realization that I could easily make 122 lbs and be strong at that weight made the decision of where I should be boxing. It’s always been my dream to be a three-weight world champion — junior featherweight, featherweight and junior lightweight — and that’s possible again now.
“I’m naturally stronger at 122 lbs and I’m stronger now after the lockdown period than I was before it. I’m doing a lot more with strength and explosiveness than I have in my whole career, I feel I’m coming into my prime.”
Conlan, who won a bronze medal at the 2012 Olympics and turned professional after controversy ended his 2016 Olympics, hopes to face the winner of recently-crowned WBO junior featherweight champion Angelo Leo (20-0, 9 KOs), from Las Vegas, against Stephen Fulton (18-0, 8 KOs), from Philadelphia.
“I was ranked No. 1 as a featherweight with the WBO so I’m going to be in a mandatory position and will fight the winner of Angelo Leo versus Stephen Fulton,” Conlan added.
“The move to 122 lbs — it’s not like it just came along, it’s happened naturally and was looking that way before Nikitin. I’ve got myself in the best shape I’ve ever been in, I’ve trained right through since the Nikitin fight.”