By Matt Christie
IAIN DOWIE, the humble former Northern Ireland striker, is a popular figure in football for several reasons. Not only did he once embrace the cruel notion that his looks left plenty to be desired, he also joked about the own goals he scored with the same gusto he used to describe those he thumped into the opposition’s net. But perhaps his biggest claim to fame is being credited with being the first to utter, while on TV analyst duty, ‘bouncebackability’ in 2004 and it then quickly being adopted as the way to describe coming back from defeat. In 2005, the term – which by then, frankly, was being used ad nauseum – found its way into the English Dictionary. Bouncebackability: (especially in sport) the capacity to recover quickly from a set-back.
Several fighters on a stacked Matchroom show taking place on Saturday night (December 2) will need to draw on all the bouncebackability they can lay their hands on in Belfast’s SSE Arena. Leading the way is the featherweight 12-rounder between the city’s own Michael Conlan and Jordan Gill, of Chatteris. Conlan is fighting to save his career, after losing heavily last time out to IBF belt-holder Luis Alberto Lopez, and likewise Gill, not so long ago one of the brightest young talents in the Matchroom stable, could find he suddenly has nowhere to go with another defeat. The Englishman, 27-2-1 (8), was last seen being stopped in four rounds by the ageing Kiko Martinez in October 2022. For both Conlan and Gill, and for similar reasons, there has been a lot to consider in recent months. Now, only victory for each will do.
Conlan, the man with the most famous middle finger in boxing, blazed on to the professional scene in 2016 following an Olympic silver he and most observers felt should have been gold. So talented and charismatic was he, those same observers, and many more besides, also predicted his professional career was destined for the very top. But that loss to Lopez, which came three fights after another KO defeat – to Leigh Wood in the last round of a WBA challenge – mean the Northern Irishman, now 32, is now at a significant crossroads.
Gill’s loss to Martinez, surprising not because Jordan lost necessarily but more so because it was so one-sided, was his second stoppage defeat. The first one came in XX – a real shock – when he was stopped in eight rounds by XX in XX and, in the bout prior to Martinez, he took significant punishment before scoring a stunning KO himself when he seemed on the brink of being flattened himself.
Therefore, it’s difficult to ascertain who is the most ‘damaged’ because, in truth, all four losses were the kind to take significant miles off the clock. As such, when attempting to predict a winner, examining both at their best, and thus considering the qualities we can only assume remain, is perhaps a better formula. And when one thinks of Conlan and Gill, the artful switch-hitter against the fleet-footed punch picker, it’s easy to imagine this one going the full route. The pick, then, is for Conlan – who appears the superior all-round boxer – to win a wide decision on the cards.
Belfast southpaw Tyrone McKenna, 23-3-1 (6) and 33 years old, is someone who has proved his bouncebackability not once but thrice in recent years. Ten-round points losses to Jack Catterall (2018) and Ohara Davies (2020) were dutifully brushed off before an ambitious leap into elite waters saw him stopped by Regis Prograis in 2022. That was followed by victory over Chris Jenkins (pts 10) in August last year. But 15 months out of the ring may not be the best preparation for the threat of fellow Belfast man, Lewis Crocker.
The 26-year-old, 17-0 (10), was gaining serious momentum in 2020 when he stopped Louis Greene, but the collapse of MTK Global has subsequently proved a hindrance. This one might well be the fight of the night and is hard to call: Do you go with the seasoned and determined McKenna or gamble on the raw promise of Crocker? We go with youth on this occasion, to win a decision over 10 that may well be debated in the aftermath.
There are two other excellent 10-rounders on the bill with Darlington super-welterweight Troy Williamson, 20-1-1 (14), and Liverpool super-lightweight Sam Maxwell, 17-2 (11), two more who fit this preview’s theme.
Williamson, though he’s won a six-rounder since, was thoroughly outpointed by Josh Kelly in his last major fight last December whereas Maxwell, now 35, looked his age when being halted in seven by Dalton Smith in July. Sam is a fine boxer but may find the advantages in youth and location too much to overcome when he faces Sean McComb, 17-1 (5).
In Belfast’s Caoimin Agyarko, 13-0 (7), Williamson meets a boxer who might well have all the tools to reach world title level. We expect the 26-year-old, who can be a joy to watch, to turn on the style and take the decision.
THE VERDICT: Set to be a great night for Belfast boxers and a return to form for Iain Dowie.