By Elliot Worsell
WHILE there is arguably no better sight than that of two boxers on prolonged winning runs finally meeting so that one can finally experience defeat, there is also something to be said for a fight between two boxers coming off setbacks, both of whom, because of this, know another defeat is strictly out of the question.
In such fights we tend to see boxers fuelled by desperation, and by pride, and by both an awareness and fear of defeat which drives them to do all they can to avoid experiencing this feeling again. Tonight (December 2) in Belfast, for example, super-featherweights Jordan Gill and Michael Conlan, both coming off losses, were fighting for more than just victory and yet victory, in the end, is really all that mattered; that is, avoiding another defeat is all that really mattered.
As it happened, of the two it was Gill who managed to keep his career on track and add further damage to Conlan’s. He did this by frequently hurting the popular Irishman with his straight right hand before, at the one minute and nine seconds mark of round seven, stopping Conlan in a corner from which he found himself unable to escape.
In many ways a microcosm of his career, Conlan, having battled so bravely to rebound from a heavy knockdown in round two, ended the fight – and perhaps his career – backed into a corner, head down, swinging away when he would have maybe been better served prioritising his own safety over the entertainment of his loyal Irish fans.
Regardless, unlike his first pro loss against Leigh Wood last year, this one had an air of inevitability for Conlan, especially after that second round. For it was in that round, the second, Gill managed to time Conlan’s attempted uppercut with a stiff and spiteful left jab-cum-hook, which staggered Conlan and sent him to the canvas to receive the first and only count of the fight. Unsteady on his legs, both when the punch landed and when he clambered to his feet, Conlan did remarkably well to see out the round, yet there remained a sense as well that Gill, after hurting Conlan with some more right hands, was quite content to bide his time and exploit similar opportunities in subsequent rounds.
It was to Conlan’s credit, then, that Gill would have to wait. In round three, for instance, Conlan fought back well, taking the round on activity and a series of body shots he landed with Gill waiting a little too long. Gill, however, would soon remind Conlan of his threat with yet another big right hand in the closing stages, which, as before, shook Conlan to his boots.
The same pattern would play out in the fourth, too, a round in which Conlan got some good work done early, switching stance and switching the level of his attacks, before Gill made the far greater impression with a right cross. Once again, this shot was not only heavier than anything Conlan landed on Gill, but such was its impact it also immediately tore up whatever foundations Conlan had earlier been putting down in the same round.
Then again, the fifth turned out to be a much better round for Conlan. In this round he avoided taking anything heavier and was better at judging his distance and staying out of harm’s way. He also did well in the back end of the sixth, when his punches suddenly appeared more spiteful than before, yet this breakthrough had followed Gill dominating the first half of the round with a succession of right hands thrown down the pipe.
It was then in the seventh Gill, wearing the expression of a man confident his time would come, once again found his opportunity and exploited it. As in round two, he saw the value in trading with Conlan, placing faith in his superior strength and punch power, and invested heavily in that same jolting jab-cum-hook which did so much damage to Conlan in round two. This time, unlike in the second round, the punch simply shook Conlan rather than floored him, yet, crucially, what followed – a flurry of cuffing rights – was enough to trap Conlan in a corner and have Howard Foster, the referee, scamper to his rescue.
The stoppage marked the finest win and performance of Jordan Gill’s career. It moved him to 28-2-1 (9) as a pro and will allow him to now put last October’s stoppage loss to Kiko Martinez behind him. Better yet, in facing up to the pressure of tonight’s fight in Belfast by effectively becoming a pressure fighter and nailing this style to a tee, Gill has not only claimed the biggest scalp of his career but has also, due to the manner in which it was secured, reinvented himself now at super-featherweight.
As for Conlan, meanwhile, given both his reputation and ambition, it is hard to see how there is any way back for him after a defeat such as this. An honest, intelligent man, and someone who knows both his limitations and his potential, Conlan, now 18-3 (9), will have known the ramifications of a defeat like tonight’s long before the defeat itself became an unexpected and painful reality.