Michael Conlan survived a last minute knockdown to create boxing history on Wednesday night, becoming the first Irishman to win an AIBA World Boxing Championship title.
Conlan, 23, said it was the first time he had ever been knocked down in his life but he still clung on to claim the bantamweight title (56kg) at the championships in Doha.
The Belfast boxer, already the European and Commonwealth champion, won a rugged encounter against Uzbekistan’s Murodjon Akhmadaliev.
The pair went toe-to-toe but Conlan had moved narrowly ahead on points by the time they entered the final round. In desperation, the Uzbek threw a big right hook in the final minute which connected with Conlan’s chin to send the Irishman sprawling.
Clearly shaken, Conlan held on for the final few seconds to win his country’s first ever gold. Bizarrely, the judges gave Conlan the final round, which was harsh on Akhmadaliev.
— Amir Khan (@AmirKingKhan) October 14, 2015
“I’m a world champion! There’s not much more I can say to be honest. I’m a bit speechless,” he said afterwards. “I have never been put down in my life, head shot or body shot. But sweet on the chin and I was down, but it’s a testament to my fitness, you know,” he said.
Elsewhere, a new star of Cuban boxing was born when the babyfaced Joahnys Argilagos took gold, aged just 18.
The stylish teenager danced, bobbed and weaved his way to the title in the light-flyweight division (46-49kg), and, like Conlan, even overcame being knocked down in the final round.
Argilagos said afterwards that he had “prepared well” for the tournament and wanted more medals.
“Now I am the world champion, I want to win gold in Rio,” he said about next year’s Olympics.
Argilagos, nicknamed the “small giant”, did just enough in the first two rounds to take the title, the first gold medal of the tournament.
He outsmarted Russia’s Vasili Egorov and was cruising to the title before near disaster struck in the third, when he was floored by a right and received a count of eight. But the judges decided the title was still his.
It was one of two gold medals Cuba took on the night with Arlen Lopez winning in the Middleweight (75kg) division. But Erislandy Savon missed out at heavyweight (91kg), losing somewhat surprisingly to Russia’s Evgeny Tishchenko.
Russia also won gold at lightwelterweight (64kg) with Vitaly Dunaytsev beating Uzbekistan’s Fazliddin Gaibnazarov.
Terry Flanagan has had a hard time convincing just the British fight fraternity of his credentials – now he has the world’s attention.
The Mancunian doesn’t seek the limelight and is often kept in the shade by his rivals amid a packed domestic lightweight division.
Olympic star Luke Campbell, Kevin Mitchell, Anthony Crolla and even Derry Matthews and Tommy Coyle are all perhaps more well-known names than the 26-year-old lefty. Yet Flanagan is the only one among that bunch who knows what it feels like to strap a world title belt around the waist.
And after the manner of his two-round demolition job on WBO mandatory challenger Diego Magdaleno, there are few doubts about his world-level pedigree.
Magdaleno had only lost once in 29 fights – to Puerto Rico’s superfeatherweight champion Roman Martinez – and had never been stopped before. On Saturday night he arrived having racked up a five-fight winning streak and full of confidence only to be hopelessly outgunned by Flanagan’s brutally accurate combinations.
Indeed, perhaps the most impressive aspect of his victory was the variety of clinical power punches which did the damage. A sublime right-hook counter early in the second dropped Magdaleno for the first time.
With the American dazed, a picture-perfect left uppercut speared through his guard and sent him back into the ropes. Another three-punch flurry and he was on the deck again. It could have been stopped there, but Magdaleno showed great bravery to continue.
Flanagan knew he had him though, and another relentless assault brought a third knockdown and the stoppage. It was the perfect answer to those who said he was lucky to be in possession of his WBO strap.
Flanagan (now 29-0) had picked up the vacant title in July when opponent Jose Zepeda was forced to retire having dislocated his shoulder early in their bout.
But Flanagan, who was delighted to destroy Magdaleno in the same ring at the MEN Arena where he used to watch his idol Ricky Hatton, said: “I’m a humble guy, I’m pretty down to earth. People said I didn’t deserve to be world champion but I think I’ve proved it.”
Maybe now he can lay off the Americans and start looking closer to home for opponents. Matthews, with whom he shares a promoter, certainly seem a logical choice.
Meanwhile, on the same card in Manchester, yet another UK fighter got his hands on a world title as Liam Smith knocked out American John Thompson with a booming right hand in the seventh round. Smith, one of four brothers who are all professional boxers, becomes Britain’s sixth world title holder.
That number rises to eight if you count the WBA ‘regular’ titles held by super bantamweight Scott Quigg and bantamweight Jamie McDonnell, but given the WBA has ‘super’ champions above them, it’s hard to consider them legitimate title holders.
Still, though, these are exciting times in British boxing.
Philippine boxing hero Manny Pacquiao announced on Wednesday he would likely retire next year after one last fight so he could focus on a career in politics, hopefully as a senator.
The born-again Christian, winner of an unprecedented eight world titles in as many weight divisions and at times touted as a future president of the Philippines, said he had taken career advice from God.
“I think I’m ready (to retire). I’ve been in boxing for more than 20 years,” Pacquiao, 36, said in an interview on local ABS-CBN television network.
“I prayed to God for guidance and I am happy about it.”
Pacquiao turned professional when he was 16 years old and has won 57 fights, including 38 knockouts while losing six, three of them knockouts.
Two other bouts ended in a draw. He lost a unanimous decision in May to unbeaten American Floyd Mayweather in boxing’s richest bout, which the Filipino fought with a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder.
Pacquiao, a congressman since 2010, announced this week his bid for a senate seat in national elections to be held in May next year.
“I will have to give up the other things that require my attention. If you are a senator, your focus should only be your job and your family,” he said in the interview. Pacquiao said before the elections he planned to climb into the ring for what would probably be one last time, most likely in March.
He said he was yet to pick his next opponent, and was not ruling out a rematch with Mayweather, even though the American had already announced his retirement.
Manny Pacquiao: “Yes, I’m going to run for (a) Senate post this coming 2016 election. But as to which party, that’s still to be determined”
— Boxing Insider.com (@BoxingInsider) October 5, 2015
A rags-to-riches Philippine idol, Pacquiao, a former street vendor, has shrewdly parlayed his boxing success into a career in show business, product endorsements and politics.
Now representing his southern province of Sarangani in the lower chamber of congress, the pint-sized Pacquiao is also an improbable professional basketball player and a Christian pastor.
He was mercilessly criticised on social media this week after it was reported he had attended just four legislative sessions out of 70 this year due to sporting and other commitments.
Despite this, the latest pre-election surveys put him in the winning circle of the 12 senatorial slots up for grab at the polls. Pacquiao pledged Wednesday he would be a “serious” senator.
“I will not be absent because the whole country will be my responsibility,” he said.
Political analyst Ramon Casiple said Pacquiao enjoyed a special “rapport” with the masses that would translate into electoral success.
“The perception is that he is approachable, he has an empathy for Filipinos,” Casiple said. But he warned that in the Senate, Pacquiao would be “under a microscope,” with many people looking for signs that he was not working or did not understand the issues.
Casiple also warned that even Pacquiao’s popularity might not be enough to get him the presidency down the track.
“His popularity will not be much of an advantage because he will (then) be up against people who are also well-known,” he said.
Pacquiao heads his own political party but hinted Wednesday he would run for the Senate under the banner of Vice President Jejomar Binay, the current main opposition leader who is running for president in 2016.