IRELAND’S Michael Conlan started the year on the receiving end of one of the most dramatic knockouts witnessed in a British ring for some time and will now end the year fighting perhaps the only man able to say he was on the receiving end of a knockout to rival that one in 2022.

On Saturday (December 10) in Belfast, nine months after losing his unbeaten record against Leigh Wood, Conlan will fight former European bantamweight and featherweight champion Karim Guerfi in what will be Conlan’s third fight of the year. It is his second fight since losing against Wood, having impressed when beating Miguel Marriaga in August, and a win, should he get it, will duly prepare the former amateur star for a climb back up the world rankings in 2023.

In fact, for both Conlan and Guerfi the name of the game remains rebuild. Both, after all, didn’t just start the year on the wrong foot, they suffered the kind of defeats that take a while to recover from. Conlan, as mentioned, was knocked clean out of the ring in the final round of a “Fight of the Year” contender against Wood in Nottingham, whereas Guerfi, a veteran who is no stranger to adversity, was shockingly knocked out by a Jordan Gill right hand in the ninth round of a fight he believed he was winning in February.

That defeat, a tough one to take, would have finished lesser men. But Guerfi, a pro since 2006, has had his fair share of setbacks and has developed, as a result, an uncanny ability to brush himself down and rebound stronger. Indeed, in a 38-bout pro career Guerfi has been beaten no fewer than six times, four by stoppage, but always, without fail, responds positively when getting back on the horse.

In 2021, for example, he began the year getting stopped inside a round by Scotland’s Lee McGregor in Bolton, only to then grab the European featherweight title in August with an upset decision win over Andoni Gago in Spain. He performed a similar trick in 2013, too, when a decision loss against Omar Lamiri was followed by a decision victory in Belgium against Stephane Jamoye, the home fighter, to win the European bantamweight title.

Essentially, then, what you have with Guerfi is a man who doesn’t respond the way most fighters respond when facing life after a loss. Too seasoned, too aware of how lows follow highs and vice versa, Guerfi is instead a wise old campaigner who now, in 2022, is showing signs of once again preparing to create something special from the debris of a devastating defeat.

Since losing against Gill in February, the Frenchman has fought once and passed that test – a 10-round decision win over Mexican Ricardo Mercado – with flying colours, showing few signs of either a hangover or fragility. It was, in truth, a fight he was supposed to win, which makes it different than those previous triumphs against Gago and Jamoye, but, even so, returning to action with a decisive victory is a positive sign when going into this next fight, his 39th, against Conlan in Belfast.

Because this, rest assured, is Guerfi’s big test; his chance to once again pull off the upset on foreign soil. In Conlan, after all, he meets a man with fine amateur pedigree who, so far as a pro, has only put a foot wrong in the 12th round of a fight many believed he was well on his way to winning. Should Guerfi therefore manage to fashion an upset in this one, he will have well and truly confirmed his reputation as one of the sport’s great party poopers.

It’s up to Conlan, of course, to refuse this gatecrasher entry and get control of him before Guerfi has the chance to cause any chaos. He will do this, one suspects, by mixing up spells of boxing with fighting, as he often does so well, and should use his better variety and engine to ultimately outwork Guerfi for the majority of the fight. The big question, at this point, is whether Conlan will look to step on the gas and force a stoppage or will be content, knowing what can sometimes go wrong, to settle for securing victory by way of the cards. Either way, it is hard to see anything other than Conlan finishing the year with a flourish and Guerfi, a man never easily deterred, having to suck up a less dramatic defeat than his last one but one no less comprehensive.

Supporting Conlan vs. Guerfi on a big bill in Belfast is a decent welterweight 10-rounder between England’s Liam Taylor, 25-2-1 (12), and home favourite Tyrone McKenna, 23-3-1 (6).

This will be McKenna’s third fight of the year, following a loss against the world-class Regis Prograis in March and a close decision win over Chris Jenkins last time out in August, whereas for Taylor it will be his second outing of 2022, his first having come only in October (when stopping Martin Harkin in four rounds).

Both, for much the same reason, need a big win to kickstart some momentum and both have, in recent times, fallen short when stepping up to that next level: McKenna against Prograis and Taylor against David Avanesyan last year.

It has, on paper, all the makings of an entertaining fight and is likely to be a close one, too. Which is why, with the backing of home support, southpaw McKenna is the pick to get over the line with his hand raised.

Also on the Belfast card Limerick’s Graham McCormack, 8-1 (1), takes on Belleek’s Fearghus Quinn, 4-0 (1), in an eight-rounder at middleweight, while welterweight Lewis Crocker, 14-0 (8), and light-heavyweight Padraig McCrory, 15-0 (9), will also see action in fights scheduled for eight rounds.