Eamonn Scott is ringside at Feile an Phobail in Falls Road as Michael Conlan delights his hometown fans
The main event of the evening at Feile an Phobail in Belfast, Northern Ireland saw a 10-round featherweight bout between Michael Conlan (12-0) and Diego Alberto Ruiz (21-3) for the vacant WBA Inter-Continental and the WBO Inter-Continental titles. This would see Conlan return to Belfast for the second time in a year, however this time he was fighting in the Falls Park, literally minutes from where he grew up, as MTK and Top Rank promoted. This was set to be a very special atmosphere.
In front of what was an incredible sea of Conlan fans there to support their hometown hero, the completely packed out Falls Park had waited through downpour all night for this moment. As the popular song Grace echoed around the park, Michael Conlan emerged from the assembled stage that was set up for the upcoming gigs as part of the festival. The atmosphere was quite special, and although myself growing up in this community, I did not expect it to be quite as amazing as it was.
Similar to his last bout in Belfast, the scheduling was very drawn out. However, this time around the crowd did not become impatient, in fact their anticipation grew the entire way through the night. They were all here for Michael and were all fans who had grown up with him and his family in the local areas. You could sense the community feeling.
This was without a doubt the most impressive performance of Conlan’s career so far and I’m almost certain that anyone else, including the fighter himself, would agree. He looked quicker, sharper and his timing was much better. It has been debated that Conlan would only get better with the harder opponents he faces; this proved that could indeed be the case. While not ready for world title level, it was an indicator that he is on the way to being ready.
In the early rounds, not much went on. Conlan took his time to set the pace of the fight and work out the range and distance that he would need. It didn’t seem as though the occasion got to Conlan at all.
Conlan used his jab extremely well and stung his opponent early on a few times, earning his respect in the process. In the middle rounds, the fight became very drawn out. While Michael was doing good work to the body and slowing Ruiz down, with the rain pouring down and the time going beyond 12am, some of the crowd dispersed, not to know that they would miss a stoppage by their hometown fighter.
Dropping Ruiz with a body shot, Conlan moved in for the kill and finished his opponent against the ropes for an extremely impressive victory.
Conlan had by far and away exceeded any performance expectations coming into this fight, no more so than achieving a stoppage against a very tough opponent. His distance control, along with this ability to switch between the head and body were the keys to getting this result. He was able to wear Ruiz down enough to be able to cut him and land the damaging blows.
However, I have said it before, I do not believe Conlan has sufficient power for world-level fights, especially against opposition of the quality of Shakur Stevenson who not only has the boxing pedigree to match Michael but would also have the superior finishing ability. While I do think he will eventually be ready for a title shot, I do not think it should be entertained quite this early.
The undercard of this event certainly lived up to expectations with some big wins for Irish fighters and some disappointing loses. In an absolute barnburner, Luke Keeler (17-2) moved one step closer to his world title opportunity by defeating Luis Arias (18-2) on points.
Keeler managed to drop Arias very early in the first round. However, after that, Arias was having a lot of success. Keeler once again went back to hurt Arias in the later rounds and, despite point deductions for both fighters, Keeler pulled off an extremely wide points win. This was the fight that really got the crowd involved.
In a highly anticipated super-middleweight bout, Belfast fighter Padraig McCrory (8-0) defeated Steve Collins Jr (14-3), to pick up the vacant BUI Celtic Title.
This was an extremely impressive performance from McCrory and arguably the most impressive on the entire card. Padraig had the distance figured out from the start and was one step ahead of Collins the entire time. In the last few rounds he was able to really land heavy body shots before eventually finishing Collins with overhands against the ropes in round eight.
In other results, Belfast fan favourite and Olympic bronze medallist Paddy Barnes, moved to 6-2 with a very enjoyable, action-packed points victory over the Argentinian Joel Sanchez (4-7).
Young Northern Irish prospect Callum Bradley moved to 3-0 with a very debatable points decision over Nicaraguan fighter Jose Hernandez (4-36). Bradley started off with the better counter striking but it appeared that the forward pressure and big shots of Hernandez had done enough to get the decision. I was very surprised.
Also picking up a win on this card was local fighter Alfredo Meli (17-0-1) in another extremely debatable points decision. Meli was dropped in the middle rounds and managed to fight his way back but it still appeared as though he was being outworked and outpunched by Araik Marutjan.
Michael Conlan Def. Diego Alberto Ruiz via TKO Round 9
Chris Jenkins Def. Paddy Gallagher via TD Round 10 86-85
Luke Keeler Def Luis Arias via PTS 96-91
Dennis McCann Def. Georgi Andonov via TKO Round 1
Sean McComb Def Renald Garrido via PTS 79-73
Padraig McCrory Def. Steve Collins Jr via 8th-round TKO
Paddy Barnes Def. Joel Sanchez via PTS 60-55
Alfredo Meli Def. Araik Marutjan via PTS 77-76
Callum Bradley Def. Jose Hernandez via PTS 40-37
Sean Duffy Def. Naheem Chaudhry via PTS 40-36
Mateusz Kubiszyn Def. Damien Sullivan 1st-round TKO