Michael Conlan‘s homecoming fight has just taken place at SSE Arena in Belfast. The popular boxer was welcomed to the ring very enthusiastically by his loyal fans for his first bout as a professional in his home city.
On the night Conlan moved to 8-0-0, 5KOs against Brazilian opponent Adeilson Dos Santos but his performance didn't reach boiling point in a city that has been absolutely sweltering for the few days I have been here.
I brought my family along for a short break and we have been sightseeing vigorously while loading up on the Factor 50. It has felt more like Bangalore during the dry season and now my children think Belfast is this wildly exotic place so close to home.
Despite the temperature and the frenzied atmosphere during the fight, Conlan was quick to douse the rising expectations surrounding him straight after the fight: “I'm still not the finished article, I've still got a lot to learn, I give it a six out of ten tonight.”
Perhaps a bit harsh on himself but it is positive that Conlan recognises there is still much work to be done before he is ready for any major titles.
His opponent tonight had been involved in a world title fight, a losing effort against Jessie Magdaleno last year, and although Conlan held all the aces in boxing terms, Dos Santos held the experience advantage.
The bout started with Dos Santos signalling his intentions. He was keen to take control of the center of the ring and engage with Conlan. Conlan instead stayed busy, getting into range to land jabs to the head and body before moving away again swiftly.
Round two saw more of the same with Dos Santos struggling to land anything significant whereas Conlan peppered him with jabs that would have been more annoying than hurtful to the Brazilian.
The third session saw Conlan boxing out of the southpaw stance, he had begun the fight orthodox, and he produced his best round so far. His punches had more authority and there was a definite focus on attacking the body of Dos Santos. Michael continued to switch hit in the fourth frame and perhaps getting a bit frustrated with the way things were going, Dos Santos attempted to take the fight up close. Conlan looked comfortable during these exchanges.
Rounds five and six Conlan demonstrated capable switch hitting ability, good defence and coping with Dos Santos'attempts to rough him up, but I thought it was time for the home fighter to start putting a little more heat into his shots. We did glimpse this once in the sixth when a right caught Dos Santos on the chin and momentarily buzzed him.
Round seven was the best of the fight. Dos Santos came out charging and bullied Conlan to the ropes. Conlan was taking some shots but was seemingly allowing Dos Santos his one minute of dominance in the bout before taking over the final two minutes with some nice body work.
The eighth and final round (late decision to change it from a ten rounder) saw Conlan cruise safely to the end and a winning score of 79-73 on the referee's card.
“I was feeling it in there just because it's my first proper fight, so to speak really. He forced the pace a bit, he was smart and awkward but I'm happy with the victory,” was Conlan's immediate assessment of the fight.
It was a good way to summarise the contest because it is sometimes easy to forget that Conlan is still very much in the learning stage when it comes to professional boxing. This was his third bout of 2018 and we can reasonably expect to see him at least twice more as Top Rank continue to build him into a star.
While Conlan vs. Dos Santos failed to sizzle the four bouts on the televised undercard more than matched the boiling weather in the city. Here is a summary.
A Scotland vs. England battle of undefeated boxers kicked us off when Scotsman Lewis Benson faced Johnny Coyle of England in the 140lb division. Benson, an orthodox boxer, made a great start against southpaw Coyle, establishing his smooth skills and speed as well as dominating the important footwork battle that is always a factor in righty vs. lefty fights. This changed in the third and fourth rounds as Coyle got aggressive, took over the foot placement battle and started using his right hook more to slow down Benson's jab. The final five rounds gave us good exchanges and a clash of styles as Coyle decided to walk through Benson's shots and try to back him up as much as possible. Benson, being urged to box at all times by his corner was attempting to do just that utilising his back foot skills. At the end of ten exciting rounds the referee scored the bout 96-95 in favour of Coyle. The Englishman moves to 19-0-1, 2KOs while Benson is now 10-1-0, 2KOs after suffering his first defeat.
Up next Tyrone McCullagh of Derry, Northern Ireland faced Joe Ham of Glasgow, Scotland. On the line was the vacant Celtic super-bantamweight title as well as both men's unbeaten records. McCullagh had the vast majority of the backing in the arena and those fans were pleased as he made a sharp start, showing more aggression and timing Ham very well. The third round was looking similar until Ham caught McCullagh with a nice left and the home fighter was down. It was near the end of the round so Ham didn't get a chance to follow up but he was right in the fight now. Ham's left hook was firing in the fourth while McCullagh dominated the fifth with some nicely timed counters and body shots. McCullagh has busy footwork and his constant changing of angles made it difficult for Ham to every really be fully set to deliver his punches for the remainder of the bout. While the rounds coming down the stretch were close it was McCullagh's work that the judges liked as he took a UD 97-92, 98-92, 98-92. McCullagh (11-0-0, 6KOs) lifted the belt while Ham (14-1-0, 5KOs) exited the ring looking dejected.
What followed was a mini-classic. It really didn't matter that the IBF inter-continental super-featherweight title was on the line when Dublin rivals Jono Carroll (holder) and Declan Geraghty got in the ring. This was a rematch of a 2014 four rounder between the foes – that night Geraghty was disqualified in the final round for illegal use of the head. The two southpaws combined to give us a memorable rematch. Carroll, sporting a hugely thick and long beard the type of which you often hear of fighters being asked to trim, opened the contest in aggressive fashion. Geraghty knew what was coming though and outboxed his man in the opener. Round two featured more great exchanges as the feeling at ringside was this was bubbling up nicely. The third round saw Carroll make the breakthrough as he scored a knockdown after a great combination of punches. Carroll now had things where he wanted them and Geraghty obliged him by fighting with Carroll instead of boxing him. While this made for plenty of excellent exchanges Carroll was always on top of these, Geraghty on more than one occasion looked like he was about to go down again. He was able to remain on his feet although his movement and punch output was gradually declining as Carroll kept the relentless attacks coming. It ended in the ninth when the referee correctly stepped in to save Geraghty from any further punishment. Carroll (16-0-0, 3KOs) has a fan friendly style and personality to match. I suspect that with a higher KO percentage he would be more well known but there is still time for him.
Form a rumble of a rematch to an almost incredible comeback. Another all southpaw affair awaited as WBO inter-continental light-welterweight title holder Jack Catterall..
..of England defended his belt against Tyrone McKenna of Belfast. It was the third battle of undefeated fighters on the night. After an opening round battle of the jabs which McKenna perhaps just edged Catterall scored a knockdown at the end of the second round to take control. This was after having had a point deducted earlier in the same round for pushing McKenna to the floor. It was a rarely seen 9-8 round to the Englishman. McKenna was game following that but Catterall looked a notch above him in rounds three and four before he put the home fighter on the canvas again early in the fifth. A beautiful combination of left hooks to the body and head had McKenna looking like he might get stopped. But he survived to the end of the fifth and, a mile back on the cards, proceeded to launch a brave fightback. McKenna's battling qualities came to the fore as with tremendous backing from the crowd he threw everything at Catterall. As the final round was beginning McKenna looked to be in with a shot of winning. Catterall must've realised he was in trouble as he showed urgency during the opening two minutes of the tenth round and despite McKenna's strong finish to it held on to take the round and the fight. The judges awarded the holder a UD by 95-91 and 94-93 twice. Catterall moves to 22-0-0, 12KOs while McKenna (16-1-1, 6KOs) showed that he has the heart and determination to bounce back from this.
Before the TV cameras got rolling for the live broadcast there was plenty going on for the early arriving fans.
Neslan “The Pitbull” Machado (13-0-0, 8KOs) of Cuba – boxing out of Miami – treated us to a fine display of front foot boxing. His over-matched opponent, José Aguilar of Nicaragua, absorbed plenty of punishment during the six rounder as “The Pitbull” worked him over with left hooks to the body and powerful uppercuts from both wings. Despite this Aguilar hung around to hear the final bell. Machado won a shutout and may be worth watching in a deep featherweight division.
London super-flyweight Sunny Edwards (8-0-0, 3KOs) also had to work for the duration (six rounds) as Christian Narvaez stubbornly stuck to his defensive game plan. It was another shutout which will provide Edwards' team will plenty to look at and analyse.
No scoring was needed as Lewis “The Croc” Crocker (6-0-0, 6KOs) added to his impressive start to life as a professional. Just 15 months into life in the paid ranks the 21-year-old from Belfast could be the next fighter from this city to build a huge fan base. Of course it is too early to tell but the way the powerful welterweight dispatched Adam Grabiec with a body shot in the opening round means you should also file “The Croc” under the one to watch category.