High stakes at home as Michael Conlan takes on experienced Brazilian Adeilson Dos Santos
Boxing: Michael Conlan (7-0) v Adeilson Dos Santos (19-4) (tonight, SSE Arena, live on BT Sport and BoxNation)
EVERY time a fighter ducks his head through the ropes it's all-in. One slip and you get knocked out. One loss and you're making way for the next big thing to come through.
In boxing you get nothing for coming second and Michael Conlan knows that only his best will do tonight.
He shows no signs of nerves, but beneath the brand new designer suits and the made-to-measure ‘Team Conlan' training gear, his heart must be pounding in his chest.
After all, he's still a novice as a pro and with all the hype that surrounds him it's easy to forget that. Tonight's fight is only his eighth and he's headlining the SSE Arena in his first appearance on home soil.
Pressure goes hand-in-hand with exposure and at the back of the room at yesterday's weigh-in, Michael's dad John looked on nervously as any father watching his boy take such an important step would.
Nevermind all those plans for world domination, switching off for a second and his son could get hurt tonight. These are nervous times for the Conlans.
“You're not human if those thoughts (of defeat) don't creep into your head and they do,” says Michael.
“I've been in with so many people throughout my amateur career and I've fought okay opponents as a pro but this is a step up. I know I have a serious test and I need to be switched on from the first bell and not let him land any big punches.”
His opponent Adeilson Dos Santos has hammered out 15 stoppage wins in his career and he can throw a huge spanner in the works if he wins. If Conlan makes a mistake he will do his best to finish him, there is no doubt about that.
The quiet Brazilian hasn't come to enjoy the Belfast sunshine and has kept himself to himself this week. He didn't turn up at Thursday's press conference claiming that the car which was sent for him never arrived, but he has been close to the summit of world boxing.
He fought former Conlan stablemate Jessie Magdaleno for the WBO super-bantamweight title last year and, although he was blasted out in a couple of rounds in that fight, the memory of it should drive him on to give a better account of himself tonight.
If Conlan wants to win – and look good doing it – he knows that he has to produce the best we've seen from him as a pro and he knows that, the bigger his profile gets the more his opponents will want to bring him crashing down to earth. That's why he keeps his feet on the ground.
“Some people are thinking it's going to be a roll over, but I honestly don't think so,” he said.
“It's definitely a test for me.
“When I'm on my best no one can beat me and my best is a lot better than his – on Saturday night I need to be on my best and then I'll have no problems.”
Conlan has trained for tonight over 10 weeks in camp with coach Adam Booth and the pair of them will have left nothing to chance. Conlan answers questions about appearing at Windsor Park, the Falls Park, even Casement Park (if it's ever rebuilt) but it's all just talk – the important stuff is what he does in that squared circle tonight.
“This fight could play a major role in how my next year and-a-half goes. How I perform could potentially get me pushing for big titles next year,” he said.
“It gets me that quality opponent you need to show you can take out in style or do a job on in style. If I do that it sets me up nicely.
“I've felt an extra edge, extra butterflies. I was watching him getting into the ring to do his bit (at the open workout) and I was thinking ‘this is real, this guy is a real fighter', I'm aware of that and I know that on Saturday night I won't have a pudding in front of me who won't hurt me when he punches me.
“He can hurt me when he punches me so I need to be calm, cool and collected, sharp, focused and destructive because I can't let him land one punch and, at the same time, I have to look good doing that.
“It's not just about missing punches, it's about landing punches.”
In his seven fights so far, he has barely taken a punch. Some of his opponents stood and did their duty for a few rounds, others ran and when the going got tough they ducked out.
Dos Santos is here to have a fight and Conlan doesn't expect him to run or simply try to survive and that will bring out his best.
“It'll bring out a better Michael Conlan than you've seen so far – I've always said ‘the better the opponent, the better the performance',” he said.
“I've had a great training camp – and I know fighters say that an awful lot – but it has been, the sparring I've had has been fantastic and I want to show what I've been working on in the gym.”
He sparred plenty of rounds with Jessie Magdaleno during their days together in the hurt locker at LA's Rock Gym. Magdaleno blew Dos Santos away but that's not how Conlan will go about his business tonight.
“Me and Jessie are the complete opposite of fighters,” he said.
“He's a small southpaw who's explosive when he jumps in and attacks. We have completely different styles but I have seen that he can be hurt. I need to be switched on and watch for him making the mistakes and I will make him make mistakes.”
Dos Santos is an interesting proposition and it could take Conlan a round or two to figure him out. He stands tall and is slim and likes to throw straight shots and thumping hooks off both hands.
The Brazilian has the advantage in reach but Conlan has many more tools in his locker and will use his boxing skills to break him down tonight.
Expect to see him move in behind his jab, keep Dos Santos off balance and force his into errors when he tries to engage him.
After he settles we should see fast hands and slick skills as Conlan begins to dominate. Dos Santos has only been stopped twice – both times in the second round – and it will be a surprise if Conlan wraps it up that quickly. A stoppage in the second half of the fight is more likely but Conlan would settle for a comprehensive points win as he takes a huge step towards his world title goal.