Michael Conlan takes step up in his stride in homecoming masterclass
SWITCH-hitting Michael Conlan showed off his developing arsenal of boxing skills to win the “first real fight” of his career on Saturday night.
Over eight competitive rounds with long-levered Brazilian world title challenger Adeilson Dos Santos, Conlan – who entered the arena to the haunting strains of the ballad Grace - delighted his fans by finding gaps, making angles, spinning out of trouble, firing in combinations and switching styles to hammer out a 79-73 points win.
He didn’t have it all his own way against experienced and unruffled campaigner Dos Santos in what was, on a night of electric drama, a relatively slow-burner.
But it was job-done for Conlan in his first outing on home soil as a professional and his first fight in his native Belfast since 2011. He’ll have more emphatic and entertaining wins than this, but he passed the test with flying colours to bring down the curtain on a high-octane fight night at SSE Arena.
Dos Santos (now 19-5) came to fight and he met Conlan in the centre of the ring from the first bell. Conlan settled quickly and built an early lead but as the fight developed he seemed more concerned with developing his boxing playbook than blasting out a crowd-pleasing win.
He edged a quiet opener and settled in the second when he landed a left hook and a right hand follow up as ‘Sweet Caroline’ boomed out in the stands.
Dos Santos nodded his head after another left hook crunched into his ribs in the third, but he had no intention of giving the Belfast fight fans a Conlan KO to celebrate.
Conlan was able to switch effortlessly from orthodox to southpaw and force his opponent into mistakes but it wasn’t a walkover and well-organised and cagey Dos Santos rallied to edge the seventh and he caused the Falls Road man problems in the last too, but Conlan was the very clear winner.
Afterwards he awarded himself six out of 10 for his performance which, considering he was in just his eighth fight as a professional, was over-critical.
“I know I could’ve done an awful lot of things better but at the same time I’m learning on the job, I’m working on things,” said the London Olympic Games medalist, who was cut over left eye from a clash of heads.
“I was in there with a decent fighter, a former world title challenger who was game as a badger, awkward as hell and his arms were longer than my whole body.
“I’ve got to go back and work on how to control his pressure.
“I was letting him walk me down a few times instead of maybe just holding my feet a bit more and doing things to make him stop walking forward.
“At the same time it's only my eighth fight and that is a fight I think I’ll come away from learning a hell of a lot. It’s the perfect fight at the perfect time.
“Obviously I was hit on the chin tonight and he can punch, I felt his power a few times. I think I answered a lot of questions.
“Was I 100 per cent in my performance? No, I’m way better than that but I’m a professional and I could’ve done a lot better but I’m happy to come away with that experience of being pressured, feeling what it's like.”
There were shades of bantamweight world champion Ryan Burnett – also coached by Adam Booth – about the way Conlan went about his work on Saturday night.
His game is based on boxing skill, not devastating one-punch power, and, although he never had Dos Santos in serious trouble, he was delighted with some aspects of his performance.
“I was pleased with my backhand as a southpaw - to the body, to the head,” he said.
“What I wasn't pleased with was letting him close the distance at times, I let him get in without doing anything.
“Because he’s so experienced and has fought so many rounds he was able to condense that pressure and pace into eight rounds after being at the longer distance. He was able to control the pace a bit more than I was.
“When he hit me it was my fault more than anything – it was me being careless and reckless. I don’t think I’d have got a better learning fight against anyone else because the other guys I’ve been fighting haven't come towards me.
“He came towards me and showed that I'm not the biggest puncher in the world so it’s good, it gave me more openings. He was switching because I was switching, which made him a bit more awkward.”
Conlan intends to take a few months off now – his second child is due on July 10 – and when he returns later in the year he’ll be going 10 rounds for the first time.
“I’ve been in training camp since January - well since Christmas- and I’ve had three fights now and been away in England the whole time,” he explained.
“I stay in camp the whole time. It’s hard, we are after moving in to a new house and Shauna’s been at home doing everything, heavily pregnant.”
He added: “I had to take the fans away at times because I was feeding into it too much.
“Towards the end I felt I could let it go for the fans but I knew this guy was a big puncher, no matter who he’s fought.
“He hit me a few times and he didn’t really hurt me but I could tell had pop in his punches so I’m not going to risk anything, I’m not stupid. I’ve got to think about the future, not fights like this, slugging it out with someone I’m better than.”
This was a step in class for Conlan and he took it in his stride. All that was missing in a quality performance was a knockout, but he proved his class and showed his home fans that a world title shot is a question of ‘when and where’ not ‘if’.