Michael Conlan says Hernandez rumble will show him how far he has come
TWO years after his professional debut, Michael Conlan returns to Madison Square Garden to face experienced Mexican Ruben Garcia Hernandez on St Patrick's Day.
Over the past 24 months, Conlan has progressed to 10-0 with six stoppage wins and there were signs in his last fight – a points win over Jason Cunningham in Manchester just before Christmas – that 2019 will the year when he blossoms as a pro.
That's the way it should be of course. Making your way up the ladder takes time but Conlan was dropped right in at the deepend with his high-profile debut and he has had to cope with an ‘Ok, now impress me' attitude from boxing fans ever since.
“You have to play the cards your dealt and if you come in at the top end you have to live with the criticism,” said Conlan.
“But would I rather have it the other way round? Coming in with no profile, building and learning my trade? No, because I wouldn't be in the position I'm in now, I'm in a great position. I feel everything has worked out better for me.”
The win over Cunningham was the most comprehensive to date for former amateur world champion Conlan, who had already beaten a former world title challenger in Adeilson Dos Santos in just his eighth pro fight. He'll trump both by beating Hernandez impressively in the ‘Big Apple'.
The well-travelled Mexican has fought in the US and Europe before, has 10 early wins on his 21-3-2 record and Nonito Donaire is the only man to have stopped him.
“He's tough and he has an awful lot of experience but these are the questions you need to be asked to see if what level you're at,” said Conlan.
“You have to test yourself and see how far you are from where you want to be and what things you need to work on. These are the guys who can bring that out of you, ask questions of you and see what you're ready for.
“He's definitely the type of guy I need at this stage of my career.
“You don't go 10 rounds with Donaire if you can't take a shot, so he is tough and he has good experience but if the opportunity arises and I can take him out, I will take him out, I will go for it.
“If I can't, I'll use my skills and out-box him.”
Conlan described his win over Cunningham as “the best experience I've had as a pro” and he intends to build on it in New York. Early on in that fight at the Manchester Arena he was trying too hard to be the boss but, after he relaxed, he took complete control and should have added to his list of stoppage wins.
“There were questions asked of me in that fight, I went 10 rounds with my first southpaw as a pro,” he said.
“After it I thought I needed to go back and work on my defence because sometimes I was getting caught with unnecessary punches.
“They weren't affecting me but with a bigger puncher, a more dangerous guy, they were shots that could end your night. I went back and worked on defence and tactics but for my learning and development that Cunningham fight was the best one I've had so far.
“I was forcing it too much at the start, I was trying to land big shots and get the job done as quick as possible which was the wrong way to go about it.
“I need to be a bit cuter, Cunningham was quite cute in how he got out of the way of shots and navigated his way through the 10 rounds. He fought in spurts and took wee breaks while I'm used to fighting at 100 miles an hour all the time as an amateur and so far as a pro.
“I saw a stat that I'm throwing an average of 76 punches a round which is mad compared to other prospects. Throwing that many punches leaves you open to be hit so I have to learn how to take my time and break guys down properly.”
Olympic nemesis Vladimir Nikitin appears on the undercard at the Garden and there has been talk of Conlan facing the Russian, who got an infamous decision against him at the Rio Games, this summert.
However, with just two wins as a pro, Nikitin may not have the experience, or the profile, to face Conlan yet.
LARNE super-featherweight Kelvin McDonald takes on rival Declan Kenna on Assassin Promotions and Boxing Ireland Promotions Clash of the Titans card at the National Stadium on Saturday, March 30, live on TG4.
Before turning professional, McDonald defeated 'Dollar Dec' in a semi-pro fight and the Dubliner has been calling for a rematch ever since, following the youngster into the pros to chase the fight.
McDonald (19) is happy to oblige.
“It was more a case of when, whether it would be on this show or a later one,” he said.
“I wanted it as soon as possible. It's a bigger platform, a bigger show. I had multiple people telling me not to take - and others saying 'why not?' but at the end of the day, he doesn't have the boxing experience of me, my boxing superiority will show, he won't get near me."
Kenna comes from a mixed martial arts background, claims McDonald 'ran' in their first fight but the Larne native says it's his boxing skill that will see him win on March 30.
“When it comes down to it, it's boxing, it's hit and not get hit,” he said.
“You have to do what you have to do to win. I watched the fight a couple of times and he actually was on the back foot more than I was! I was pushing him back.
“I always wanted this fight in Dublin just to prove that the crowd doesn't bother me, I like going into someone's territory to prove them wrong, taking the excuses out off their hands.”
Clash of the Titans' is headlined by a vacant Irish featherweight title fight between Eric Donovan and Stephen McAfee with further domestic dust-ups between light welters Victor Rabei and Jake Hanney, lightweights Martin Quinn and Francy Luzoho, super featherweights Allan Phelan and Aiden Metcalfe, and light middleweight fight with Graham McCormack boxing Jade Karam.
The undercard also features appearances for Kerry super feather Siobhan O'Leary, Belfast world title challenger James Tennyson, Dublin's super bantamweight Carl McDonald.
Tickets for the night cost €40 (general), €60 (ringside), and (€100 VIP) and are available from Ticketmaster.ie or Universe.com or direct at 077 0988 6872.