Master boxer Michael Conlan brings the curtain down on Feile festival with victory over Diego Ruiz

New WBO Intercontinental and WBA Intercontinental featherweight champion Michael Conlan goes head-to-head with Diego Ruiz. Picture Mark Marlow
Andy Watters at Falls Park. Belfast

WBO & WBA Inter-Continental Championships: Michael Conlan beatt Diego Ruiz TKO9

From Andy Watters at Falls Park

WHAT a night for Mick Conlan, the man from round the corner in Cavendish Street.

The Falls Park Feile was an Irish celebration in a city where that hasn’t always been straightforward; a festival of boxing under the sky where army helicopters once hovered.

Had they been keeping watch on Saturday, they’d have reported full bars, packed stands, quality fights and two more belts for Conlan who'd left his opponent Diego Ruiz in a crumpled heap in the ninth round.

Conlan is a master boxer who will perform best against quality opposition. If he was a footballer, he would shine brightest in derby games when tackles flew in and he had only seconds of time and inches of space to conjure up skills that very few others have.

He’s not a one-punch knockout merchant and was at his best on Saturday night when Ruiz attacked and he thrilled the crowd with split-second dips and spins and crisp counters that put manners on the man who had come to spoil his party.

He never looked like doing it and, although he was caught a few times, Conlan said himself: “If you go out in the rain you’re going to get wet”.

A bigger punching opponent might see it differently but this was another valuable win for Conlan as he looks forward to bridging the gap to world title level.

Conlan was world amateur champion in 2015, an Olympic Games medal winner, he made his debut at Madison Square Garden and has now boxed there three times but Saturday night, on his home turf where he misspent many an hour of his youth, topped the lot for him.

“It was the best night of my sporting career so far,” he said.

“All day I was nervous. I’ve experienced big, big atmospheres already in my career but I knew this would be different. It was a bit daunting at times and I was a bit more serious today, I was focussed and I was raring to go. Adam (Booth, his trainer) kept telling me to calm down and relax and slow down my warm-up.

“Once I came out of the changing room and heard the noise, it was like my debut all over again, I felt at home. I enjoyed the ring-walk, I savoured it and I sang the whole way to the ring.”

Michael Conlan celebrates his win over Diego Ruiz on Saturday night. Picture Mark Marlow

Oh Grace, just hold me in your arms and let this moment linger,

They’ll take me out at dawn and I will die…

After the haunting sounds of Grace had faded into the west Belfast night, Conlan focussed on the job he had come to do.

There was a fight – an important fight – to be won against a man who grew in confidence until Conlan drew him out of his shell and stopped him.

“Ruiz is no joke,” he said afterwards.

“I made him look more ordinary than he is and I know I’m not the biggest puncher in the world but I have enough power to get respect from people and from the first jab he had to respect me – I stung him a bit and he didn’t want to commit too much.

“I hurt my hand around the fourth or fifth so I had to switch (to southpaw). I only hurt it because I was catching him with jabs the whole time and that turned out to be a good thing because it put me in the position I needed to be in to get the finish.

“He had a bit more ambition than the rest of them (my opponents) so when I was in there I had to figure some things out.

“I don’t think I was hit too often because I feel really fresh. I feel really good, he didn’t bother me at all and you have to experience being in there and being hit. I said to Adam before it: ‘I’m actually going to get hit in this one!’”

Booth described Conlan’s performance on Saturday night as A*. Still he knows his man still has work to do and, at 12-0, a couple more fights are required before he challenges one of the featherweight world champions.

“We still have a long way to go until St Patrick’s Day next year,” he said.

“We have to sit back and watch this and there is a big gap between this dude (Ruiz) and Josh Warrington and a world championship and Michael still has to bridge that gap.

“But what we do know is that he can deal with this level cleanly. There are bigger challenges out there but at least we know now that he is clearing this level in the right manner.”

Conlan looks ready for a step up in class and he needs it now to prepare for the “bigger challenges” Booth rightly sees coming. There is talk of Jessie Magdaleno, even Kiko Martinez who would also be a good test for him before a world shot next year.

Conlan v Ruiz scorecard

Round one: Ruiz was on move, ducking and feinting but Conlan watched his eyes and his hands. Nothing much coming from Ruiz and Conlan starts behind his jab and shades a cautious opener. 10-9

Round two: Ruiz is looking for his trademark long left hook but can’t land it. Conlan’s jab is on target and he switches to southpaw stance midway through the round and follows up with a sustained body attack. Had Ruiz in trouble in neutral corner. 10-9

Round 3: Ruiz still cautious but he catches Conlan with a couple of shots when the Belfast man tries to force the pace. Conlan is jab, jab, jab and he slips a counter and slams a straight right hand into Ruiz’s nose. 10-9

Round four: Best round so far. Conlan dips the shoulder and rips a shot through Ruiz’s guard. His feet and balance are superb as he spins round the Argentinian who can barely lay a glove on him. Piling on the pressure, he targets the body again and Ruiz is relieved to hear a bell that ends another Conlan round. 10-9

Round five: Ruiz was getting dismantled so he comes out fighting and with some success. He manages to breaking up Conlan’s rhythm and lands shots off both hands to edge the round. 9-10

Round six: Bizarre scenes as Ruiz decides to take a break during the action and gets clipped a couple of times by Conlan, who was well within his rights. Ruiz corner was furious. Conlan round 10-9

Round seven: Conlan has lost some of his early momentum against Ruiz who is growing in confidence and looking more comfortable. Fighting in patches, Conlan does enough to win the round but it looks like this will go to points. 10-9

Round eight: A late flurry from Conlan does enough to put a close round in his bank. Ruiz, proving a tough nut to crack, has some good moments off the back foot but Conlan nails him with a one-two and traps him in a neutral corner. 10-9

Round nine: Conlan moves through the gears. Back at southpaw, a short left hook leaves Ruiz winded and he follows it up with a right hand that scuff his stomach. Ruiz goes down but he’s back up at eight. His corner pulls him out, a little prematurely, a minute and 34 seconds into the round.

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