Boxing

Hard work pays off at Feile an Phobail spectacular says Jamie Conlan

Alfredo Meli got his tactics spot on and scored a deserved points win against highly-fancied Arias Marutjan. Picture Mark Marlow

A YEAR’S hard graft by Jamie Conlan of MTK, Top Rank and a Feile an Phobail team led by Kevin Gamble and Harry Connolly came to fruition with the spectacular success of Saturday night’s fight night at Falls Park.

Michael Conlan’s stoppage win brought the curtain down on a bill that included plenty of thrills and spills including disappointment for British and Commonwealth title challenger Paddy Gallagher but success for his near-neighbour Padraig McCrory who beat Steve Collins jnr to win the Celtic super-middleweight belt.

“We sat down three days after the Wolfe Tones concert last year and that’s when we initially got the ball rolling for this,” said Jamie Conlan as a good-natured full house of 10,000 had begun to make their way home.

“It’s been a long year and it has been a big relief to see it turn out as good as it has.

“Boxers don’t always transcend into the wider public and Mick is one of the few who can do it. He brings the masses together and attaching him to the Feile and to West Belfast, his home, only increases the magnitude of the event.

“But I see the pressure it puts on him, he carrying a lot of weight on his shoulders and to see it over and done with… I’m relieved.

Saturday night was a celebration of Irish boxing and, within that, a celebration of boxing in west Belfast and the fans turned out in their thousands to roar on all the local favourites.

“How many west Belfast lads were on the bill?” said Conlan.

“Sean McComb is one side of the park, Mick is the other, Paddy Gallagher, Alfredo (Meli), Dee Sulllivan… It has been a celebration, a fantastic night and Belfast needs these nights.”

Alongside Dublin middleweight Luke Keeler, Meli’s win over highly-fancied Arias Marutjan was the performance of last Saturday night at Feile an Phobail.

Meli met the menacing German in the middle of the ring and locked horns with him at close quarters from the first bell. The close distance meant Marutjan was unable to get leverage on his shots and Meli outworked him on the inside and recovered from a fifth round knockdown to win on points.

“It was brilliant to get out and go for it again,” said the west Belfast mechanic.

“Your man was good but it was good to get back up on the horse and get back into it.”

Unbeaten Marutjan travelled to Belfast with an 8-0 record that included savage back-to-back knockout wins. He was a former World Championship bronze medallist and the odds-on favourite going into the fight – Meli didn’t know that until he had beaten him.

“Was he? I didn’t know!” said Meli.

“It didn’t bother me anyway. I was here to perform – that was the main thing. The gameplan was to make it hard work for him and easy work for me and that’s the way it worked out.

“He caught me a good shot but I had good quality of sparring and I have good quality men around me who taught me how to recover quickly and get back on the horse and put him under pressure again.

“The pressure beat him in every round and that’s what won the fight.”

Meli certainly gives fans their money’s worth and a step up to domestic title level cannot be far away.

“I want a move on,” he said.

“I’ll still fight anybody., I’m still the same ’oul ’Fredo Meli.”

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SEAN Duffy paid tribute to his coach Harry Hawkins after his impressive undercard win at Falls Park on Saturday night.

The lightweight from Keady, in county Armagh was a class above journeyman Naheem Chaudhry and put four valuable rounds in the bank as he set his sights on more challenging opponents in the future.

“We knew he was going to be very awkward and very hard to nail down,” said former amateur star Duffy, who moved to 3-0 with the win.

“I hit him with a lot of clean shots but he wasn’t giving in, he was very tough and fair play to him, he kept hanging in there when a lot of people could back out very easily. I have to take my hat off to him, I have a lot of respect for guys who can take them shots and keep going forwards.

“It was a good four rounds and I’d be happy to step up to six or eight any time. In the gym I’m doing 10 rounds so four rounds is not a bother. If anything, the biggest problem we had was taking a round to get going because I’d be very relaxed in the first round and I would tend to take punches just to get started.

“My goal was to start fast and get it under my belt because I know I have the stamina to do eight or 10 rounds. I had to keep the pace going.”

He linked up with former Holy Trinity ABC coach Hawkins – the knowledgeable Belfast boxing guru who masterminded Bernard Dunne’s rise to the WBA super-bantamweight title a decade ago – after he returned from a stay Down Under.

“I was boxing out in Australia for five or six months and I was meant to turn pro with MTK in Brisbane and then my visa ran out and I had to come home,” said Duffy who runs the Duffy Fitness gym in his native Keady.

“I made a phonecall to Harry when I was on my way home and I said: ‘I’m going to turn professional when I come home on one condition: You’re going to train me.’ Harry said yes straight away and it wouldn’t be the same without him.

“I’ve been working with Harry for years and he knows me inside out, he knows my strengths so it works well with him. The gameplan went perfect.

“I have my own gym in Keady and I do all my strength and conditioning there and then I come down to Harry four or five days a week to do my padwork and my sparring.

“He watches over all of that so I think I’m living the dream at the minute – I have my own business and everything is going well and I have Harry sitting on my shoulder.”

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