Michael Conlan gearing up for Madison Square Garden world title showdown

Michael Conlan and Ionut Baluta get up close and personal at York Hall last Friday night
Andy Watters

A WBO super-bantamweight title challenge in December at Madison Square Garden, New York is looming for Michael Conlan.

The west Belfast boxer hopes to fight in August to prepare for his long-awaited shot at the title which is currently held by American Stephen Fulton. Fulton will defend the belt against the winner of the May 15 clash between WBC champion Luis Nery (31-0) faces WBA regular champion Brandon Figueroa (21-0-1). And the winner of Fulton v Nery/Figueroa must fight Conlan within 90 days or face being stripped of their title.

Conlan saw off a determined challenge from Ionut Baluta in London last Friday night. Although he says his younger brother “under-performed” in the fight, Jamie Conlan said it was “another step in the right direction”.

“It was a great learning fight for him and fantastic that he was able to come through it even when he was under-performing,” said Jamie.

“There were glimpses of world class in his head movement and defensive in-fighting but he was trying too hard to knock him out. He hurt him in the first round and kept trying to chin him after that.

“But you can only learn one way and that’s in the ring under the lights and he knows what it feels like to be trying to knock someone out instead of just letting the punches flow a bit more and getting back to boxing. It was a step in the right direction although the scoring scared me a little and the 114-114 decision was a shambles. I gave Baluta three rounds, four maximum, on workrate.”

Conlan’s movement and his ability to read Baluta’s intentions and slip his shots at point blank range was superb on Friday night, particularly after an eight-month lay-off, a serious ankle injury and in his first fight at super-bantam. However, his offensive performance was patchy and his punch output could have been much higher.

“He was looking for that one shot instead of looking to get back to the boxing and breaking the guy down properly,” said Jamie.

“But, all-in-all it was a great learning fight and to get to elite level and to be a world champion you have to come through night’s like that when you’re not performing to your best but you’re still able to win.”

Six of Conlan’s 15 career wins have come at New York boxing Mecca Madison Square Garden and Jamie hopes to be back in The Big Apple before the end of this year.

“By December there should hopefully be some form of normality in New York so it looks likely that we’ll go for Fulton, or whoever has the belt then,” he said.

“Before that we’re looking at Michael fighting in August in Belfast. I think he needs another fight, he needs to be active. Friday night proved that a long break out of the ring wasn’t good for him and we want him fighting in April, August and then December.

“It’s been a poor year so far and Saturday night with Tennyson losing was another kick in the teeth for Irish boxing. He was riding the crest of a wave but boxing is one big game of snakes and ladders and Covid-19 is the kid who just comes in and wrecks the whole board!

“We’re trying to rebuild and hopefully this year we can do that and celebrate something good at the end of it.”

JOSEPH Parker hailed the input of trainer Andy Lee after he overcame a first-round knockdown to defeat Derek Chisora by split decision following a brutal heavyweight battle at Manchester Arena on Saturday night.

The New Zealander had a disastrous start, hitting the canvas in the opening seconds but he showed grit along with his classy combinations to secure victory with tallies of 115-113 and 116-111, with Chisora receiving a score of 115-113.

“Derek landed a lot of shots on me,” said Parker.

“The plan was to come out and box smartly and stay focused. I got caught right at the beginning. I think it was round the back of the head, I didn’t see it.

"The plan was to box and move and be smart. With the guidance of Andy I was able to box. We didn’t have the longest time together. I know I needed a lot of work. I need to keep learning from Andy and practicing the things we work on in the gym.

"It was a tough fight and I got caught right at the beginning. I just had to dig deep and stay focused and follow the plan that we had in place. Swayed off a bit, but Derek is a very tough opponent. He came forward, put pressure on me from the beginning. Threw big bombs and landed a lot.

"The boxing skills won me some rounds towards the end. It was a very close fight. I thought it could go either way, and I’m very thankful and blessed to get the win today. He brought the smoke. If you want to feel it, jump in the ring with him.

"It (a world title challenge) is very achievable. I just have to get back to the training. There’s a lot of things I have to work on. I had a good plan in place. There’s still a lot I can show, I just have to keep working with Andy, and more camps ahead. We could do it next fight."

Meanwhile, Ricky Hatton’s son Campbell Hatton sealed an impressive shutout points victory over Levi Dunn as he made a winning debut in his home town.

The 20-year-old was fighting at the scene of father Ricky's world title triumphs after a frantic debut in Gibraltar and he displayed more discipline, sealing a 40-36 verdict following four rounds.

“I could tell during the whole build up that I’d be a lot better in this fight,” Hatton said after his win. “I’ve just been so much more relaxed. It’s night and day. I’ve not watched it back yet, but I think I did show a lot smarter boxing and a bit more composure.

Earlier, another son of a famous boxing father - Chris Eubank Jr – stayed on course for a challenge against Gennady Golovkin by beating Marcus Morrison.

Eubank Jr ended a lengthy absence from the ring, hurting Morrison on a number of occasions before sealing victory with three scores of 98-92.

“My last fight lasted two rounds, so really it’s been two years since I had a 12-round fight," said the Roy Jones jr-trained Brighton native.

"There was definitely some ring rust, and there was definitely some getting back into the swing of things. I had him hurt bad in the second round. I backed off. I wanted him to recover so that I could be seen again.

“There’s a lot of World Champions in the Middleweight division. There’s a lot of big names out there for me to go and fight. Golovkin is the end goal, and anyone with a world title. I’m coming, they’re all on the radar.”

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