Drama to the finish again as Michael Conlan sends packed house home happy with comeback victory

Miguel Marriaga feels the full force of a Michael Conlan right hand on Saturday night. Photo by Mikey Williams/Top Rank Inc via Getty Images
Andy Watters

From Andy Watters at the SSE Arena

International boxing: Michael Conlan bt Miguel Marriaga UD

A CHRISTMAS cracker at Madison Square Garden is the dream for Michael Conlan now after he dismantled experienced Columbian Miguel Marriaga on Saturday night.

There were echoes of the great Carl Frampton nights as a packed house at the SSE Arena roared Conlan to a landslide points win but Belfast’s master boxer had to survive a torrid spell in the final round (the 10th) to secure it.

Marriaga had taken no risks throughout the fight and Conlan dropped him in the seventh, eighth and ninth rounds but there was a sting in the tail of ‘the Scorpion’ who threw everything he had into an all-out last round assault.

There were bad memories of March and Leigh Wood’s 12th round knockout in Nottingham as Conlan shipped punishment on unsteady legs. That’s boxing of course – it ain’t over ’til it’s over – but Conlan was able to weather the storm and then fight back. Afterwards he looked on the bright side.

“Isn’t it good that it happened?” he asked.

“It was the best way to exorcise my demons that I could ever have had. He wobbled me, he caught me a great shot and he wobbled me. The guy can punch so the fact that it happened and I stayed up and battled back and actually had him on the backfoot by the end of the round says a lot.

“I did what I said I was going to do – I went in and used my boxing skills. I didn’t want that to happen in the last round but things happen for a reason and I’m glad it happened that way because I answered some questions for myself.”

After a break with his family, he’ll go after one of the featherweight division belt holders. He’s prepared to fight any of Leo Santa Cruz (WBA ‘Super’), Wood (WBA ‘Regular), Emmanuel Navarette (WBO), Josh Warrington (IBF) and Ray Vargas (WBC). He wants to get one of them in the ring in New York over the festive season.

“Wouldn’t that be a dream (come true),” he said.

“It would be a winter wonderland. We’ll go back and speak to Top Rank and see what the plans are and see if the Leigh Wood fight could be done. I know Eddie Hearn had reached out to Top Rank earlier in the year about doing it in the winter but he (Wood) has his own situation now and you can’t blame him if he’s going to take other fights.

“I will fight any of them. I still have a lot to improve on and a lot to do. That performance doesn’t mean I can go out and destroy everyone right now – that was just a performance to put everything back in my head.

“If Marriaga had taken more chances I would have had more opportunities. I thought he was going to force the pace a bit more and I was hoping he would because when he started to let his hands go, that’s when I landed the bodyshot. I wanted him to come out but it didn’t happen, he was more cautious.

“But it is what it is. I want to fight for a world title next but now I’ll go on holiday and relax and reassess everything and go forward from there.”

Marriaga was in survival mode until the final round and by that time Conlan was way ahead on points. After a cautious start, he began to dominate in the third and Marriaga was down in the seventh (there was a tangle of legs too), the eighth and the ninth.

“I didn’t waste any energy, I just picked my shots and stuck to what I needed to do which is boxing,” said Conlan.

“I know he’s tough, the only person to take him out is Lomachenko but when I got him with a bodyshot (round eight) I thought: ‘Maybe I can get him here’ but I didn’t try to force it.

“I want to fight for a world title as soon as possible but the most important thing is putting the Leigh Wood loss in the background and moving on. It’s gone now and I hope people stop talking about it because I’m sick talking about it.”

The stacked Conlan card meant the crowd was focussed on the action throughout the bill and the highlights included Colm Murphy and Ruadhan Farrell for the Celtic title and wins for Pody McCrory and Tyrone McKenna.

“It was unbelievable,” said Conlan.

“The atmosphere was like a cauldron but I didn’t feed of it, I was calm.

“I didn’t let it affect me. In the Wood fight I was fired-up like crazy and I think that was inexperience and that sort of England-Ireland going to battle thing.

“I loved it but I needed to experience it to learn how to control my emotions and now I can. I think I used that, even though everyone was cheering for me, I didn’t feed into any of it, I just enjoyed it.”

Round One: Cagey opener. Marriaga barely landed a blow, Conlan cuffed him with a right hand when he ducked in on the attack. The Columbian was down but referee Victor Loughlin correctly ruled a slip. Conlan 10-9.

Round two: Marriaga, wary of Conlan’s left hand, kept his right glove up by his chin. He concentrated on defence and, although he did land a one-two near the end of the round, Conlan’s movement and speed meant he edged another cagey round. 10-9

Round three: Conlan relaxing and nailed Marriaga with a right hook as he came in, then took a look and fired in a long, looping left hand that found the target. Marriaga looking more aggressive but most of his work is falling short. 10-9

Round four: Marriaga has his hands high so Conlan switches his attack to the body, first with a long jab and then, as he grew in confidence, his back hand. A right hook just misses the target as Conlan begins to go through the gears. 10-9

Round five: Another clear Conlan round. Marriaga more energetic than in the early stages but the Belfast man picks him off with single shots and ends the round with rat-tat-tat combination. 10-9

Round six: Conlan turning up the heat. Crisp jab sets up a steady series of left hand follow-ups. Left hook from close range Conlan’s best shot of the fight so far and he’s having it all his own way. 10-9

Round seven: Way behind on the scorecards, Marriaga needs to takes risks to get back into it. He ups the ante but Conlan is way ahead of him. ‘The Scorpion’ goes down amid tangled legs and a shot from Conlan and this time the referee rules it a knockdown. 10-8

Round eight: Marriaga charges in but Conlan, the matador, spins out of danger and slams a right into his opponent. Another Marriaga attack, this time Conlan turns him in his own corner and a right hook to the body sends him down for second time. No doubt about that one. 10-8

Round nine: Double jab followed by a straight left hand and Marriaga’s gloves touch the floor again. A third count and the crowd bays for a stoppage. Conlan looks for the big shot to finish it but it doesn’t come. 10-8

Round 10: Drama in the last. Marriaga throws all he has at it and bad memories of Conlan’s final round loss to Leigh Wood come flooding back. A barrage of right hands has Conlan briefly in trouble but he has enough in his tank to ride out the storm. 9-10


Welterweight: Tyrone McKenna bt Chris Jenkins UD

THE punch count was off the charts as McKenna and Jenkins locked horns and slugged it out over 10 action-packed rounds in the chief support.

After a brief flirtation with his jab, McKenna met Jenkins in the centre of the ring and the pair of them went at it like a couple of rutting stags.

In the second, McKenna soaked up some pressure but then spun off a fired off three-punch salvos and he had Jenkins backing up when he caught him flush with a left hook.

With no interest in defence, they took turns to blast away at each other in the third and fourth. McKenna’s was work slightly more convincing and he tried to keep more distance in the fifth and looked a class above the Swansea native when he dipped in one-two-three and slipped away before Jenkins could counter.

Jenkins rallied over the second half of an absorbing encounter but all three judges felt McKenna had done enough and he won it 96-95 with two and 97-94 with the third.

WBC International Silver Super-middleweight title: Padraig McCrory bt Marco Antonio Periban TKO5

A BRILLIANT display of precision power punching saw fans’ favourite McCrory blitz experienced Mexican Periban who was down three times before the referee finally stopped a one-sided contest with just under a minute left in the fifth.

McCrory gave Periban an early taste of his power with a right hook that thundered into his ribcage. The Belfast fighter was on the front foot throughout the opener and although Periban landed a few counters, the home favourite took the round.

War broke out in the second. McCrory dropped the Periban with a straight right hand but he recovered quickly and stunned McCrory with a whiplash counter as he moved in to try and finish the job. Two more right hands from McCrory shook the Mexican before the end of a thrilling round.

At 37, Periban still has power but McCrory was too quick for him and his chin was thoroughly tested in the third and the fourth as ‘The Hammer’ stalked him down and caught him clean with a stream of right hands and chopping left hooks.

Periban, looking increasingly out of his depth was dropped for the second time with a well-timed right hand. He got up bravely but was on his feet for seconds before a left hook sent him down again. Another eight-count followed and with McCrory throwing hell for leather, the referee waved it off with 2.14 gone in the round.

Featherweight: Kurt Walker bt Marcos Gabriel Martinez Pts 59-55

STYLISH Walker was busy and tuned in and his fast hands allowed him find gaps in the Martinez guard. Defensively he was too slick for the Argentinian and by the fifth he had his hands by his sides and was goading him to have a go. He was strong too and bullied Martinez in the final round which completed a 59-55 points win for the Lisburn native.

Welterweight: Paddy Donovan bt Tom Hill Pts 80-72

HILL proved too stubborn and awkward for Donovan to shift over eight rounds. Massive support had travelled up from Limerick to cheer on welterweight Donovan and a booming long left hook from the Andy Lee-trained stylist suggested he intended to make this a short night’s work.

But Hill was rugged and determined and Donovan probably forced the pace too much early on when his English opponent was able stay on his toes and weather the storm behind a tight defence.

Hill remained tucked up in his defensive shell and took the sting out the crowd until Donovan began to catch up with him midway through the fourth. He pinned his opponent in his own corner and went to work with clubbing shots off both sides but Hill dug in and did what he had to do to last the distance.

Referee Eamon Magill ruled Donovan a shut-out points win over eight valuable, learning rounds.

Light-welterweight: Sean McComb bt Ramiro Blanco pts

PUBLIC Nuisance McComb boxed his way to an impressive points win over six rounds against game opponent Blanco. McComb sent Blanco stumbling across the ring early in the second but he didn’t have it all his own way and the Argentinian recovered quickly and fought his way back into it.

However, McComb’s body-punching was particularly impressive and he pulled away over the third and fourth rounds. By the fifth he was in complete control and Blanco’s head was spinning as McComb slammed hooks into his head and then pivoted out of range with his bemused opponent swinging at thin air.

The skilful southpaw came close to forcing a stoppage in the last round but Blanco hung in there and saw it to the final round.

Boxing Union of Ireland vacant Celtic Featherweight title: Colm Murphy bt Ruadhan Farrell pts

COLM Murphy is the new Celtic Featherweight champion. Murphy looked like he might stop his city rival early on but Farrell (also 22) showed some tidy skills and fought back impressively. However, ‘Posh Boy’ finished well and took his first title belt with a 79-74 points win.

Light-middleweight: Kieran Molloy bt Evgenii Vazem TKO2

GALWAY’S Molloy is well-schooled and packs a punch and he had little trouble blasting out Vazem. The former Oughterard ABC boxer moved to 2-0 with a second round stoppage win.

Middleweight: Fearghus Quinn bt Seamus Devlin pts

AFTER a year on the sidelines, ‘Belleek Beast’ Quinn returned to action with a points win in the opener. The former Armagh footballer beat journeyman Seamus Devlin 40-35 on points to move to 4-0.