IT was a special night in West Belfast as Mick Conlan entered dream territory just minutes from his childhood home.
Headlining the bill in a purpose-built temporary arena at the Falls Park, the Falls Road feather dominated and stopped Argentinian Diego Ruiz in front of over 10,000 fans to defend his WBO Inter-Continental title and pick up the vacant WBA equivalent.
Part of the Féile an Phobail (Festival of the People), it was an emotional night for all, and the ninth-round stoppage proved the perfect finish to an unforgettable occasion.
Following an epic three-song introduction, Conlan employed a patient approach. Sizing up his Latino foe in typical Boxing Booth style, Conlan probed and Ruiz quickly went into his shell.
Low blows from the Olympic bronze medallist drew the ire of the Ruiz corner in the sixth, with the Argentine’s coach and father taking to the ring apron waving the towel frantically. It was a sign of protest rather than surrender but Ruiz Senior returned with the towel a few rounds later.
Having forced a breakthrough in the eighth and making Ruiz trade, Conlan’s scything southpaw body shots were doing damage and a skimming right hook sent Ruiz down painfully in the penultimate round. The visitor rose but referee Michael Alexander quickly intervened at 1-34 as Conlan followed in, with the towel being waved simultaneously.
There was drama in the chief support as Garnant’s Chris Jenkins defended his British welterweight title and picked up the vacant Commonwealth crown in the process with a narrow ninth-round technical decision win over Lenadoon’s Paddy Gallagher.
The snappier Welshman kept Gallagher at bay initially but “The Pat Man” got inside eventually and put Jenkins down with two left hooks to the body in the sixth. Attacking the body relentlessly, the tide turned Gallagher’s way but a cut brow sustained by Jenkins in the eighth precipitated a stoppage one round later, with referee Howard Foster twice bringing in the ringside doctor and eventually halted proceedings after 1-34.
While the gash appeared to be caused and worsened by punches, it was deemed to be from a head clash. The bout went to the cards rather than be ruled a TKO for Gallagher – and the usually-happy-go-lucky Commonwealth Games gold medallist was incredulous when judges Michael Alexander, Steve Gray and Terry O’Connor unanimously awarded Jenkins the win on three 86-85 scorelines.
Announcing himself on the world stage, Ballyfermot middle Luke Keeler dropped and upset American Luis Arias in a non-title 10-rounder.
The passionate Dubliner had Arias down with a left hook in seconds but was forced to take some huge shots as the favourite roared back. The momentum threatened to swing as Keeler suffered a point deduction for rabbit punching in the fifth but “Cool Hand” proved his ring moniker to take over down the stretch.
Arias was docked a point himself by referee Steve Gray for hitting on the break in the eighth and was then sent down again in the ninth as Keeler rounded off the most notable Irish result of the year. In the end, Mr Gray, the sole scorer, awarded Keeler a richly deserved 96-91 win.
Turf Lodge super-lightweight Sean McComb looked more impressive than most in defeating French road-warrior Renald Garrido. The eccentric visitor was fed a steady diet of sharp shots upstairs and took some punishing body work from the mightily impressive McComb.
Garrido hung on and had some success in the eighth and final round but McComb scored a 79-73 win on referee Paul McCullagh’s card.
In a domestic dust-up, St James’s ticket-seller Padraig McCrory stopped Stevie Collins Jr in the final round to claim the BUI Celtic super-middleweight title.
In a close contest, McCrory landed solid shots on the Castleknock pressure fighter before having him out on his feet in the eighth with a huge right. With Collins pushed to the ropes, and nothing coming back, referee David Irving jumped in after 1-46 to hand McCrory the belt.
In a live TV swing, Kent bantam prospect Dennis McCann needed just 30 seconds of his scheduled four rounds to put Bulgarian Georgi Andonov down and out, Mr Magill waving things off almost immediately.
Following two consecutive losses, double Olympic bronze medallist Paddy Barnes returned to winning ways. Bound for the light-flyweight division, the Cliftonville boxer was given a good six-round run-out by Nicaraguan brawler Joel Sanchez, eventually taking over and claiming a 60-55 with Mr McCullagh.
In the first major bout on the bill, Divis middle Alfred Meli overcame German Olympian Araik Marutjan in an exciting eight-rounder.
Workrate won the fight for Meli, whose constant pressure was viewed favourably over the select precise shots of Marutjan – one of which knocked the local favourite down in round six. Mr McCullagh scored the eminently rematchable clash 76-75 to Meli.
Omagh super-featherweight Tiernan Bradley looked impressive over four versus Nicarguan hardman Jose Hernandez, sitting down on his shots and taking a 40-37 win on Mr McCullagh’s card.
Keady lightweight Seanie Duffy threw everything at Naheem Chaudhry but the Blackburn journeyman is not one for stopping and Mr Magill turned in the customary 40-36 scorecard following four one-sided rounds.
The show started with a shock as local lad Dee Sullivan was stopped in the first of four scheduled rounds. The Belfast cruiserweight was taken out by wild haymakers from Polish slugger Mateusz Kubiszy, being dropped heavily and Mr Magill halted the count with 2-34 gone.
The Verdict Conlan delights the huge turnout on a special night.
Mick Conlan (125 1/2lbs), 12-0 (7), w rsf 9 Diego Ruiz (124 3/4lbs), 21-3 (10);Chris Jenkins (146 1/2lbs), 23-3-2, w tech dec 9 Paddy Gallagher (147lbs), 16-6 (11); Luke Keeler (161lbs), 17-2-1 (5), w pts 10 Luis Arias (161 1/2lbs), 18-1-1 (9); Sean McComb (142lbs), 8-0 (4), w pts 8 Renald Garrido (143lbs), 24-25-3 (6); Padraig McCrory (167lbs), 9-0 (4), w rsf 8 Stevie Collins Jr (167lbs), 14-3-1 (4); Dennis McCann (120 3/4lbs), 3-0 (2), w rsf 1 Georgi Andonov (119 1/2lbs), 5-16 (1); Paddy Barnes (115lbs), 6-2 (1), w pts 6 Joel Sanchez (117lbs), 4-7-1 (2); Alfredo Meli (160lbs), 17-0-1 (5) w pts 8 Araik Marutjan (159 1/4lbs) 8-1 (2); Callum Bradley (130 3/4lbs), 3-0, w pts 4 Jose Hernandez (129 1/4lbs), 4-36-1 (3); Sean Duffy (136 3/4lbs), 2-0 (1) w pts 4 Naheem Chaudhry (139 1/2lbs), 2-51-1 (1); Mateusz Kubiszy (201lbs), 3-1 (2), w rsf 1 Dee Sullivan (204 1/4lbs), 2-1.