IT’S been a long wait for Michael Conlan to return to box in Belfast. But a tremendous atmosphere on Saturday at the SSE Arena made this homecoming an occasion to remember.
It was an only an eight round, non-title fight. But Conlan has been well matched in his professional career and against Brazil’s Adeilson Dos Santos he could not afford to box too recklessly.
Dos Santos is experienced. He may have lost his world title fight inside two rounds but he is still a veteran and Michael had only had seven professional bouts going into this. The Brazilian went 12 rounds with Kid Galahad but, with a long reach, he has some power. When he wins he tends to win by stoppage.
Dos Santos however struggled to catch Conlan with anything clean. Michael boxed intelligently. He took the measure of his opponent, opening the contest by boxing on the outside, giving ground but homing in with his punches. He was confident enough that in the second round he could switch southpaw and drop his hands. Those fists were still quick enough for Michael lead with and land his backhand.
He boxed just as well as a southpaw and switched stances. He punished the Brazilian with a vicious but accurate attack to body, left hooks flying through from the orthodox stance. Conlan planted himself in the centre of the ring, forcing Dos Santos backwards as the contest progressed.
The Brazilian had to come up with something and, unable to outbox Michael, he drove himself forward, trying to fight through the incoming shots. Conlan did not shake him up but this was a good performance from the local hero. The Belfastman opened up, shooting his cross over, backing it up with a stern left. He heaved hooks through and took a 79-73 points victory.
Conlan is developing just right both with his performances in the ring and in the way he is building outside the ropes. The success of this event in Belfast suggests boxing in his home city should become a regular feature of Conlan’s calendar. As indeed is boxing at Madison Square Garden. Conlan has boxed at that historic venue four times already in front of healthy crowds.
The next piece of the puzzle, as Conlan moves from prospect to contender, will be finding the opponents and challengers to capture the imagination. Conlan was denied the chance to meet American Shakur Stevenson in the last Olympic Games, losing his quarter-final to Russia’s Vladimir Nikitin in one of the most high profile judging outrages of Rio 2016. Stevenson and Conlan both share the same promoter, Top Rank. But they ought to be on parallel tracks. There’s no need for the two to meet until they reach world level. But a new addition to the professional scene arrives on July 14 when Nikitin makes his professional debut in New Orleans. And the Russian will be promoted by Top Rank too. That is an obvious fight for Conlan and the sooner he gets the chance to avenge that controversial amateur loss as a professional, the better.