The Irish Eye: June 2018

Kane Clarke
09/07/2018 2:03pm

Kane Clarke's June edition of The Irish Eye is headlined by Michael Conlan's big 'Homecoming' show in Belfast ...

On 30 June, Falls Road featherweight Michael Conlan 7(5)-0 made his long awaited return to home soil having not fought in his hometown in over eight years. The former world amateur champion headlined the 'Homecoming' card at the SSE Arena, Belfast, in an eight-round fight with a step-up in opponent in the shape of former world title challenger Adeilson Dos Santos [19(15)-4(1)].

Since making his debut at a sold-out Madison Square Garden Theater on St. Patrick's day last year, the undefeated Top Rank prospect has racked up seven straight victories, three of came at the famous New York City venue, as well as finding time for stop-offs in Chicago, Brisbane and Tuscon.

Finally the time had come for the two-time Olympian to fight in front of his home crowd. Fighting in Belfast at least once a year was a condition that Conlan and his team insisted was part of his contract when signing with the American promotional powerhouse Top Rank, and the 26 year-old switch-hitter looked happy to be home as he walked out the famous Irish song 'Grace', which echoed beautifully around the Arena, and had the crowd on their feet and in full voice.

As the action got under way, Conlan started in the orthodox stance, showing plenty of feints and working behind the jab and right-hands to the body. Dos Santos didn't throw much in the opener as the feeling out process proceeded, but was pressing high-guarded and making Conlan work of the back foot.

The Brazilian came out with a little more urgency in the second and caught Conlan with a straight right-hand. The Belfast man then switched to southpaw and replied with a left-hand right-hook, but Dos Santos was undeterred, and continued to march forward forcing the Belfast man to work, although he was growing frustrated with trying to land anything solid on Conlan whilst the Irishman fought left-handed.

At the beginning of the third, Conlan again started orthodox and caught Dos Santos with an overhand right before switching back to southpaw and punishing the away fighter with straight left-hands to the body. The Adam Booth-trained fighter then started to manoeuvre his way up the gears and started to dominate the exchanges, both at distance and on the inside.

The domination continued from Conlan throughout the middle rounds, showcasing his silky skillset as well as backing himself into the corner to show just how elusive he is, slipping and dipping out of the way of anything that the powerful Dos Santos threw.

With the rounds piling up in favour of Conlan, Dos Santos came out firing in the sixth and was met head-on by the London 2012 bronze medallist as both fighters opted to stay in the pocket and exchange big shots. Dos Santos also came out strong at the beginning of the seventh, but as the round went on, Conlan again took over, nullifying the Brazilian's attack with his own defence, and picking his own shots to the body and head beautifully, predominantly in southpaw.

As the final bell went, Conlan will have been glad to get eight rounds in the bank for a second successive bout, after another dominant performance. The former amateur superstar has now boxed 35 rounds as a professional, winning 34 and somehow losing one on referee Phil Edwards' scorecard against Dos Santos (79-73).

The Belfast man is doubtless delighted to have got where he is so far with an impressive record of 8(5)-0 since turning over last year, and will be hoping to push on now to ten-rounders and title bouts, and hoping that he'll be back topping bills in his hometown in the very near future.

Speaking post-fight, Conlan was asked what he thought of the event and replied: “Belfast is magical. That’s what I was thinking, the crowd, the lights, it beats the Garden in New York.

“When I was standing there about to make my ring walk and I couldn’t help but sing along. This is unbelievable, this is Belfast, this is what I’ve seen every time Carl Frampton fights. If I was to retire in the morning, I could never forget that. It was so special, Belfast is so special and I can’t wait to come back as it’s the best city in the world.”

Asked whether he would be back to the Titanic City soon, the West Belfast man said: “My dream is to fight here all the time. It’s up to Top Rank, they’re the promoters so we’ll see what they conclude. If I had to choose where to fight in the rest of my career then I’d just fight here.

“I’ve lived everywhere in the world and I know I don’t want to live anywhere else but here and now I’ve boxed here, I don’t want to box anywhere else.”

There was also a stacked undercard at the SSE Arena, featuring WBO intercontinental light-welterweight champion Jack Catterall [21(12)-0], as he stepped in at four weeks' notice to face Belfast southpaw Tyrone McKenna [16(6)-0-1] over ten rounds for his rankings belt, after Dubliner Phil Sutcliffe Jr had to pull out of their scheduled bout with an injury.

Catterall started brightly, flooring McKenna heavily in the second, but he was also deducted a point for continuing to hit McKenna when he was down. 'The Mighty Celt' bravely fought back throughout the middle rounds and rallied late on, but it wasn't to be for the Danny Vaughan trained pugilist, as Catterall successfully defended his title and his world ranking with a unanimous decision victory 95-91, 94-93 (twice).

McKenna's stock rose despite the defeat due. It was a very good showing against an opponent of the calibre of Catterall which will only serve him well as he manoeuvres himself into contention for more title shots.

Also on the undercard, there was a rematch of the 2014 Irish Fight of The Year between Dublin super-featherweight rivals Jono Carroll and Declan Geraghty.

The pair went to war over four rounds at The 3Arena in Dublin four years ago with Carroll getting the win in the final stanza after Geraghty was disqualified for illegal use of the head. The pair have traded insults on social media back and forth ever since, and continued to do so on fight week at the final press conference where they nearly came to blows as they went head to head.

Carroll's number seven world ranking - and IBF Intercontinental title - would be on the line for the much-hyped fight. With the fight sold, all the two rivals had to do now was get in there and put on a show, and that they did.

As the action got under way, Carroll suffered a nasty cut to the head from a chopping left hand in the first as Geraghty just shaded the opener. Geraghty started brightly in the second also before 'King Kong' Carroll came on strong. But as the fight progressed, Carroll's relentless pursuit of the body hooks started to take there toll on 'Pretty Boy' Geraghty as the feet started to slow.

Geraghty touched the canvas in the third after a flurry of sustained aggression from the ever-pressuring Carroll, but quickly composed himself, and the two combatants went toe-to-toe until the end of a very entertaining round which had the crowd on their feet.

Throughout the middle rounds, it was Carroll's relentless pressure that started to show. Geraghty was having success with some beautiful shots, but Carroll's punch count never eased up, stalking Geraghty and digging in his left and right hooks to the body anytime they fought at close range.

By round eight, it was all one-way traffic as Carroll was now firmly in control of the bout with Geraghty was clearly tiring, and two minutes and 12 seconds into the ninth, referee Robert Williams jumped in to wave off another contender for Irish Fight of The Year after an exhausted Geraghty found himself on the end of yet another Carroll flurry.

Elsewhere on the undercard, Derry super bantamweight Tyrone McCullagh collected the first belt of his professional career with ten-round points decision victory over Scotland's Joe Ham to become the new BBBofC Celtic champion.

'White Chocolate' didn't have it all his own way though as the undefeated Ham dropped him towards the end of the third with a well-timed right hand, but The Derry native recovered well and dominated the remaining rounds to keep his own undefeated record intact, winning comfortably 98-92, 98-92 and 97-92 on all three judges' scorecards to up his record to 11(6)-0. The win also sees McCullagh become mandatory for the British title.

Belfast's 21-year-old knockout sensation Lewis Crocker returned to the ring on the undercard at the SSE arena, and took just one minute and 19 seconds to send Polish opponent Adam Grabiec crashing to the canvas after sinking in a sickening body shot.

Grabiec recently went four rounds with noted middleweight puncher Mark Heffron, but wasn't able to beat the count in Belfast as 'The Croc' upped his professional record to a perfect 6(6)-0 indeed he is yet to see a third round in his paid career. The power-puncher will now look to put on another KO performance as he takes to the ring on 18 August on the undercard of Carl Frampton's Windsor Park stadium bout with Luke Jackson.

Another young prospect in action was Dublin lightweight Gary Cully. The Peter Taylor trained fighter was pencilled in for a huge step-up against Zoltan Szabo, who caused a massive upset when he stopped fellow Dubliner Stephen Ormond back in 2016. But unfortunately the Hungarian pulled out. Nicaraguan journeyman Reynaldo Cajina replaced him on late notice and took Cully the four-round distance as the tall southpaw extended his record to 5(2)-0.

There were also four-round points victories for undefeated super-middleweights Padraig McCrory and Taylor McGoldrick on the undercard in Belfast against Harry Matthews and Casey Blair respectively. Belfast's McCrory now moves to 4(2)-0 whilst Coalisland's McGoldrick goes to 2(0)-0.

On 2 June, Vladimir Beljusky collected a second-round stoppage victory at Bar La Oficina, Tijuana, Mexico, over Juan Carlos Moreno, after the Mexican retired on his stool. Beljusky returned to Mexico just two weeks later, and again picked up a stoppage victory, making light work of Miguel Cipriano [0-5(5)] on 15 June, stopping him in the first round to up his professional record to 5(5)-1-1.

Former Irish light-middleweight champion Pauly Upton suffered the first loss of his professional career on 6 June, losing out in the fourth round to Matchroom's big-punching Ted Cheeseman at the York Hall to see his record slip to 15(3)-1(1).

Former cruiserweight Irish champion Luke Watkins also suffered his first professional loss on the Matchroom NXTGEN card, going down twice in the third round on his way to a stoppage loss to Rio Olympian Lawrence Okolie for the Commonwealth & WBA Continental belts

On 9 June, at a sold-out Manchester Arena, Tyson 'The Gypsy King' Fury made his long awaited comeback to the squared-circle after a turbulent two and-a-half years out of the ring. 'The Mac' was finally back, and made light-work of the much smaller Sefer Seferi, who for all his bravado, quit on his stool after four rounds, much to the annoyance of the paying spectators.

The lineal heavyweight champion will now return to action on the Carl Frampton vs Luke Jackson undercard at Windsor Park Stadium on 18 August, and will be looking to step-up the calibre of his opponents as he looks to chase down world title showdowns with the divisions champions.

On the undercard, Dublin heavyweight Sean 'Big Sexy' Turner fought bravely against the highly-touted Englishman Nathan Gorman, but ultimately lost via third-round TKO to the Ricky Hatton trained pugilist, thus seeing his record slip to 12(8)-3(1).

Also on the undercard, Dublin cruiserweight Ian Tims lost out in the second round of his scheduled eight-rounder to the undefeated Jack Massey. The former Irish champion called time on his career following his third successive defeat, finishing with a record of 13(6)-4(4). 'The Irish Eye' would like to wish 'Timsey' all the best in his retirement.

On 15 June, Stephen 'The Rock' Ormond returned to the ring for the first time since his controversial defeat to Paul Hyland Jr eight months ago, and picked up a one-sided six-round points victory over Nicaraguan journeyman Nelson Altamirano, to see his record rise to 25(13)-5(1) at the Middleton Arena, Middleton.

Belfast lightweight Paul Hyland Jr finally got his British title chance on 16 June at the Metro Radio Arena, Newcastle. Unfortunately he fell short in his attempt to capture the famous Lonsdale belt, losing out in the opening stanza to the ever-impressive Lewis Ritson after the two combatants went toe-to-toe right from the opening bell.

'Hylo' will now look to bounce back from his first career defeat and get right back in the mix for the British title which will now likely become vacant as the powerful Ritson secured the strap for keeps and will most probably now look target European and world honours.

Undefeated middleweight Connor Coyle picked up the NBA Intercontinental belt on 16 June with a sixth-round stoppage of Danny Pastrana at the Coliseum, St Petersburg. The Derry native now holds an impressive record of 8(3)-0.

On 23 June, Wexford heavyweight Niall Kennedy travelled to New Hampshire, USA, to take on American Joel Caudle over eight rounds at the Bank of New Hampshire Pavilion, Gilford.

The New England and Massachusetts Heavyweight champion fought to a majority draw with Caudle, with the three ringside judges scoring the bout 76-76, 76-76, with the last card reading 78-74 in favour of the Gorey fighter. Kennedy's record now sits at 11(7)-0-1, whilst tough brawler Caudle moves to 7(5)-1(0)-2.

Kennedy's Celtic Warrior gymmate Ray Moylette was also on the card and outpointed Puerto Rican Daniel Sostre over eight rounds, seeing the undefeated Mayo fighter move to 11(4)-0 in just over 14 months in the paid ranks.