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Conlan is aiming for new heights as he embraces the ultimate home advantage

 

Ready to rumble: Michael Conlan weighs in for tonight’s big fight against Diego Alberto Ruiz
Ready to rumble: Michael Conlan weighs in for tonight’s big fight against Diego Alberto Ruiz
David Kelly

By David Kelly

Surely never before has that well worn phrase "I'll fight him in his own back yard" been more appropriate as Diego Alberto Ruiz steps forward into the cauldron of the Falls Park this evening to engage with the local hero Michael Conlan. "My parents would always have sat out and listened to the music from the festival," says Conlan with his Colgate smile as he ponders how this experience will unfold.

A crowd of 10,000 will descend on the park, many sitting on the same rented seats that hosted The Open Championship two weeks ago when Shane Lowry embraced the raucous support and was swept along to a famous triumph.

Conlan's Claret Jug moment has still to come but the level of expectation could hardly be higher as he prepares to kick off what could be a three-fight charge to world title success.

Those at the highest point of the stands will have the perfect view of the streets where a young Conlan learned to handle himself, as well as the place where he first donned a pair of boxing gloves, handed to him by dad John - the Ulster amateur boxing high performance head coach.

"My dad would have put the gloves on me and given me a few lessons at home and then I remember going along to the gym when I was very young and wasn't meant to be there but I went down and punched the bags," said Conlan.

"One thing my brothers Brendan and Jamie and I used to love to do was go up to the attic, lay the quilts across the floor so there was no noise travelling down stairs and we would then have fought each other with the gloves on. That was good craic and we'd even stick on the gloves and do a bit of boxing on the streets with my mates and end up denting and scraping somebody's car!

"Brendan was the one who started, then Jamie got into it when he stepped in to have a fight after Brendan had decided he didn't want to box.

"But I was the one it came more natural to. I loved Naseem Hamed and I liked to copy him in the gym, hitting people and laughing at them - I was a bit cheeky when I look back on it.

"I had a few fights outside the ring in the Falls Park so to now be headlining there at the Feile is very special and there is a real buzz about this event. There's no denying the expectation on me and I believe this stage demands a special performance from me.

"It means so much to me to have this opportunity to box in the Falls Park where I grew up and I believe this will be the best performance of my career.

"I've been under this kind of microscope since day one, the massive TV and media interest has been there after everything that happened in Rio 2016 but I feel that everything I have done so far has prepared me for this - every fight, every night at Madison Square Garden… it's all been leading to a moment like this.

"So, I have visualised what I can expect to see and feel as I come out to the arena and I will embrace it but once I step through the ropes then it is all about being cool, calm and collected because I have business to take care of."

For all the hyperbole surrounding his career, Conlan knows that as a professional with only 11 fights there is still experience to be gained and knowledge to be absorbed in order that he will be ready to rise to the peaks he desires.

Indeed, this WBA/WBO inter-continental bout with Ruiz arrives at a critical juncture in his progression as he seeks to deliver a clinical performance that puts the world on notice that the Belfast man is truly on the march.

"Ruiz will see this as his golden ticket. All the pressure is on me so he can come in and go for it and I understand that. I'm excited and nervous as well because I know what I can do and I know it's time to do it. I'm keeping a cool head, not feeding in too much into the whole event," added Conlan.

"I've had four months in training and during that time I haven't missed home, I haven't missed my family. Training has been really enjoyable, I've enjoyed the tough days and I've even messaged Adam after it and he has said that he was pleased with seeing me have some of the best sessions ever in his gym. I felt satisfaction leaving the gym, it may not have been a high intensity session but it's just been a case of learning so much. This fight is one where you will see the best of me.

 "I believe Ruiz is the right opponent at the right time because he's a guy who is confident, who's coming to take my head off and someone who will leave openings and I will make him pay.

"You will see a new dimension to my game, everything has been more professional.

"I have gone up levels in this camp. We have all pushed each other. Adam has pushed me but I also believe that I have pushed Adam as a coach and the other guys as well.

"My professionalism outside of the gym, my sleep, my diet, the time of food, nothing has been cheated on. There were times when maybe I'd have had a bit of chocolate here and there - but not this time - and then struggled a bit with weight but for this one I've had more energy than ever before.

"I feel great and this is the best I've ever felt, amateur or professional. I realised I might only have five years left max and that's all I want to have so I need to take it more seriously than before. Even though I have been serious, I needed to be more serious and I've done that.

"The way I prepared for this fight and the mindset I've had is the mindset I need to be a world champion and to beat world champions, to make world title defences. This is the mindset I have adopted..."

When he touched down in Belfast this week Ruiz made it clear to Michael's brother Jamie - who has been a key organiser of this event - that he was here to end those long-held aspirations, predicting a fourth round stoppage win.

The Ruiz spite and desire should make sure the fans have value for money but this night will belong to Conlan.

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