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This time next year I'll be closing in on World title bout, predicts Michael Conlan

By David Kelly

It would be all too easy to become distracted and even choke on the hyperbole surrounding the embryonic stages of Michael Conlan's professional career but the Belfast man gave a calm reminder on Saturday night in New York of the substance that is allied to the great expectations.

Conlan went to the States to learn his trade, take the hard knocks in tough sparring sessions so he could be honed that little bit more with each bout and so it has been in 2017, culminating in a polished display against Argentinian Luis Fernando Molina in which he won every minute of the six rounds at Madison Square Garden's Theatre arena.

Conlan has been developing his ability to switch from orthodox to southpaw and the transition during the rounds now has a silky smooth feel. The gritty Molina was bamboozled by the Belfast man, who has been hailed as a future pay-per-view star in the States by veteran promoter Bob Arum.

This was a performance he had been looking for all year. Conlan whipped home spiteful body shots and comfortably dominated with either his right or left lead to the point that he will surely have a significant step up in class when he returns to the Garden on St Patrick's night for his first eight rounder.

"I think 2018 is going to be very exciting. I can't wait because by this time next year I think it's reasonable to believe that I'll be in the top 10 featherweight rankings and moving close to a world title shot," said Conlan, who once again received great support from the Irish-Americans.

"I'm very happy with the performance and the support I got was great again. I felt in this fight I showed a different style but one that it is my natural boxing style. Before I was probably forcing things and ended up looking a bit of a brawler and that's not me.

"I had worked on my boxing in camp and I went in there and implemented those things against an opponent who came to fight. I had been frustrated with previous opponents because they didn't really commit - this guy wanted to open up, and more than before, I could show what I can do. I'm confident that the better the opposition, the better the performance is going to be brought out of me."

Conlan, who has clearly developed his body punching after a year in Los Angeles, pointed to the sparring he had with world title challenger Oliver Negrete as perfect preparation ahead of his fifth straight victory.

"Negrete gave Rey Vargas all he wanted in a world title fight last weekend in the Garden and dealing with his pressure in sparring had me spot on for this fight. It was great sparring and when you're working with people of that standard so early in your career it gives you even more confidence," added Conlan.

"Although it would have been nice to get the stoppage I am pleased to get the six rounds. Those rounds will stand to me and the encouraging thing is that I felt I could easily have done another six rounds. Now I should have an eight-rounder back at the Garden on Paddy's night.

"I'm really looking forward to that but first of all I'll go home to Belfast and enjoy Christmas with my family and friends."

In the main event between double Olympic gold medallists, Ukraine's Vasyl Lomachenko forced Cuban legend Guillermo Rigondeaux to quit on his stool at the end of the sixth round.

Rigondeaux, who had stepped up two divisions to face WBO super-featherweight champion Lomachenko, complained of a sore hand after a largely one-sided duel. Rigondeaux is the fourth opponent in a row to retire against the gifted Lomachenko.

"Maybe I should change my second name, now my name is 'No Mas Chenko," said Lomachenko, 29, who extended his record to 10-1.

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