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Michael Conlan's Belfast victory can prove a key step on road to the top

 

By David Kelly

Michael Conlan is a diamond encrusted star in the making ­- it's just that he needs to be patiently honed and shaped before we see the spectrum of his skills sparkle across the boxing world all at once.

That moment will surely come for a fighter who while dabbing at a slight wound and wrapping up a plethora of post-fight media attention then took a congratulatory FaceTime call from a member of America's 'royal family' - the Kennedy clan - following his points success over hard man Adeilson Dos Santos.

Conlan's raucous fans came to Belfast's SSE Arena expecting a spectacular night, a one-sided beating of the Brazilian by their returning hero who had chewed up seven previous opponents with ease. But this was a former world title challenger made of far greater substance allied to experience and physical attributes that immediately suggested he would be a threat - and made you wonder how he ever made super-bantamweight.

He was exactly what the 26-year-old prospect needed as Dos Santos brought a personal 'welcome to professional boxing' message with his long-limbed, relentless aggression with not an ounce of respect for Conlan's reputation throughout eight competitive rounds before losing on points, 79-73 on the scorecard of referee Phil Edwards.

The Belfast man soaked up the adulation from around 5,000 in the SSE Arena as he stood on the ramp and waited to make his way to the ring after a local musician had given a rendition of his song in tribute to Conlan. The show was on - and then came the reality of an examination that in time will be looked upon a lot more fondly by the former world amateur champion who only gave himself a "six out of 10".

It may not have been the swashbuckling, electrifying performance he desired but it was worth so much more than a straightforward steamrollering of an outclassed opponent. Conlan had to handle the expectations from those in the arena and watching on BT Sport as well as a man who would not stand and allow himself to be dictated to by Northern Ireland's rising prospect.

In a nutshell, Conlan had to be himself - a fighter with fine skills to go with a clinical ring authority and box office appeal who needs large dollops of experience to bring him to the top of the mountain.

In moments on Saturday night we caught a glimpse of the fighter he can become, switching with ease from orthodox to southpaw as well as working up close before in an instant being effective on the outside, while on other occasions he gave us a look at the novice professional he is when being tagged by blows that should be blocked or slipped.

"I don't think I could have got a better learning fight. The other guys that I faced have not come towards me - this guy came towards me and gave me more openings but he was more awkward," said Conlan.

"I felt that when I was landing I thought I was hurting him, I could see him wince but he was good at hiding it and that's experience. Even the jabs to the body were hurting him.

"He had that high guard and really long arms and he was able to pressure me without doing anything and that's experience. So I'll sit down and look at how to fix that.

"Being in there facing that kind of test for the first time is a different ball game to sparring, particularly in front of your home fans and with a crazy atmosphere like that.

"I was pleased with my back hand as a southpaw to body and head but I wasn't pleased with letting him get in close and catch me. Because he has been at the top level for a while, he was able to control the pace a bit better than I was.

"But I thought I outsmarted him and when he did hit me it was me being reckless. I'm happy with the overall experience, it's a great learning fight for me."

Dos Santos was certainly not your average test for someone only having their eighth bout but then again Conlan is not being moulded to simply have a solid, successful career.

Pay-per-view status is the goal for Top Rank chief, the legendary promoter Bob Arum who was watching on ESPN along with millions of other Americans.

Many Irish fighters have crossed the Pond to seek their fortune but not with the same hyperbole surrounding their path and it would be easy to overlook just how well Conlan manages every facet of his rise.

Dos Santos brought home - if it was required - the need for more such stringent learning bouts so Conlan can add to his boxing IQ in time for the most significant moments of his career.

Fortunately for those around him they have a fighter who understands ring generalship more than most.

Belfast Telegraph

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