By Arne K. Lang
Michael Conlan made his pro debut on March 17, 2017. Prior to tonight, he had fought only once as a pro in his native Belfast and that was on a card where he shared the bill with a bevy of other undefeated fighters. But tonight, in his 12th pro fight, Conlan was the headliner and the spur that drew a sellout crowd to an open air arena in Falls Park, a place in close proximity to the gym where Conlan developed the tools that made him a world amateur champion and two-time Olympian.
Conlan's opponent, Diego Alberto Ruiz, was supposedly Conlan's toughest opponent to date, which, were it actually true, reflected poorly on Conlan's previous opponents. From the onset, it was obvious that there was a big class difference between Conlan and his Argentine foe. The hometown hero comprehensively out-boxed Ruiz for eight one-sided and rather tedious frames before putting him away with a series of body punches in the ninth. Ruiz (21-3) was still on his feet when the referee decided there was no point in continuing.
The last prelim was a 12-round welterweight fight between Welshman Chris Jenkins and Belfast’s Paddy Gallagher. At stake were the British and Commonwealth titles.
A clash of heads in the ninth forced a premature stoppage, sending the bout to the scorecards where Jenkins (22-3-2) won a unanimous decision by the slimmest of margins (86-85). It was a tough beat for Gallagher (16-6) as the fight was still up for grabs heading into the championship rounds.
A more compelling undercard fight from an international perspective was the 10-round middleweight contest between Luke Keeler and Luis Arias. It was a great crowd-pleaser. In a mild upset, Keeler, a Dubliner, turned away Milwaukee-bred Arias. Referee Steve Gray, the lone judge, deemed Keeler the winner by five points (96-91).
Keeler, who improved to 17-2-1 (both losses were to Tom Doran) started out like gangbusters. He knocked Arias down with a right hand in the opening minute and wobbled him with another right before the round was over. But Arias (18-2-1) found his sea legs and seemingly drew even when Keeler was docked a point in round five for hitting behind the head.
Keeler assumed control late. He scored another knockdown in round nine, a counter right hand with his back against the ropes that was a half punch and half push and then coasted home as Arias pursued him, throwing punches to no effect. It was a career-best win for Keeler, 32, who turned pro in 2013 but has only been a full-time boxer for 18 months.
Other Fights of Note
Belfast’s Padraig McCrory (9-0, 4 KOs) started slowly but finished his super middleweight contest with a flourish, stopping Steve Collins Jr (14-3-1) in the eighth and final round. A big fight hand stopped Collins in his tracks and McCrory pressed his advantage, pummeling Collins on the ropes until the referee intervened. Collins, the son of one of Ireland’s best fighters ever, was making his first start at 168 after struggling to make 175.
Two-time Olympian Paddy Barnes (6-2, 1 KO) got back on the winning track with a 6-round decision over Joel Sanchez who slumped to 4-7-1 with his seventh straight loss. Barnes won every round.
Belfast’s Barnes, 32, was pushed into a world title fight against flyweight titlist Cristofer Rosales after only five pro bouts and found himself out of his league. After losing his following bout on points, he indicated that he would likely retire. Tonight’s fight with Nicaraguan foil Sanchez may have well been designed so that “The Leprechaun” can exit the sport on a winning note, a dignified send-off.
Also, local fan favorite Alfredo Meli (17-0-1) nipped previously undefeated Araik Morutjan (8-1) by a score of 76-75 in an 8-round middleweight contest.
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