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ESPN+ Boxing Preview: Conlan vs. Ruiz

By: Oliver McManus

Saturday night sees boxing return to Falls Park for only the second time ever with Michael Conlan the man responsible for bringing verve back to the unique venue. Belfast’s featherweight has become more accustomed to soaking New York arenas in Irish emerald since turning professional but August 3rd will be his third fight in the UK in just over a year.

The event was announced back in May with Conlan set to seek redemption against, his Rio Olympics adversary, Vladmir Nikitn but the Russian was forced to withdraw towards the back end of June. With that pull-out seems to be an end to the once embittered rivalry between the two with Conlan (11-0) looking to pull ahead of his Top Rank stablemate (who has had just three professional fights). In stepped Diego Alberto Ruiz, 21-2, on around about five weeks notice and the Argentine can be expected to pose some wiley questions of Conlan.

Ruiz has spent most of his career in the stairwell of the South American bantamweight division – having been WBC Latino and Argentinian champion at that weight – but gained similar levels of success at super bantamweight over the course of 2018. The move to featherweight is a relatively fresh one with the 25 year old only having one previous contest at the weight: a 10 rounder in June in which he looked cagey against Luis Emanuel Cusolito.

From the available footage of his fights he has shown a reluctance to adapt to the style of his opponent and often seeks to fight in a cat and mouse style; frequently playing possum with a tight guard, left hand firmly against the ear, to try and land some counter attacks. That game plan worked particularly well against Diego Pichardo in the middle portions of their contests but likely not against his upcoming opponent.

Conlan, now a professional for two and a half years, is at the point where he can really think about pushing forward and searching for world level fights. Since making his debut, against Tim Ibarra, the Irishman has looked untouchable against his current calibre of opponents and has been in cruise control. He has gone on record as saying he prefers to fight in the face of someone looking to apply pressure and it’s unfortunate that his opponents have shrunk into themselves upon the start of the fight.

Against Ruiz you imagine that Conlan will have to do much of the busy work and look to force openings against an opponent happy to wait it out round after round. The patience and restrain that Conlan has shown in dealing with such tasks hopefully will go out of the window with an eye catching performance in front of an electric home crowd. We know Conlan is good but a reminder never hurts and what better occasion than Saturday night to go footloose and fancy free?

The co-main event sees Chris Jenkins defend his British welterweight title against Paddy Gallagher; the vacant Commonwealth strap is also at stake. Jenkins, born in Swansea, claimed the title with a silky out-pointing and out-classing of Johnny Garton in March but has been out of action since due to a slight hand injury. Gallagher, meanwhile, was meant to face Gary Corcoran in an eliminator last June before cracking his jaw. The Belfast welterweight has subsequently been in action on four occasions with wins against Jay Byrne, Fernando Valencia and Liam Wells and a sole loss to Freddy Kiwitt.

Since stepping up from super lightweight, where he had fought for six years, Jenkins has found a new lease of life at welterweight with the additional seven pounds proving to be, ironically, a weight off his shoulders. The contest against Garton saw a particular penchant for a peppering overhand right that repeatedly caught the defending Champion off guard. He fought to a smooth game plan in a contest that many expected to turn into a fire-fight but ended up being a methodical victory for the Welshman.

His challenger will be in a similar situation to that of Jenkins on March 8th with a clear understanding that this, realistically, might be his last opportunity to fight for the British title. The 30 year old has shown himself capable of fighting to a controlled tempo throughout a contest but has produced a killer instinct in his fights as of late. Against Liam Wells there was a gulf in class between the two men and Gallagher was eager to put the contest to bed in emphatic fashion. The only blip in the last twelve months came against Kiwitt in which Gallagher hit the canvas on two occasions – knockdowns that proved to be the deciding factor in the contest.

A fight between two of the nicest guys in British boxing for the nicest belt in all of boxing – it should be a cracker.

Of course the focus, rightly, will be on the man of the moment in Belfast boxing – nicknamed ‘Four Murals Conlan’ by Sean McComb, who also fights on the undercard – Michael Conlan as he brings the twelfth stage of The Conlan Revolution to Falls Park for a wonderfully unique boxing event. Watch it all exclusively live on ESPN+ in the United States and BT Sport in the United Kingdom.

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