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'I expected a more aggressive fighter': Conlan still looking for a real test in pro ranks

The Belfast man is likely to be back in the ring this September.

Image: Tertius Pickard/INPHO
Ciarán Gallagher reports from Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
WHILE TOP RANK promoter Bob Arum made something of a grand claim, suggesting that Michael Conlan’s career could progress at a ‘Sugar’ Ray Leonard-style pace, the Belfast man has insisted that he is happy to be moving forward, ‘little by little’.

World amateur champion Conlan recorded his third professional win in the wee hours of this morning (Irish time) when he stopped Aussie Jarrett Owen in three rounds in Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium.

The featherweight bout, originally scheduled for six rounds, took place on the undercard of Manny Pacquaio’s contentious WBO world welterweight title loss to home fighter Jeff Horn.

And after moving to 3-0, Conlan claimed he believes he is moving in the right direction following his latest victory, which came after third-round stoppages over novice journeymen Tim Ibarra and Alfredo Chanez.

“I felt my performance was a lot more improved than my last two performances and I feel like I’m progressing naturally little by little every time I’m in the gym and with each fight I’m getting better and better,” said Conlan at the post-fight press conference. “I was happy with the performance and happy [getting] the stoppage.”

Owen, a 31-year-old based in Brisbane, carried a 5-4-3 record into the fight and Conlan’s Top Rank promoters were hopeful a local fighter would present their star prospect with more of a challenge than his previous opponents.

The Aussie did not prove to be much of a test, although he showed guts to return to action in the third round after taking a heavy shot to the body at the end of the second.

Conlan was slightly marked up by an accidental headbutt from Owen in the second, but the clash did not impact on the Irishman’s performance.

Another body shot in the third signalled the end before referee Tony Kettlewell eventually stepped in after a slight hesitation as Conlan peppered Owen with blows.

“I expected a more aggressive fighter,” said Conlan. “But the guy just didn’t want to know. He just kept running, they all seem to keep running.

“It felt like it just took me a bit of time to maybe get into a rhythm in them and find my distance and once I got that, that was it, I was on the ball.”

Manager Matthew Macklin agreed with his protégé’s assessment, speaking at the first of two post-fight press conferences Conlan attended.

“He [Owen] kind of went into survival mode a lot quicker than we thought he would,” said Macklin.

“I think it took Mick a couple of rounds to find his range, but by the end of rounds two and three he was getting his feet closer and landing his shots with a lot more power. As soon as he started landing clean body shots, Jarrett didn’t want to know,” added the former world middleweight title challenger.

Looking ahead, Arum’s ‘Sugar’ Ray comparison was made in the context of how quickly Conlan’s career can be moved.

The 25-year-old Irishman is likely to be back out in September, most likely in Arizona, in what will be his fourth paid bout in six months, and the 25-year-old claimed he would like to soon fight in eight or 10-rounders.

“Sugar Ray Leonard turned pro in ’77 and by the end of ’79 he had won a world title… so the idea that you [should] wait 15 years like they do today before [taking] significant fights is ridiculous,” said Arum, although Conlan is unlikely to make a dramatic step up in class in terms of his opponents until later this year or early 2018.

In terms of managing the hype that has surrounded his career, Conlan was on his toes immediately after his fight was stopped as he took the time to provide ESPN’s commentary team with some brief post-fight notes.

Referee Kettlewell had briefly hesitated to move in to stop the bout, despite the fact that Owen was visibly hurt and failing to return fire or defend himself, but Conlan showed novice inexperience when he stopped throwing punches in anticipation of the official’s stoppage before he resumed a barrage that led to the finish

“I just said, ‘I thought the referee shouted ‘stop’ 30 seconds [earlier],” laughed Conlan when quizzed on what he had told Teddy Atlas and ESPN’s ringside team.

“The referee kind of said [stop], so I turned and looked at him, which was probably a bit of inexperience on my behalf… I looked at him because I thought he was going to jump in. He didn’t so I just threw a few more.

“I knew I hurt him [Owen] to the body, every time I was hitting him I was hurting him, so I still got that TKO victory and I’m happy,” added Conlan, who enjoyed the support of a vocal Irish contingent among the Suncorp attendance of 51,025.

A healthy amount of that crowd – possibly as much as three quarters – were in their seats for Conlan’s bout, which took place at noon local time in blazing sunshine to suit US primetime Saturday-night TV.

“It was fantastic, a lot of support,” said Conlan, who was preparing to head to Mick O’Malley’s Irish pub in Brisbane to celebrate alongside his team and supporters.

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Ciarán Gallagher

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