Local hero Michael Conlan passed his biggest test to date with a clear but compelling points win over Portlaoise’s game former world champion TJ Doheny at an atmospheric Falls Park in Belfast on Friday night.
Scores were 119-108 and 116-111 (twice) as Conlan claimed the vacant WBA Interim featherweight belt on a stirring night of action in the open air.
The fresher Conlan’s impeccable fitness and fierce body work proved the key as he trumped the heart and guile of Doheny in the majority of rounds.
It started as a largely technical affair with Conlan (16-0, 8 KOs) holding a slight edge. The Belfast switch-hitter turned southpaw early (and stayed there) but found portsider Doheny an elusive target in the initial skirmishes. Action heated up in the third with Conlan’s thudding bodywork slowly making inroads.
The Falls Park favourite was forging a lead by the fourth, rocking Doheny with a right hook before the round’s close. Even in the fifth, when Doheny backed Conlan to the ropes, the Belfast man span off them adeptly and fired back with a rib-bending right hook. Conlan stepped up the body assault and Doheny seemed troubled before taking a knee under pressure. But the former IBF super-bantamweight king dusted himself off and stood firm thereafter before landing a stiff left hand near the bell.
Doheny (22-3, 16 KOs) found some necessary hustle in the sixth and seventh, escalating his pressure and employing more effective aggression. Conlan unleashed a series of right hooks in the eighth but walked onto a stiff left hand soon afterwards. Yet Doheny was seemingly well behind on the cards and had it all to do.
The former world champion lacked the devilry and workrate of Conlan, but certainly wasn’t found wanting in heart. He pinned Conlan on the ropes again in the 10th but couldn’t trouble him sufficiently.
Doheny had arguably his best round in the 11th, threshing away and putting Conlan under duress for the first time, landing a hurtful left hand to the pit of the Belfast man’s stomach.
Conlan poured it on in the last, but Doheny matched him. They tore away until the final bell in a grandstand finish, but the livewire Conlan was a decisive and deserved winner.
Earlier, European bantamweight champion Lee McGregor surprisingly had to climb off the canvas to halt tricky Frenchman Vincent Legrand in the fourth round.
Southpaw Legrand (32-1, 17 KOs) was rangy and well-schooled, and immediately caused problems with his textbook boxing. A sluggish McGregor was dropped by a straight right in the second and looked like he had a real uphill struggle on his hands.
The Scot ramped up his work-rate in the third, but former EBU flyweight king Legrand still seemed fairly comfortable under fire. But the punching power and incision of McGregor finally surfaced in the fourth when a scything right hand downstairs dropped the visitor and ended his participation in the fight.
McGregor was not at his best, but crucially found a way to win like the best fighters do.
Three things are predictable in life; death, taxes and Tyrone McKenna having a war. The all-action Belfast 140-pounder did not disappoint in another memorable scrap against gutsy Mexican Jose Felix. Ultimately, the greater polish and panache of McKenna prevailed to the delight of the home crowd. Scores were 99-91, 97-92 and 97-91.
Felix (39-5-1, 30 KOs) was pulled to the deck in the opener before referee Steve Gray rather generously awarded a knockdown to the house fighter. But, despite being caught off-balance a couple of times, the heavy-handed Mexican looked dangerous. A body shot dropped McKenna in the third before the inevitable war broke out.
The duo traded thumping body shots in thrilling exchanges. But just as it seemed McKenna would overwhelm his foe in the fourth, Felix blasted back with gusto. It was bombs away as McKenna, true to form, sought and relished a fight.
Felix reeled off a furious combination at the start of the sixth, but McKenna’s grit and intensity was taking over. McKenna (22-2-1, 6 KOs) boxed more cleverly in the seventh behind the jab; a left hand staggered Felix as his legs looked leaden after his earlier exertions. But McKenna’s right eye was cut in the eighth and Felix gained encouragement. The Mexican looked for the equaliser to no avail in the ninth.
But the charismatic McKenna was already home and hosed and showboated to his adoring crowd in the final round.
Limerick’s big welterweight prospect Paddy Donovan (7-0, 5 KOs) blew away Sant Fe’s Jose Luis Castillo (9-6-1, 6 KOs) with a left-hand body shot KO in the opening round.
Former amateur star Donovan was on another level altogether and underlined the gulf in class with a sharp finish downstairs with the Argentine never looking likely to beat the count.
“The world is my oyster,” Donovan told Michelle Phelps of Fite TV afterwards. “I’m going to be a world champion.”
He’s not delusional. Slick southpaw Donovan has a very high ceiling in boxing.
‘The Hammer’ Padraig McCrory (12-0, 6 KOs) continued his march up the super-middleweight rankings with a fifth-round cuts win over Russian Sergei Gorokhov (11-3-2, 7 KOs).
An under-fire Gorokhov was pulled out in the fifth on the advice of the ringside doctor due to a gushing cut on the bridge of his nose. The Russian was floored in the fourth after shipping a hefty right uppercut. McCrory looked sharp and is one to keep an eye on.
‘The Public Nuisance’ Sean McComb (12-1, 5 KOs) rebounded from his surprise loss to an inspired Gavin Gwynne in a Commonwealth title tilt February with a confidence-boosting points verdict over former WBO 130lbs title challenger Vicente Martin Rodriguez (39-7-1, 26 KOs). The Belfast portsider won 80-72 over the seasoned Argentine.
Belfast hope James McGivern (3-0, 0 KOs) outboxed Blackpool’s ever-plucky Ed Harrison (2-8, 0 KOs) at lightweight. The stylish southpaw prevailed 60-54.
Belleek southpaw Fearghus Quinn moved to 3-0, 1 KO with a first-round stoppage of Spaniard Fernando Heredia (5-9, 2 KOs) at middleweight.
Omagh’s unbeaten 130-pounder Callum Bradley (5-0, 0 KOs) scored a second-round knockdown from a right hand en route to a 40-35 points success over Romanian import Stefan Nicolae (3-26-1, 3 KOs).
Ballymun debutant Cain Lewis (1-0, 0 KOs) got his pro journey off to a solid start with a 40-36 points win over Nicaraguan Carlos Arroyo (5-21-1, 4 KOs) at super-featherweight.
Main image: MTK Global.