HE’S BACK – Slick Mick Conlan dominates Miguel Marriaga in Belfast

The Mick is back.

The Irish featherweight returned to winning ways tonight at the SSE Odyssey Arena in Belfast, largely dominating former title challenger Miguel Marriaga.

Back in his home city after the heartbreak of Nottingham in March, Conlan took the card on his shoulders and delivered.

Scoring three knockdowns on the Colombian across the ten rounds, Conlan looked slick and smooth for most of the bout before a final round scare was overcome in front of an electric crowd in the Capital of Irish Boxing

While undoubtedly past his peak – during which he challenged Vasyl Lomachenko, Oscar Valdez, and Nicholas Walters for world titles – Marriaga still represented a dangerous test for the returning Conlan. A durable power puncher, there could be no room for doubts or demons in a fight that had some concerned in the build-up

After entering to a raucous atmosphere, Conlan started southpaw in a cagey opener. A cuffing shot pulled Marriaga down early but, correctly, no knockdown was called in an otherwise quiet round.

Opening up in the second somewhat, Conlan landed one particularly nice long left and followed this up with some great work from range in the third.

The probing long lefts of Conlan crashed home with increasing regularity in the fourth before he switched to the body with slashing hooks. To this point, Marriaga was finding it hard to get shots off.

Throwing caution to the wind, the Colombian tried to get inside and do damage in the clinch but was finding himself pinged by the accuracy of Conlan in the fifth.

Marriaga managed a sneaky left hand in the sixth but Conlan responded with three clean shots of his own as the visitor grew increasingly frustrated – at one point slipping to the canvas as the Irishman pirouetted out of danger.

Conlan got a big breakthrough in round seven, cuffing Marriaga with a right that sent him off balance before landing a solid left that sent him down. Seemingly unhurt, the South American rose early and looked to throw down with the Belfast favourite but Conlan was in the groove by this stage.

Setting his feet, Conlan was happy to close the range and, ripping in bodyshots in bunches, sent Marriaga down for a second time in the eighth. Looking dejected, the former title challenger continued but Conlan was pitching a shut-out.

Complaining about a slippy canvas and/or boots, Marriaga fell to the floor again in the ninth but it was no knockdown. Seconds later a real knockdown was scored as an incisive backhand from Conlan forced a Marriaga glove to brush the canvas and the crowd began to sense that a finish could be on the cards.

Going for broke in the closing round, Marriaga tore into Conlan roughly, trading in the corner and wrestling him to the canvas. Somewhat dazed, Conlan had to bob and weave his way out of trouble and the crowd, perhaps with a feeling of deja vu, responded. Not content to see the fight out, Conlan forced his was back into the round, trading to the body and raising the roof as the final bell sounded.

Going to the cards with no doubt – although with hearts slowing exiting our mouths – Conlan was confirmed a unanimous decision winner 99-89 and 99-88 x 2.

With the win, Conlan improves his record to 17(8)-1(1) while the veteran Marriaga slips to 30(26)-6(1).

His comeback complete, 30-year-old Conlan will now look for a return to title fights in what is a crowded scene. Top Rank stablemate Emmanuel Navarette holds the WBO belt while Rey Vargas now has the WBC crown. Matchroom’s Josh Warrington is IBF champion and Leo Santa Cruz is the WBA super king – although his ordered fight with Leigh Wood now looks unlikely.

Joe O'Neill

Reporting on Irish boxing the past five years. Work has appeared on irish-boxing.com, Boxing News, the42.ie, and local and national media. Provide live ringside updates, occasional interviews, and special features on the future of Irish boxing. email: joneill6@tcd.ie