The Belfast featherweight picked up his first career title at the Manchester Arena where, stepping up to ten rounds for the first time following four eight-rounders, Conlan faced a game foe in two-weight Commonwealth champ Jason Cunningham and he would took a clear points win.
Boxing on the undercard of Carl Frampton’s challenge of IBF featherweight champion Josh Warrington live on BT Sport Box Office, Conlan opened the ESPN+ broadcast in America and defeated his Yorkshire foe on a unanimous decision .
Cunningham would offer more than the Top Rank prospect’s previous opposition and did enough to win a few rounds on the cards but the 2015 World Amateur champion’s class would tell and he almost had his man out of there in the final round.
Days before the bout, the match-up was sanctioned for the vacant WBO Inter-Continental belt which Conlan will bring into the new year as he looks to work towards a more major title shot.
In a quiet opener, Conlan began orthodox, sweeping in right hands as he attempted to establish range
After pushing the pace at the start of the second, Conlan landed a succession of right hands before stepping back. Facing the first southpaw of his pro career, the Irishman would switch lefty himself early as he boxed off the round.
Conlan continued to hunt in the third, again switching southpaw as he looked to draw punches out of Cunningham. Already warned in the first for straying low, the Adam Booth-trained fighter received a final warning for again dropping below the belt as we moved into the fourth.
Here Conlan shipped possibly the most substantial shot of his pro career. Moving inside, the Falls Road fighter got caught while trading hooks and was then forced back by Cunningham and had to, very momentarily, hold. Quickly back in the groove, Conlan finished the stanza well out of the southpaw stance where he landed some solid shots, one right hook in particular.
Cunningham was becoming increasingly aggressive in the fifth but was nailed by a pair of right hooks, one to the body that looked to have stiffened his legs and Conlan would take over as the round progressed.
It was starting to get a bit messy as the fight entered its second half with both trading inside and Conlan, who was perhaps lucky in the fifth, was pulled up for low shots and was docked a point by Steve Gray..
The former Elite amateur showed his pro side at the start of the seventh, looking to bully Cunningham physically. When he stepped off, Conlan was caught by a succession of punches by Cunningham but responded with some nice pot-shots of his own.
Back orthodox and looking to time big right hands, the Olympic bronze medallist stalked in a very one-sided eighth and, switching southpaw, did damage with a flurry in the closing moments.
Entering the ninth round for the first time in his career, the recently-turned-27-year-old looked fit and was landing flush shots with increasing regularity as Cunningham’s face continued to redden.
Cunningham came out aggressively at the start of the tenth and final round as the Belfast stylist seemed to step off and tried to walk his Doncaster opponent onto a shot. Changing and becoming aggressive himself, Conlan had Cunningham out on his feet after trading right hooks. Sensing his opportunity, he pushed and rattled the Englishman’s jaw again and again and almost forced the stoppage but we would see the bell.
Going to the cards in no doubt, Conlan was confirmed a unanimous decision win with cards of 97-92, 98-92 x2 and he now moves to 10(6)-0 to round off a successful second year as a pro. Cunningham drops to 24(6)-6(1).
The win also sees him pick up the rankings title and it is likely that Conlan will be added into the organisation’s Top 15. Mexican Óscar Valdez, a former gym-mate under Manny Robles, is the current champion and someone who the winner of tonight’s main event will be targeting a unification with.