Mick Conlan edges past Ionut Baluta in York Hall grueller

Mick Conlan chase of WBO champion Stephen Fulton continued tonight with a gruelling win in London.

In his first fight at super bantamweight, the Belfast talent nudged past Ionut Baluta in an exhausting twelve-rounder at the York Hall in London.

Chief support to Sunny Edwards’s challenge of IBF flyweight kingpin Moruti Mthalane, Conlan BT Sport card at the famous Bethnal Green venue, Conlan squeaked a majority decision against a relentless opponent.

Quality over quantity appeared to be the difference, with the Irish amateur legend being rewarded

The Irishman was last in action in August when he broke down and stopped Frenchman Sofiane Takoucht in a bad-tempered bout. Conlan was then due to go into a mouth-watering match-up with Ghanaian former champ Isaac Dogboe only to suffer a major ankle injury – a ruptured anterior talofibular ligament and split calcaneofibular ligament – during training.

Following a long rehab, the 29-year-old tested the waters tonight both in terms of his ankle and in making 122lbs in a fight with plenty of narrative and, as it turned out, plenty of excitement.

An amateur of note in his native Romania, Baluta turned pro in Spain in 2016 but early losses consigned him to the away corner. However, following a sensational 12 month run, he found himself in London tonight.

First Baluta upset Welsh boxer Kyle Williams before stunning recent world champion TJ Doheny in Dubai last March. This win, perhaps the biggest upset of 2020 worldwide, saw Baluta matched with another Irish fighter in Davey Oliver Joyce whom he took out in three rounds.

#9 with the WBO beforehand, Baluta had christened himself the “Irish Slayer” – a moniker which seemed to irk Conlan slightly in the build-up and the Falls fighter would end the fairytale at the historic York Hall venue.

Conlan began patiently in a quiet first, catching his foe with warning shots and switching southpaw in the final minute as Baluta looked to leap in.

Catching the Romanian’s shots on the gloves and arms, Conlan picked some nice shots to the body and a right to the temple appeared to wobble the busy Baluta.

‘Il Capo’ had his first real success with a flurry in the third and, while Conlan did land some nice shots out of the crouch, Baluta’s activity may have seen him take the round.

Scrappier in the fourth round, the quality shots were coming from Conlan who was beginning to indulge in some closer-quarter trading with the East European slugger.

Baluta’s effort was admirable and he enjoyed a strong fifth where he definitively outworked Conlan – although coach Adam Booth would note at the break that the stanza had taken a lot from the visitor.

Conlan responded well in the sixth and, for the third time, Baluta slipped to the canvas – although he was caught clean on the way down. Upping the pace with some nice long-range work, the Ulsterman turned the screw.

Moving into the second half of the bout, Conlan caught and momentarily staggered Baluta with a right hook coming out of clinch as the fight really began to warm up. While ragged, the Romanian’s work-rate remained high which may have been having a say on the scorecards.

Conspicuously targeting the body, Conlan did damage in the eighth as he looked to slow Baluta and, for the first time, he began to hold as the mouth lolled open.

The pair took a tumble in the ninth and Baluta appeared to come off the worse but the fight continued and so did Conlan’s smart work.

Baluta’s second wind came in the tenth as he worked well, with Conlan appearing to be the one who was tiring – and perhaps leaving it all to fight for going into the championship rounds.

His first time going this far, Conlan looked to get behind the jab and his boxing in the eleventh to good effect and caught Baluta with some eye-catching, round-winning shots.

Baluta began the final round fast. It was messy, but effective, and Conlan responded by scrapping up close. Again the better belts came in from the Belfast boxer but Baluta work-rate could only be applauded.

Going to the cards with no certainty whatsoever – and a long wait did not inspire confidence – but Irish fans breathed a sigh of relief as Conlan was confirmed a majority decision winner with tallies of 114-114, 115-114, and 117-112.

The hard-fought win sees Conlan, who wasn’t impressed by the scorecards, improve to 15(8)-0 while the gallant Baluta drops to 14(3)-3(0).

The win solidifies Conlan’s #1 ranking at 122lbs with the WBO and his #8 with the WBA could also be improved [Additionally, Conlan is ranked #13 and #8 with the WBC and IBF respectively, but at featherweight].

The Irishman is keen to challenge for a world title next although Fulton is currently pencilled in to unify in September versus the winner of the WBC title fight between Luis Nery and Brandon Figueroa. A subsequent defence for the winner before the end of the year against Conlan is then on the agenda. The IBF and WBA belts are currently held by World Championships final foe Murodjon Akhmadaliev.

Whether a bridging fight or a political power play is next remains to be seen but, regardless, Conlan will be happy to still be in the hunt.

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