The Belfast featherweight returned to The Theater at Madison Square Garden for his third St Patrick’s Day headline appearance and his first test on this stage.
Conlan was in against rough and tough Mexican Ruben Garcia Hernandez but dominated the ten-round encounter and claimed a unanimous decision win.
A huge skill disparity saw the Falls Road fight bewilder and bedazzle a gritty opponent that, like many before him, eventually reverted into survival mode
2018 saw Conlan start to move into contender territory with wins over Spanish champion Ibon Larrinaga, Italian champion Nicola Cipoletta, Commonwealth champion Jason Cunningham, and world title challenger Adeilson Dos Santos.
Starting 2019 in what was his second ten-rounder, the Top Rank starlet got another thirty minute of action under his belt as he plots a big year.
Initially due to face Laotian-American Duarn Vue [14(4)-1(0)-2], that game slugger failed a medical due to an eye issue and in stepped Hernandez.
The Cancun puncher’s most notable fight before tonight was a points loss to Nonito Donaire in September 2017 while he was also defeated by former world champion Randy Caballero and the then-unbeaten Rafael Rivera. Last time out, he was held to a dubious draw in Suriname by Marlembron Acuna.
If anything, Hernandez, former holder of the WBC Latino and WBC Caribbean belts, was a good yardstick for Conlan and also held a win over Jose Estrella – who shared a war with older brother and manager, Jamie, on the Frampton-Martinez II undercard at the Titanic Quarter in 2014.
‘The Jackal’ himself was ringside supporting his Belfast bud and also toasting the announcement of his own new deal with Top Rank.
Conlan had claimed the WBO Inter-Continental title in December with that wide win over Cunningham on the Warrington-Frampton undercard however he was not rewarded with a world ranking but a successful defence tonight will hopefully change this.
Aside from rankings and belts, the rising prospect showed some good progression as the Adam Booth-trained fighter continues to move gradually up the levels.
Walking into the by-now iconic ‘Grace‘ followed by National Stadium favourite ‘Celtic Symphony’ and accompanied by WWE superstar Finn Bálor, Conlan whipped the large Irish crowd into a frenzy.
Starting off southpaw, the Irishman would probe early in a first round which heated up as it progressed and the combos started to flow down the stretch.
Hernandez showed more ambition at the start of the second but would be met by heavy shots as Conlan dug in.
The Belfast boxer stayed outside in the third before catching Hernandez with some nice counters and a heavy bodyshot – although would be caught on the way out with a left hook at one stage.
Comfortable, Conlan had his hands down going into the fourth, launching shots from the hip as Hernandez became more ragged – and he would be staggered by an uppercut from the Ulsterman who was showing good footwork.
Moving into the fifth, Conlan looked to break his Hispanic foe down to the body – with one such shot straying low and requiring a brief pause.
As the fight ticked into its second half, Hernandez enjoyed his first spurt of success, pushing the star attraction to the ropes and landing but would take some damaging bodywork in retaliation and his elbows dropped lower and lower.
The pace slowed in the seventh as Conlan clicked into cruise control, perhaps taking a round off as he would step up the aggression again in the proceeding session and hurt Hernandez to the body and momentarily stiffened the legs with a backhand right that pierced the guard.
The Mexican’s ambition was flatlining and his corner would warn him ahead of the penultimate round that he needed to show more or they would pull him out – he wouldn’t, and they didn’t, and the one-sided target practice continued.
Three minutes to go, Conlan pushed for the finish with big southpaw lefts but Hernandez was not for stopping and saw the final bell.
Going to the cards in absolutely no doubt, Conlan was confirmed the victor with a trio of 100-90 tallies and he improves his ledger to 11(6)-0 while Hernandez drops to 24(10)-4(1)-1.
Next up for the 27-year-old, likely, is a co-headline slot with new Top Rank signing Tyson Fury in late May or early June before a big Belfast fight in August.
Kicking off the main portion of the bill, Conlan’s close friend Paddy Barnes suffered a shock defeat to tough Texan Oscar Mojica and admits that he may now retire.
Earlier on on the bill, Russian featherweight Vladimir Nikitin struggled in a slugfest with Texan Juan Tapia, eventually claiming a six-round majority-decision win to move to 3(0)-0.
The infamous defeater of Conlan at the Rio Olympics is being proposed for a showpiece revenge rematch at the Féile an Phobail in Belfast this summer but, such have been Nikitin’s performances since turning pro, whether this particular match-up will take place at the Falls Park festival remains to be seen
Opening the show, Limerick welter Lee Reeves improved to 3(2)-0 following a unanimous decision (40-36 x3) points win over Edward Torres.