The Falls Road featherweight headlined the big Top Rank bill at the Falls Park as part of Féile an Phobail and delighted the assembled audience with a dominant display.
Conlan defeated tough Argentinian Diego Alberto Ruiz, forcing a stoppage in the ninth round to defend his WBO Inter-Continental title and pick up the vacant WBA equivalent.
At times a quiet fight, Conlan took his chance when presented to claim a stoppage win on a special night in West Belfast.
With the fights becoming tougher, this was Conlan’s first outing since his St Partick’s Day domination of Ruben Garcia Hernandez and it was another Hispanic foe in Ruiz
Initially Conlan was to face old Olympic foe Vladimir Nikitin in a narrative-fuelled fight but the Russian would pull out with an injured bicep. The neat little story gone – as well as the chance of personal revenge for Conlan – Ruiz was drafted in for an altogether less sexy but far tougher fight.
Coming off a career-best win in June, Ruiz cut a confident figure throughout the build-up and it was hoped that he would provide the aggressive foe that Conlan has long-craved but it certainly didn’t seem like that in the opener.
Barely a punch was thrown in the first three minutes, with Conlan sending the occasional probing right.
This continued until the closing moments of the second when a cuffing shot temporarily knocked Ruiz off balance.
While warming up, it was still rather tame in the third before Conlan’s body assaults paid dividends in the closing minute of the fourth. Having hurt Ruiz to the body, the Irishman lashed in combos as the electricity in the park crackled.
Ruiz managed to clip Conlan a couple of times in the fifth but the local hero remained well in control heading into the second half of the contest.
Madness ensued in the sixth when, angered by punches to the back of the head from Conlan, Ruiz’s coach frantically waved the towel whilst standing on the ring apron. For a moment it seemed as though the fight had been called, with Conlan rushing in on a motionless Ruiz but the confusion was soon cleared up and the action resumed – and the home favourite began to really turn the screw.
Stalking as a southpaw in the seventh, Conlan picked his punches well. Ruiz tried a few lunging attacks but was having little success.
A fight broke out in the eighth as Conlan’s constant pressure forced Ruiz to trade and allowed the Ulsterman to land cleaner shots – almost having the visitor down in the closing seconds when pinned to the ropes.
Conlan’s breakthrough finally came in the ninth, a bodyshot putting Ruiz down and hurting the South American badly. Ruiz rose extremely unsteadily and Conlan went in for the kill. Again the Argentine’s coach waved his towel but the referee could not see. It did not matter, however, as the bout was waved off mere seconds later as Ruiz was backed into a corner shipping punishment.
The stoppage win sees Conlan improve to 12(7)-0 while Ruiz falls to 21(10)-2(1).
Now holding the WBO and WBA Inter-Continentaln titles Conlan can expect his respective #5 and #6 rankings to be boosted as he chases a world title fight. Which route he will take, and at what weight, remains to be seen.