Conlan targeting breakout performance in Belfast

Michael Conlan is promising a career-best performance as he returns to action in Belfast this weekend.

Conlan targeting breakout performance in Belfast

Michael Conlan is promising a career-best performance as he returns to action in Belfast this weekend.

The two-time Olympian headlines Saturday’s show at Falls Park, a keynote attraction of the city’s ‘Féile an Phobail’ celebrations.

“An outdoor boxing event like this has never been done before in West Belfast, so for me to be the spearhead of it all is very humbling”, says Conlan.

“You’re going to see the best atmosphere boxing has ever experienced. The capacity is extending up and up. Some brilliant fights, and you’re going to see a coming-out performance from me.”

Saturday represents Conlan’s second hometown appearance as a pro, the 11-0 featherweight having outpointed Adeilson Dos Santos at the SSE Arena last summer.

Amateur foe Vladimir Nikitin had initially been primed as the opponent this time around, his and Conlan’s rivalry rooted in that infamous meeting at Rio 2016.

A biceps injury to Nikitin ultimately put paid to the would-be rematch, with Argentina’s Diego Alberto Ruiz having since stepped into the breach.

Whilst the bout amounts to Ruiz’s first ever off home soil, the 25-year-old comes to town sporting a ten-fight win streak.

"When Vladimir dropped out I told Jamie [Conlan, brother] to get me the best guy available, and that’s what we’ve got.

If I’m honest, if I sit back now and look at it, I know that - in terms of levels - I’m a few ahead of Nikitin at the minute. There’s a big, big gap; it looks stupid if you look at it on paper.

“Ruiz is a tougher test, my toughest as a professional, but if I'm going to win world titles, I must beat these kinds of guys.”

Conlan is the star draw on a docket flush with domestic interest, including the return of long-time teammate Paddy Barnes.

Barnes, also a serial Olympian, faces Nicaragua’s Joel Sanchez in a bid to bounce back from his second defeat.

“I’ve been working hard training-wise and I’ve made some changes with my nutrition.

I should have done it since the start of my career – it’s making a big difference.

I can’t wait to just get another win on Saturday. I’m going to clear my head, have my hand raised and be back to winning ways.

“It’s great to be able to fight in front of the Belfast crowd. This event is absolutely massive, some great prospects and some true 50-50s.”

Luke Keeler heads-up one of those more competitive clashes, the Dubliner keen to build towards world title contention by coming through a career-toughest test against Luis Arias.

Arias arrives with just one defeat on his seven-year pro ledger, that versus former middleweight champion Daniel Jacobs.

Keeler, for his part, is braced for the task at hand.

“He’s probably looking past me, but this all feels like perfect timing,” says the 32-year-old.

“I’ve been a full-time professional for 18 months now and I feel I’m reaching my peak.

“I know there’s a lot at stake here yet I honestly feel zero pressure because I’ve done everything I can.

“I’ve put the work in physically and mentally. I can have no regrets.”

Elsewhere on the card, Paddy Gallagher will bid for Commonwealth and British honours as he takes on Chris Jenkins, with ownership of the vacant BUI Celtic Super Middle title also set to be contested between Steve Collins Jr and Padraig McCrory.

Coverage of Saturday’s show begins from 8pm on BT Sport.

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