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Confident Conlan aiming to lead Hernandez up the Garden path

Michael Conlan believes 2019 will be his breakout year Michael Conlan believes 2019 will be his breakout year
By David Mohan

MOST, if not all, boxers dream of fighting at Madison Square Garden, so Michael Conlan knows he is in a privileged position as he gets ready to grace the ‘Mecca of Boxing’ for the fifth time in his career this Sunday for his third straight St Patrick’s Day shindig.

The popular Falls man takes on Mexico’s Ruben Garcia Hernandez over 10 rounds with his WBO Inter-Continental featherweight title up for grabs ahead of what he is planning to be a breakout year (live on BoxNation from 8.45pm).

With privilege comes pressure however, and the microscope has focused in on Conlan even greater than others given his career was greeted with much fanfare.

It has to be remembered that he has boxed just 10 times as a pro and is still finding his way under trainer, Adam Booth, but 2019 will be the year where the training wheels fully come off and the march to world level gathers pace.

“People never get to fight here in their lifetime and some of the best fighters have never got the chance to fight in The Garden,” he agreed.

“I’m doing it for the fifth time and I’m only starting my third year (as a pro) so I’m very lucky and grateful.

“It’s my favourite arena in boxing and always has been. Madison Square Garden is the ‘Mecca of Boxing’ and over the last decade or so that may have slipped a bit with (Miguel) Cotto disappearing, but I think I can help bring that back.”

Hernandez ought to pose some questions this weekend with the 25 year-old Mexican’s recent run of fights telling an interesting tale.

Last time out, he drew with Marlembron Acuna, with a victory in his previous fight against Jose Estrella – a man who Conlan’s older brother, Jamie defeated at the Titanic Slipways in September 2014.

His last defeat was to none other than Nonito Donaire back in 2017, but notably, he lasted the distance with the big-punching ‘Filipino Flash’ and this suggests he will be hard to shift on Sunday.

Therefore, Conlan will know he will need to be on his game to repel the forward march of a durable foe over the course of the fight and he feels the improvements he has made since defeating Jason Cunningham in Manchester back in December should come to the fore.

“Every fight is going to be more dangerous than the last one now,” he accepts.

“It’s a steady progression with each fight and this guy is a tough Mexican who will ask questions of me, but it’s something I’m looking forward to because I always want to test myself. The harder the fight, the bigger the reward so I’m happy.

“I’m fully focused on Hernandez. I never watch much of my opponents, but I know he’s a tricky customer.

“I intend to go, be myself and do what I’ve been working on in the gym. No matter who I face, what I do in the gym should be working.

“We’ve been working on all aspects of my game – whether that’s going forwards, backwards, southpaw or orthodox. I have been working on tightening everything up defensively so I’m sure we’ll see big improvements.”

Conlan’s job on Sunday will be to win and win in style given the occasion. Again, that adds pressure, but this year is the one where he wants to blast his way into the title mix.

The ascent gets steeper now, so tougher fights and tougher camps means he won’t be quite as busy in 2019 as he has been in his first two years when he fought five times in each.

“I plan for this to be a breakout year for me and the fights we’re planning to have will show that and open up that track,” he explained.

“We’re looking at four (fights) this year – dropping one – and that’s because we’re planning on tougher and longer fights. Everything will be tougher including the bouts and the camps, so everything has to be done precisely as it’s a big year for me.”

Barnes

On the undercard, Paddy Barnes is determined to get back into the title mix when he takes on Oscar Mojica (11-5-1) over six rounds.

‘The Leprechaun’ will not only want to thrill the huge Irish support, but also the American audience as he aims to blast his way towards a second world title challenge.

His Mexican-American opponent is certainly a fine standard of opposition to return against.

Mojica has mixed it in good company and while he has just one stoppage win in 11, he is also durable. Add in the fact he is a bantamweight and Barnes is effectively jumping up two divisions to take on a much man, you get the picture that is should be a good test for the North Belfast man, but one that will stand to him going forward.

“He has fought (Antonio) Nieves who just lost to (Naoya) Inoue and has beaten some undefeated fighters,” Barnes points out.

“He’s also a bantamweight, so it will be a tough enough fight. He has never been stopped either and I’m moving up from flyweight to fight him at bantamweight. I’m expecting six tough rounds, but I’m looking forward to that challenge.”

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