Conlan is happy to carve out his own path in pursuit of world bid

Step up: Michael Conlan is relishing his return to MSG, where Paddy Barnes will be on the card
Step up: Michael Conlan is relishing his return to MSG, where Paddy Barnes will be on the card

The hyperbole surrounding Michael Conlan might suggest to some that he is trying to run before he has ground his boxing apprenticeship but the Belfast man insists nothing could be further from the reality of his camp in London with coach Adam Booth.

In the early hours of Monday morning, Conlan will stride once more onto the Madison Square Garden stage as he seeks to kick off what should be a critical 12 months.

Mexican Ruben Garcia Hernandez is expected to be his most serious test so far as his three defeats in 29 fights have only come at the hands of two world champions, Nonito Donaire and Randy Caballero, and Rafael Rivera, who recently went the distance with Leo Santa Cruz, the WBA featherweight title holder.

Conlan’s profile in the States is just where he wants it to be with leading promoter Bob Arum showcasing the 27-year-old on major shows in between his annual St Patrick’s Day headliner in the Garden. Now he wants the performances to ratchet up a notch as he bids to truly enter the world title mix.

“I’m progressing at my pace and this guy is another good step up – another test that will help me develop into the fighter I need to be when the time comes for the really big fights, the world title opportunities,” said Conlan, who picked up the WBO inter-continental title when defeating Jason Cunningham in December at the Manchester Arena.

“I’ve seen some criticism but I don’t take any notice of that. There are some who will say that I should be rushed to fighting better opponents but my team know what they’re doing and I know I’m a work in progress. I learned lessons from the Cunningham fight, as I do with all my fights.

“Adam has been working on a few things in this camp on the back of the Cunningham fight and it has been going very well. I’m just very excited now about getting back into the Garden against such an experienced opponent.

“The Garden is still the Mecca of boxing, it’s the greatest boxing arena on earth and the way the MSG guys treat me now is incredible – it’s like a big family.

“It’s a really special feeling to fight there and be the main event. The treatment I get is normally reserved for the top basketball players and NFL guys and here’s a little kid from Belfast being put in the same spotlight.”

Conlan has always loved the buzz of a big event, relishing the world stage in the amateur ranks, during which he won World, European and Commonwealth gold – as well as Olympic bronze before his notorious defeat at the 2016 Rio Games.

But for all the vociferous support in the Garden, Conlan knows he is now facing an opponent against whom he needs to show his potential for major fights throughout 2019.

“Hernandez is a tough Mexican who has been with good guys and only lost to top guys. He can swing wildly at times and loves to come and have a fight so I have to make sure I don’t give him any confidence. I’m out to completely destroy him,” he said.

“He went the full distance with Nonito Donaire last year so he’s obviously tough and he’s a little different to what I’ve come across before in other ways. He comes with more of a Mexican style than I’ve fought before and there will be times he’ll be in front of me trying to take my head off. It’s just what I’ve been looking forward to.”

Conlan’s close friend Paddy Barnes is also on the MSG show, returning to the ring after his World title defeat in August. He meets American Oscar Mojica.

Belfast Telegraph