Photograph: Russell Pritchard
Jamie Conlan finally got a title belt around his waist following a seventh-round stoppage victory over durable Belgian Benjamin Smoes on Friday, April 4. Conlan’s bout was increased to a 12-round affair which will work in his favour whenever a case is made for British or Commonwealth title shots.
“I felt so relaxed and comfortable and I was landing the big shots,” said Conlan. “He was a tough guy and he stuck in there. You learn things in these fights that you don’t with journeymen. I can go another level above that again.”
Former WBO featherweight champion Istvan ‘Koko’ Kovacs paid Conlan a visit after the fight to express his satisfaction at the prospect’s display.
“Kovacs was really impressed and he said that he expects big things from me now. That’s coming from a great former champion and Olympic gold medallist.”
The only blemish on a perfect night’s work was a nasty gash above the right eye that required nine stitches. Trainer John Breen agreed that it was all part of the learning curve for his fighter.
“It was unfortunate but Smoes and his trainer said to me afterwards that Jamie hits very hard. I thought Jamie was a big super-flyweight but that guy was massive,” said Breen.
Conlan will meet with Cyclone Promotions later in the week to discuss his next move. He had been hoping to appear on a proposed May 23 show in the Waterfront. It is now unlikely that he will be ready to box on that date due to the doctor’s instructions of no sparring for four weeks as the cut heals.
Marc McCullough was hoping to contest a WBO European title but had to make the best of an eight-rounder. Slovakia’s Elemir Rafael was pulled across the card to accommodate McCullough after fears the Shankill Road ticket-seller would not appear at all. France’s Amor Belahdj Ali had been drafted in after original opponent Andrey Iseav suffered visa problems. After arriving in Belfast it soon transpired that Ali had failed a brain scan.
“I was devastated when I got the news at 4pm that the fight was off,” lamented McCullough. “I had sold so many tickets that John Breen just kept me focused and said go out and look good.”
Marc stopped Rafael in the third round and is aiming to fight on the May 23 show.
Dungiven’s Eamonn O’Kane found it difficult to hide his delight at having a WBC belt around his waist. That it was only the International Silver version mattered little to the middleweight who is planning to use the title as a springboard to bigger opportunities.
O’Kane was unaware of opponent Alvaro Gaona before their bout and was in no mood to find out what the Mexican had to offer. After some early target practice Eamonn landed a perfect overhand right to put Gaona down and out at 2-42 of the first round.
“I can’t remember the last time I knocked someone out in the first round, which says a lot. I’ll talk to my team and see what we can do next but I want the big ones,” said O’Kane.
Conrad Cummings defeated Zahari Mustafchiev by third-round knockout and Stephen Ormond dispatched Karim El Ouazghari in the fifth. Bantamweight Ryan Burnett had his bout curtailed due to paperwork complications.