Michael John Conlan fights in Northern Ireland on Saturday night, as he bids to add the vacant WBA Inter-Continental featherweight belt to the WBO Inter-continental title he already holds.
The ten-round contest, which is taking place at Belfast’s Falls Park, was initially intended against Conlan’s controversial Rio 2016 conqueror, Vladimir Nikitin, before the latter withdrew with a bicep injury.
Asking his promoter, Top Rank, to source the toughest replacement possible, unphased-and-arguably-additionally-motivated Conlan told gathered reporters,
“I’ve got a high-class fighter ranked highly in the world. I’m expecting him to cause me more problems than what Nikitin could have caused me.”
And whilst the argument on whether Ruiz is more skilled than Nikitin is debateable, the comparisons in relative experience certainly are not. Nikitin has a 3-0-0 record, whereas despite being two years younger than Conlan, Diego Alberto Ruiz heads into Saturday’s fight with a record of 21-2-0 with 10 KOs. He has won WBC Latino Silver titles at super bantam and featherweight; and is on a ten-fight winning streak which dates back to November 2016.
This will, however, be his first pro fight outside of his native Argentina, a challenge he defiantly inverted: “It won’t be an easy fight, but it is not an impossible task. I am not scared to fight on the road. That is my motivation because the pressure will be on him.”
There will be pressure for Conlan, but this will be commensurate with a personal expectation to win and a desire to win entertainingly. A decorated amateur who won gold at the 2015 World Championships, his composed, considered, southpaw style and high ring IQ have many openly referring to him as a future world champion in waiting. If he is to manifest that outcome and realise such acclaim, then he will have to beat opponents of the calibre of Ruiz.