Somewhere in the green mist descending down the steps amid the 3,712 that filled the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden was Michael Conlan.
The two-time Irish Olympian almost glowed beaming off the flashing lime spotlights that panned across the crowd.
Then, Conlan (11-0, 6 knockouts) made his countrymen proud with a solid, virtuoso 10-round unanimous victory over Ruben Garcia Hernandez (24-4-2, 10 KOs) on St. Patrick’s Day. All three scorecards had it a shutout at 100-90.
“Ireland built New York,” Conlan said. “Ireland is in New York tonight! And Ireland f—ing runs New York!
“I think I just used my skills as I said I would. I think I showed a lot of good defensive movements and things I’ve been working on. We were in no rush to try and take out this guy. He’s tough. He went the distance with (Nonito) Donaire and a few other top fighters.
“He had a tough head on them. There were a few times I probably could’ve stepped on it, but we wanted to practice things we’ve been working on. I felt I did that tonight.”
“Vladimir (Nikitin), I know you’re here tonight. We need to do it again for the fans. I need to write a wrong that shouldn’t have been written.”
On paper, Hernandez was supposed to pose the biggest challenge to Conlan to date.
Paper can produce a paper cut, but it can’t punch.
Something Conlan easily found out. Early on, Hernandez let a lot of punches fly, but few connected.
In the first round, Conlan fought some of the round southpaw, and some of the round out of a conventional stance. He shot body shots at Hernandez, mixing them with a few punches to the head.
Again, switching hands in the second, Conlan got the better of Hernandez, who at times lurched so far forward he was off balance. To his credit, Conlan acquitted himself well.
He stayed in the pocket and fought at a safe distance, effective enough to tap Hernandez to score, but cautious enough not to get too close and jeopardize taking an unseen punch.
Hernandez picked up his pace in the third, but Conlan was in control of the fourth and fifth. Though, referee Mike Ortega did stop the fight with roughly 40 seconds left in the fifth when Conlan nailed Hernandez clearly below the belt.
The Irishman bowed and admitted his fault, and continued slicing up his Mexican opponent.
Possibly sensing he was down on the scorecards, Hernandez came in the sixth far more aggressive. He trapped Conlan against the ropes and worked on the body. Conlan almost seemed to shrug off Hernandez’s attack.
It wasn’t that long before Conlan was in command again, chopping a right to Hernandez’s side. In the last 15 seconds of the round, he landed a left to Hernandez’s midsection.
Conlan started the seventh in an orthodox stance, then switched again to southpaw. Whatever Conlan did, Hernandez couldn’t do anything about it anyway.
When the final bell sounded, it was an emphatic, clean win for Conlan.
“These are developmental rounds that will help him become a world champion,” said Adam Booth, Conlan trainer. “I am very pleased with what I saw in there. He is working on exactly what we practicing in the gym, and it’s working.”