THE bigger the test, the better the performance. That has been the story of Padraig McCrory’s dozen pro contests to date and on Friday, ‘The Hammer’ insists he is ready to make another statement when he puts the WBC International Silver super-middleweight belt open the line against Celso Neves at the Ulster Hall.

Back in August, McCrory was supposed to have his hands full against Sergei Gorokhov at the Falls Park, but took the Russian apart in a career-best display.

The challenge will be a little different this week against Neves who enters as something of an unknown despite claiming the Swiss national title last time out.

The 31 year-old from Portugal who now resides in Basel is regarded as more of a boxer than aggressive brawler, with his only career defeat coming by way of a narrow points reverse so could ask questions of McCrory.

However, the St James’ man and his coach Dee Walsh will have devised a game-plan for what is coming their way and is fully confident he will maintain his undefeated record and open the door to bigger fights.

“I know he’s coming in off a good win against an undefeated opponent so from what I’ve seen, he looks tricky and is much different than the last one who had a come-forward, aggressive style that suits me,” McCrory notes.

“This will be a completely different task, but I’m expecting a good night and I’m fully confident I win this fight.”

Prior to the Gorokhov win, McCrory took just 70 seconds to cut through Mickey Ellison in what was supposed to be another stern test.

The manner of those past two wins have not just boosted his confidence, but also made the fans sit up and take notice of a man who continues to tick every box in impressive fashion and can have realistic hopes of going much further should he clear Friday’s hurdle.

“I would definitely be a bit of a pessimist, but if you look at my last two fights against opponents who were supposed to really challenge me, they only went six rounds out of 18 (combined),” he points out.

“I still try to be a bit of a realist as-well-as set targets I think I can reach. It’s a fine balance, but I’m a much more confident fighter.

“Speaking to people after (the Gorokhov fight), I didn’t realise just how big a win it was.

“Jamie (Conlan, manager) was saying he was expecting a really tough night for me, but thought I needed that challenge at this stage of my career.

“I know the Russians invested a lot of money in him and were expecting him to come here and get a big win, but in fairness, I felt really comfortable in there. I controlled the fight, felt his power and he could definitely punch hard, but it kept me switched on and I think it was probably my best performance.”

With performances like that, the reward is a high TV slot on Friday’s Conlan Boxing card that will see the Ulster Hall packed for a fight night for the first time since February 2020.

The show will be broadcast live on IFL TV (YouTube channel) here and on ESPN+ in the United States, so another sizzling display will do his profile and career prospects absolutely no harm.

It is a long way from his last outing at the Bedford Street venue when he boxed early in the night against journeyman Lewis van Poetsch, but rolling the dice and coming up trumps has now pushed him to be a main attraction.

McCrory has paid his dues and is now commanding greater attention, but this won’t go to the head of the humble West Belfast man who says he wants to push on his career, but can only do so by making it win number 13 out of 13 on Friday.

“Coming back here (Ulster Hall) as the main event alongside Lewis (Crocker), getting more attention from different media outlets, it seems more people are now taking notice,” he accepts.

“I feel slightly humbled that I’m being spoken about in the same breath as some of the great fighters from Belfast.

“I’ve done it the hard way, starting on small hall shows and selling tickets to fight. I’ve worked hard, grafted and now I’m here as a co-main event on the first Ulster Hall show in nearly two years. I’m very happy and proud of how far I’ve come.

“I want to make a bit of a statement and put on a show for all the boxing fans who have been starved of it. A win is the most important thing, but I want to put on a show.”