Michael Conlan takes the first step on journey that could lead to stardom
Boxing: Jamie Conlan v Tim Ibarra (tonight, Madison Square Garden Theater, live on BoxNation)
MICHAEL Conlan was already the proud owner of a bronze medal from the London Olympics when his box office ability got me, and many others, out of our seats at the Commonwealth Games.
The Northern Ireland boxing team, coached by his dad John, had an excellent tournament in Glasgow back in 2014. Conlan and Paddy Barnes both won gold and there were two silver and five bronze medals too. John Conlan came up with an effective gameplan for his fighters who all boxed to orders with the same pressure style. Michael was the exception.
The 22-year-old was able to make it up as he went along and, despite having stitches in a gash above his eye from a clash of heads, he took the gold at a canter.
England’s Qais Ashfaq tried to box him in the final and, when that didn’t work, he tried to fight him, but he was out of his depth.
Conlan was so comfortable he was able to throw in a few party tricks and an overhand right came from nowhere and zeroed in on Ashfaq’s chin. He never saw it coming.
After those Commonwealth Games, he won the European championships and topped that by becoming the first Irish male to win gold at the world championships.
Skulduggery denied him gold at the Olympics last summer and so tonight he begins to climb the professional ladder at New York’s iconic home of boxing; Madison Square Garden. He knows the spotlight is on him, but he likes it and he can handle it.
“I’ve got a big, big debut at Madison Square Garden and for me its been great and I’m looking forward to it,” he said.
“I don’t feel any pressure, I know this is a pressure situation but I always say that pressure is for tyres, it’s not for me.
“We’ve got Connor McGregor walking out with those and I hope that it can be the start of something good.”
Conlan’s opponent Tim Ibarra has been largely ignored in all the hoopla. Ibarra (4-4), from Colorado, was stopped by Manny Robles jnr (son of Conlan’s LA-based coach Manny senior) back in 2012 and spent four years out of boxing before making a comeback last year.
Since his return he has fought four times and hardly set the world alight with two wins and two losses. If he takes Conlan more than three rounds tonight he’ll have done well.
“He’s done a full training camp and he’s going to come to try and fight and impress and take a big scalp,” said Conlan of his opponent.
“But I’ll be going in there to do what I do best and that’s take him out, simple as that. I don’t need to go in there and do anything else, I’ll go in there and take him out and that’s it.”
Todd duBoef, President of Conlan’s promoter Top Rank, had no intention of burying his prize signing on anonymous undercards on the west coast. As he puts it: “You go big or go home”.
“We went big (with Conlan). We just believed in the product. He’s got an incredible personality and we believe he has a naturally embedded fanbase in America and we believe he has to be presented the right way.
“We thought this was the perfect storm for everything to come together for him.
“We promote fighters from all over the world – the US, south America, Russia, the Phillipines, Mexico… We’re really excited about this and joined Mick and Matthew (Macklin) in creating this incredible product for fans of boxing.”
DuBoef says Top Rank ‘create’ the money, they don’t chase it but will Conlan’s journey intersect with Carl Frampton’s at some point? At the Waterfront Hall last weekend, Frampton recalled his contrasting professional debut in Liverpool. His parents and future wife Christine were among a handful of spectators watching as he stopped Hungarian Sandor Szinavel in a run-of-the-mill opener.
Frampton didn’t have a sparkling amateur pedigree, but he has progressed to become only Ireland’s second two-weight world champion. Conlan will take a different route.
“Within two or three years I’d like to be in that position (to fight for a world title) or there or thereabouts and I think it’s completely achievable, we’ll have a more realistic view at the end of the year,” said Conlan.
“It would be good if it happened but I’m never going to need Carl Frampton.
“I’d love that fight to happen, it’s a fight I would always want, but I don’t need it. I’m going to make my own history.”
Conlan is a special talent, a stylish entertainer with the ability to make a crowd gasp, scream and roar. His journey starts tonight and it should be a hell of a ride.