After Michael Conlan’s first professional fight, James Carroll asks what the future might hold for the Irish boxer.
“I don’t think I will ever forget this night, this is a real special night for me and you know I am so proud and happy to fight here.” said Michael Conlan after his first professional victory.
He made light work of American Tim Ibarra in a junior featherweight contest at Madison Square Garden in New York on St Patrick’s Day.
Conlan headlined the fight card in front of a sold-out raucous crowd of 5,000. Irish dancers performed in the ring before the fight. And with legendary announcer Michael Buffer on the mic, this gave us a glimpse of Michael Conlan’s possible future in professional boxing.
The Belfast fighter won a bronze medal at the 2012 Olympic Games in London and was moving on from the bitter disappointment of failing to win a medal at last year’s Rio Games where he felt he had been cheated out of victory in the quarter finals.
Conlan dominated his American opponent from the first round until the stoppage came midway through the third round.
Although he may have been anxious about putting on a show and getting a quick knockout, there was many positives on display that would suggest he has a big future ahead of him.
He found his rhythm and range early in the first round where he used his jab and picked his shots. However, he was far from composed in the second round.
Although there was little resistance by Ibarra throughout fight, Conlan was attempting to get a big knockout, but kept swinging and missing his overhand right.
“I don’t think I performed too well but I still got the stoppage but I had a lot of nerves you know, it feels like I’m fighting for a world title and it is only my professional debut.”
In round three, he went back to basics with the jab. Before long, Conlan had Ibarra on the ropes. Then he unleashed a flurry of combinations to the body, and the referee called a halt to proceedings.
“I don’t think I performed too well but I still got the stoppage but I had a lot of nerves you know, it feels like I’m fighting for a world title and it is only my professional debut,” Conlan said after the bout.
UFC star Conor McGregor walked out with Conlan to his first professional fight. McGregor also offered encouragement to the boxer throughout the match
“It was special. You know, who gets the biggest star in their country, and possibly the world, to carry the flag out with me. We are a small country, we stick together, we have Niall Horan here from One Direction, we’ve got big support,” said Conlon.
Conlan is now based in Los Angeles near Venice Beach with his fiancee, Shauna Olali, and their two-year-old daughter, Luisne.
He signed a contract in September 2016 with Top Rank, the biggest boxing promoter in the world.
“Top Rank are expecting massive things from him, they’ve invested a lot of money into him and that adds a little bit of pressure as well and he has to go out and perform now,”
Bob Arum, Top Rank’s CEO, has been in the business for 51 years and has promoted everybody from Muhammad Ali to Sugar Ray Leonard. He has said he sees potential in Conlan’s professional career.
“Like everybody else we watched the Olympics. We saw that this extraordinarily talented young Irish lad got screwed by the politics in amateur boxing and felt that when he turned pro, we would love to handle his career because he could be a major international boxing star,” Arum said to NewsTalk FM.
Former amateur boxer and Olympic silver medalist Kenneth Egan spoke to The City about what the future might hold for Conlan.
“Top Rank are expecting massive things from him. They’ve invested a lot of money into him and that adds a little bit of pressure as well and he has to go out and perform now,” he said.
Egan says that moving to LA was absolutely the correct decision for Conlon.
“The first thing he did was find a good home out there, so he is in the right place… [away from] the hassle and stress that he would have had if he was flying from Belfast to LA every few weeks,” said Egan.
Conlan will fight six times a year under his current deal. He is scheduled to fight again in May.
“I’d like to see a few more fights soon. He didn’t get the knockout on Saturday but he needs the knockout soon because that’s why the fans tune in,” said Egan.
“His punch variety is very good but we don’t know what his punching power is yet in the pro- game. I think Michael has always had a fantastic work rate, throws an awful lot of punches and he is super fit.”
Some worry that not having his extended family around could affect Conlan’s performance, but Egan does not subscribe to that. “He can’t learn a lot more, he already knows the shots all too well, he is well educated in that sense.”
Will there be anything that his new coach Manny Robles can teach him?
“The new trainer might fine tune him, train him for 12 rounds and show him the tricks of the trade of the pro-game,” Egan said.
Top Rank will patiently build his profile, so the fans should not be expecting a world title fight in 2017, but Egan expects him to be competing for a world title in three years.
Friday’s bout was unlikely to ever be a contest but Conlan showed his skill set – a good jab, nimble footwork, and solid head movement. However, he is far from the finished article yet.
A massive part of training will be gradually building up fitness for 12 rounds and being more patient and cleaner with his shots. His skills will develop with more fights and allow him to show his punching power.
Top Rank have booked Madison Square Garden on St Patrick’s Day for the next five years. This suggests that they want a fantastic atmosphere and competitive fights in the famous venue.
Conlan has all the right supports to succeed – a leading promoter, a world class coach and, more importantly, his family.
Although there will be greater tests ahead for the Belfast fighter, the only thing that could slow his progress is the chaos that surrounds boxing: the fame, the media and the politics.
Conlan’s own statements suggest he has no fear of those pitfalls: “I do believe I’ll be Ireland’s greatest ever fighter and three-weight world champion and you know what, this is the start of something great.”