Michael Conlan ready to enter professional arena

The Belfast man will fight Tim Ibarra in Madison Square on St Patrick’s Day

He has seen the giant poster of Michael Conlan on the electric screen in New York’s Madison Square Garden. The headline act in Friday’s show in Manhattan and he hasn’t yet had one professional fight.

Destiny and fame have come looking for the 25-year-old from Belfast and already it has reached beyond cliché.

This has been no soft launch for Ireland’s World and European amateur champion, the London 2012 bronze medallist and, as his new employers may say, the “most hurtest” athlete at the Rio Games last summer.

“I’ve seen it. It was a bit of a shock but just feels like it was meant to be,” says Conlan of the poster on Pennsylvania Plaza. “I know there’s going to be a lot more posters like that so it’s just another step on the ladder for me.”


Professional career

It is not just Conlan who thinks that. In a professional career that is yet to start everything has been planned and plotted by Top Rank right down to booking the Garden for the next five years on St Patrick’s Day. That’s confidence.

President of Top Rank Boxing Todd de duBoef understands the world of marketing fighters and he is unashamedly emptying his magazine of superlatives about his latest product.

DuBoef sees Conlan’s charisma and ability and loves, in that American way, that the Belfast lad talks large but also has a cheeky charm and a natural vulnerability. It’s all pure gold and none of it is lost on Todd.

“There’s a saying in America: Go big or go home,” says DuBoef. “So we went big. We believe in the product. We believe he has a naturally embedded fan base in America. We believe he has to be presented the right way as we start working on his marketability.

“We are about to see the first of many weekend celebrations that will take place in Madison Square Garden on St Paddy’s Day. This is an important part of our business plan with him. Michael and Mathew were able to see that.”


Teamed with former Irish world title challenger Matthew Macklin, trained by Manny Robles and based in California, Conlan has taken months longer than Katie Taylor to make the transition into the professional ranks.

Taylor jumped shortly after Rio and began her professional career learning on the job. Conlan has stuck it out in professional gyms and like Taylor has moved from Ireland, essentially relocated, to the southwest and her to the northeast.

His opponent on Friday does not come with an intimidating record. Tim Ibarra from Colorado is 26 years old and, as a professional, has won four and lost four, two of those by stoppage. Conlan is rightly vigilant about his first professional scheduled six rounds but he is unconcerned about people expecting too much from him too soon.

“No. That’s what I want,” he says. “I want to be one of the greatest fighters. It’s a complete honour. But I have to be true to myself and I believe I will be that fighter. I feel there is the expectation of a good performance and some excitement. That’s what I plan to bring.

“The marriage with Robles has been great, the way we gelled. I feel like I’m training with my father [John] back home. I’ve got a big, big debut. I’m looking forward to it. I don’t see any pressure. I know this is a kind of a pressure situation. We have Conor McGregor walking out with us. It’s going to be a big event.”

World title

Macklin is even more effervescent than DeBoef in inflating Conlan’s plans to take over the Super-bantamweight division. The former middleweight, who also trains one of Conlan’s best friends, double Olympic bronze medallist Paddy Barnes gives him two to three years to challenge for a world title.

Such claims are the regular fare of storied amateur fighters like Conlan, who have proven track records. He’s currently sparring with top professionals including Mexican WBO featherweight World Champion, Óscar Valdez.

“I recommended Manny Robles to Michael,” says Macklin. “I said look we have to go out there check that you like LA, the surroundings because it’s important you move in with your family, live the life and dedicate yourself to here for a few years.

“Because of Mick’s age and his amateur pedigree I think he will be moved quickly. He won’t be rushed but I think he will move quickly. He has that level of ability where we could see him fighting for a world title in two years, maybe three years but certainly fairly quickly.”

It now sits with Conlan and his match makers to select fighters that will bring him on. Like Taylor his claims are not small, to be the greatest Irish fighter of all time. “The whole even will be unreal,” he says. And this is just the start.

Conlan v Ibarra is available live on BoxNation this Friday. Go to boxnation.com.

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson is a sports writer with The Irish Times