St Patrick’s Day is a day of celebration occasion for the Irish (and, quite often, non-Irish) people the world over. March 17th 2017 proved a particularly special occasion for boxer Michael Conlan. While much of the rest of the world partied the night away as they pleased, Conlan’s revelry was delayed by the prospect of competing in his debut as a professional boxer under the bright lights of New York’s Madison Square Garden, some of the most hallowed ground in the world of combat sports.
To say that the Garden was short of star power on Friday night would be an understatement: the fight card was headlined by unified middleweight champions Gennady Golovkin’s title defence against Daniel Jacobs, and Conlan was accompanied to the ring by friend and UFC lightweight kingpin Conor McGregor. However, Conlan did not allow himself to be overlooked, and turned in a performance that could well be the beginning of his own path to stardom. Highly touted since his bronze medal-worthy performance at the 2012 Olympics in London, Conlan demonstrated the quality accrued in his amateur days by picking up an impressive third-round TKO win over 4-4 Denver, Colorado native Tim Ibarra. The Irish contingent of the crowd cheered Conlan throughout the bout, and the Belfast native showed all the signs that such scenes will be a recurring theme over the course of his career.
Despite his obvious quality, Conlan’s debut did not go without a hitch. Guest commentator and veteran welterweight Chris Algieri observed that Conlan looked “a little tight” in early moments of the fight, and this is not an unfair assessment. At times, the Irishman struggled to gauge the distance against his more experienced opponent, and many of his punches landed short of the mark. Furthermore, Conlan occasionally neglected his amateur experience by abandoning his combination punching, instead attempting to take Ibarra out with a single powerful but telegraphed overhand right: experienced fighters, trainers, and fight fans know that the chances of achieving the desired knockout by employing such tactics are slim at best.
However, these flaws were only minor blots on an otherwise very good debut introduction to professional boxing. The pedigree that saw Conlan win gold medals at the 2014 Commonwealth Games and the 2015 Amateur World Championships was on display from the outset. The Irishman immediately put Ibarra on the back foot with a decisive jab, and despite not always being able to cleanly land his shots, Conlan easily won the round by throwing a high volume of crisp straight punches to the head and body. Indeed, Conlan’s slick level changes earned him Algieri’s praise early in the fight.
A boxer’s feet are just as important components of their arsenal as their hands, and Conlan’s footwork proved to be a major factor in securing his victory. Conlan’s superiority in movement was apparent right from the offset. Moving forward with his punches, Conlan spent much of the first round stalking Ibarra around the ring, preventing the Coloradan from stringing any meaningful punches together. The gulf in skill became even wider in the second stanza as Conlan began switching between the orthodox and southpaw stances. Standing with his right foot forward, Conlan had greater success in closing the range and landing clean punches on Ibarra, the most effective being a sharp straight left hand to the body.
‘Possessing not only an extensive skill set, but ample opportunities to showcase them to a wide audience, the future looks bright indeed for Michael Conlan’.
By the time the starting bell rang for the third time, Conlan had learned everything about his opponent he needed in order to put him away. Within a minute the Belfast native had backed Ibarra up against the ropes. Trapped, Ibarra could do nothing to escape from Conlan, who proceeded to batter him with short, spiteful hooks and uppercuts to the body and head. With Ibarra reduced to little more than a human punching bag, referee Steve Estevez ended the contest with around a minute left in the round, completing Conlan’s Saint Patrick’s Day fairy tale.
When one examines the circumstances surrounding Conlan’s debut, it is easy to see why it was such a success. Many Irish boxers have found professional success while based at home, but Conlan has made choices in his training which could propel him to the elite bracket of fighters. Such is his dedication to fulfilling his potential as a boxer that Conlan has elected to leave Ireland and relocate to Los Angeles in order to improve his skills under the guise of renowned trainer Manny Robles. Conlan’s name is only likely to grow in America. Not only does he now live and train in Los Angeles, but his talent and discipline has seen him awarded a contract with Bob Arum’s prestigious Top Rank Promotions. Having represented Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard in past years, Top Rank now holds the signatures of other stalwarts such as Terrence Crawford, Vasyl Lomachenko, and Manny Pacquiao. Possessing not only an extensive skill set, but ample opportunities to showcase them to a wide audience, the future looks bright indeed for Michael Conlan.
Jamie Duff Sports Writer