Michael Conlan seeks early challenges
In his first two professional bouts, highly-touted Irish prospect Michael Conlan faced Tim Ibarra and then Alfredo Chanez, stopping both in three rounds. Conlan, who was signed to a much ballyhooed deal with Top Rank after flipping off the amateur establishment, did what he was supposed to in these early match-ups.
But Conlan, an ambitious sort, wants a bit more resistance in his early bouts.
“I’ve told the guys and they know this,” he said a couple of weeks ago at The Rock in Carson, California, before he left for Australia for this weekend’s bout on the Manny Pacquiao-Jeff Horn undercard at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane. “The last guy, Chanez, they were expecting the guy to come and fight and, when I watched some videos, I expected him to give it a go. I knew it wasn’t going to be anything of note but I was expecting to come through some punches.
“But it was just hard to look good against a guy that didn’t want to do anything.”
Yeah, Chanez was say a bit…reluctant. And in boxing, unlike other sports, it can be more difficult to look good and display your skills when someone just wants to survive, instead of actually trying to win. “You hit the nail on the head,” agreed Conlan. “I feel that, better the opponent, the better I’ll perform because it’s a standard. I’m dropping my standard against these types of guys. I know what it’s all about – learning the game and learning the program and getting that experience. But, at the same time, I know what I’m able to do and what I’m capable of and, the better the guy that’s against me, the better you’re going to see me.”
There’s a theory that when you play basketball against better players, it will make you play at a certain level. And invariably if you play with a bunch of hackers, well, that’s what you invariably become over time. The same applies in this sport.
“Absolutely,” stated Conlan’s trainer Manuel Robles, “because this guy is used to fighting the best fighters in the world, at an amateur level, so he understands levels. (Conlan)’s fought everyone there is to fight in the amateurs. So with that said, I understand he’s got to learn to be patient; he’s got to learn to trust his manager, trust his promoter. Who’s better than Top Rank to develop you and become a superstar?
“There’s no better than Top Rank at that,” continued Robles, who happens to train world champions Oscar Valdez and Jessie Magdaleno, who were both developed by Top Rank. “So he’s got to trust in the people that are working with you. I never question the management; I never question the promoters, the matchmakers. Why? Because that’s not my job. My job is to get them ready. They tell me who he’s fighting and therefore we study the opponent, study the fight and we get them ready and we get the results that we get.
“But definitely, I believe that better the opposition, the better he’s going to look.”
There has been a bit more scrutiny of Conlan and with whom he’s been paired, for the simple fact that he hasn’t been moved like your usual prospect, who is normally showcased early on during non-televised portions of undercards. In both his outings, Conlan was the feature performer on both cards in New York and Chicago.
Top Rank is clearly counting on the charismatic Conlan to be one of its pillars.
“We know he’s got a great amateur pedigree, two fights in and we really haven’t been able to see that come out,” said Carl Moretti, vice president of boxing operations for Top Rank. “The first guy was a little awkward and the second guy clearly was there to survive. So those two were difficult situations to put any prospect in. Hopefully we’ll see a little more in this fight under totally different circumstances.”
With young talent like Conlan and U.S. Olympic silver medalist Shakur Stevenson (another Top Rank signee), you can move their careers a bit faster. “There’s no question that those two, Teofimo (Lopez) and other kids that have had long amateur careers, you can put them in six rounds and move them to eight pretty much as quick as you want to, really,” stated Moretti.
In many respects, these types of boxers are so precocious that the battle is to actually hold them back and display some patience.
“That’s for sure. They’re so eager to get to the top and it’s a marathon – not a sprint,” said Moretti, who, during his days at Main Events, dealt with Fernando Vargas, who demanded from the very start of his career to be put on the fast track. “You’ve got to remember, you can’t over-match them early on and you can’t under-match them or they’re just going in and blowing out guys in one or two rounds because then they’ll get a false sense of confidence and you don’t want their training to lag off.”
It’s a fine line that is toed by every matchmaker in the business. Just when is a fledgling prizefighter ready to swim in the deeper end of the pool? Put them in too tough and you could get them beat. Match them too soft and you could develop a certain complacency. Properly nurturing a fighter to a title shot is part science and art.
Moretti says, “It’s a difficult measurement that all promoters and managers and matchmakers deal with, trying to find the right level of competition each time out, knowing that you’re in against all those things.”
For the time being, Conlan is in a situation in which his sparring is providing more challenging moments than his fights. It’s said that “Iron sharpens iron” and, with Robles as his trainer, and his home gym being The Rock, it means he gets to work with Valdez, Magdaleno and prospects like Emilio Sanchez on a regular basis.
It’s the reason Conlan moved out to Southern California.
“One hundred percent, sparring in this gym, I don’t think you can get better sparring anywhere in the world. The fighters who come through this gym, even the fighters who aren’t in this gym but come to spar, is unbelievable,” Conlan said in an admiring tone. “World champions, top prospects, it’s a tough day every day. There’s no easy day. That’s why I came to Southern California, Los Angeles, for. I knew this was the place I needed to be for the best sparring in the world.”
Conlan is paired with Jarrett Owen, 5-4-3 (2), and his bout will be part of the ESPN broadcast. So will Owen be an upgrade from his first two dance partners?
“I know he’s better than the last couple of guys. He can fight. He’s got more experience,” said Robles, “so therefore we’re ready for the guy but look at the sparring we have here in the gym. (Conlan)’s looking very well with all the up-and-coming fighters that we have here in the gym.
“Ultimately, that’s what gets you ready for the fights. I know he’s ready.”
On the latest episode of “The 3 Knockdown Rule,” K2 Promotions Managing Director Tom Loeffler joins Mario Lopez and me and we talk about Canelo Alvarez-Gennady Golovkin and the September 9 “Super Fly” card.
Speaking of Stevenson, when does he go again? “He’ll go sometime in August, most likely,” said Moretti. So, in the meantime, enjoy his tweets…Moretti says, while a fight between WBO lightweight titlist Terry Flanagan and Felix Verdejo is being discussed,”It’s far from a done deal.”…A special prime time edition of “First Take” focusing on Pacquiao-Horn and boxing will be broadcast on ESPN tonight at 8 p.m. ET…A bout between WBC 122-pound titlist Rey Vargas and Ronny Rios is the co-feature August 26 on HBO before Miguel Cotto-Yoshihiro Kamegai from the StubHub Center in Carson, California…The July 14 edition of “The L.A. Fight Club” from Belasco Theater will have Roger Gutierrez-Rene Alvarado and the return of Edgar Valerio…On July 30 from the Rabobank Theater in Bakersfield, California, Victor Ortiz faces Saul Corral as the main event on FS1. Also on this bill are prospects Money Powell IV and Jose Balderas…Seriously, NBC’s “The Carmichael Show” is funny. Where have I been all this time?…I might just drink Zima the rest of this summer (with Jolly Ranchers, of course)…I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and I tweet (a lot) at twitter.com/steveucnlive. I also share photos of stuff at instagram.com/steveucnlive and can also be found at tsu.co/steveucnlive.