Not your average pro debut
Boxers often have their first fights as professionals deep on undercards and usually the only people who watch them are the few in the arena at the time. Michael “Mick” Conlan’s pro debut was an event in itself, headlining a show at Madison Square Garden’s small room on St. Patrick’s Day.
Amateur stars and Olympic medalists – of which Conlan is both – might get a TV spot or be shown on an online stream but what Conlan’s promoter Top Rank Promotions did on Friday took it to a whole other level. The fight against Colorado’s Tim Ibarra was the main event on UniMas and, back at home in Ireland, it was shown on RTE, the country’s public broadcaster.
Perhaps this all would’ve never happened if it weren’t for the infamous set of middle fingers Conlan dished out to AIBA, after being robbed of a guaranteed medal in his quarterfinal match in Rio last August. That scene and the following post-fight interview went viral and seemed to increase his popularity more than winning a second Olympic medal ever would have.
That’s why he signed with one of the biggest promoters in boxing, amid such high demand, and also why his debut warranted being such an extravaganza. If that’s what Conlan’s pro debut was like, then it’s unimaginable how big a world title fight would be.
All the marketing and hype aside, what matters most is how well he can fight. Obviously with such an accomplished amateur background, with medals at every major event – most of them gold – Conlan has a ton of ability. He can fight out of both stances, box and move, counterpunch, come forward and get up close to fight in the trenches. The pro game is a different animal and some amateurs transition to it without a blip but others don’t have the same success expected of them.
Thus with Conlan’s pedigree, he was scheduled for six rounds in his debut, having had a number of five-round fights in the World Series of Boxing. But before that, there was a build-up for the fight that probably won’t be seen again for a pro debut for many years to come, if ever.
With an Irish dancing display in the ring and the Irish national anthem sung, the anticipation in the Theater had built to a fever pitch. Irish flags were everywhere and the thousands of fans who had made the trip across the Atlantic, just to see Conlan, never stopped chanting. Michael Buffer was even there just to announce the debut.
Then came Conlan but through the crowd. Oh, and flanked by the biggest star in combat sports right now, UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor. Walking down the steps and into the ring, wearing a spectacular get up, he was primed for the spotlight, unlike Ibarra, who was facing his own corner with his head down, surrounded by his team.
As for the fight, it went as expected. The crowd was rowdy and chanted throughout and Conlan dispatched Ibarra in three one-sided rounds. For a fight of this magnitude, let alone a pro debut, there was a lot to live up to for the Irishman, so it’s understandable how he wasn’t razor-sharp. With such excitement on hand, he missed and loaded up with quite a few big right hands but it didn’t matter much against Ibarra.
Conlan was just on another level, compared to his opponent, and overwhelmed him in the third round to force a stoppage that was all but a formality. At 25, and with plenty of ambition, his opposition will probably get better quickly, due to his level, honed from his amateur pedigree. After the fight, he told media members that, within the first 10 seconds, he knew Ibarra had nothing for him and got a bit reckless, so maybe he’ll step up his game as he faces bigger challenges. Nonetheless, Conlan and trainer Manny Robles know what they need to work on.
To a lot of fans and observers, this might just be another pro debut because they watched it on TV or saw it online but, to be in that arena, the atmosphere was truly special. It’s not every day a fighter and his promotional company do that for a guy’s first fight.
As for Conlan, now that he has his pro debut out of the way, he should be more settled in in his coming fights, the next of which could be in Boston in May. The Theater at Madison Square Garden looks like it will be an annual occasion for a Conlan fight on St. Patrick’s Day. He could potentially outgrow the venue quickly and move up to the arena soon enough.
Being the character that he is and with Top Rank – who has a great reputation for building fighters and draws – there will be even bigger things in store for Conlan. And this is just the beginning – literally.
You can follow Rian Scalia on Twitter @rian5ca.