Michael Conlan’s final act as an amateur boxer was holding a pen with a Top Rank contract in front of him. His penultimate act was considerably more divisive. After losing a controversial (robbery) decision to Russian Vladimir Nikitin, Conlan stood in the middle of the ring, gave a “thumbs down” to the judges’ decision, then raised two other digits to the judges themselves.
Conlan’s act immediately polarized the sporting world, but not so much the boxing world. NBC was eager to preserve the image of the Olympics as a shining example of international cooperation and sportsmanship, so it lambasted Conlan, who is a 2012 Olympic Bronze medalist and 2015 European and World Amateur Championships Gold medalist.
Everything Conlan asserted in the post-fight interview, that the AIBA is a corrupt organization, that amateur boxing is rotten to the core – I’m just going to slip that punch and let it slide on by. I wouldn’t touch that topic with Thomas Hearn’s jab. There is plenty of room for indignant boxing writers at the bottom of Lake Geneva.
Michael Conlan, of Belfast, makes his professional debut at the Theater at Madison Square Garden on Friday, March 17th. That’s St. Patrick’s Day, if you weren’t aware. He turned down an opportunity to debut on the undercard of Pacquiao-Vargas back in November in order to open on the holiday. It is a junior featherweight bout that is expected to bring a raucous crowd.
Outside of Boston you would be hard-pressed to find a more Irish-American city than New York, and the 2,000 Irish and Northern Irish who are expected to be at The Garden won’t be the only ones treating Conlan’s debut as another part of the festivities. New Yorkers, fresh from the parade and full of revolting green beer, will cheer on Michael as he is walked to the ring by MMA superstar Conor McGregor, who has been spied hanging around boxing rings for some reason.
Conlan’s opponent, Tim Ibarra (4-4, 1 KO) out of Denver, Colorado, has about as much chance at ruining the coming-out party as Luis Vega had of ruining Sugar Ray Leonard’s opening act back in 1977. Pro debuts of this magnitude are not exciting from a competiveness point of view. They feel more like a dockworker finally getting his forklift operator’s license.
Bob Arum’s Top Rank has also signed Shakur Stevenson, the American 2016 Silver medalist who also fought at 56 kg, and who would have faced Conlan had he been victorious against Nikitin. Though Stevenson will likely debut at Featherweight, Bob Arum is rubbing a little hype on the prospect of a down-the-road faceoff between the two popular Olympians, even going so far as to compare it to Ray Leonard and Thomas Hearn’s 1981 classic. We’ll see.
It is a match that makes itself, as these two fighters will endure comparisons to one another until they finally meet in the ring, or one of them falls from grace. An Olympic pedigree is no guarantee of professional success.