Mikey Williams/Top Rank
IN 2015 Michael Conlan is in Doha, not a known hotbed for boxing. But in a pristine stadium in the sands of the Middle East he has just won the gold medal at the amateur World championships, the first male Irish boxer to achieve such a feat, and he gleefully informs me that he is the “Conor McGregor of boxing”. He predicted what he was going to do and then he did it. But I’m sure even he, a couple of years later, couldn’t have foreseen that Conor McGregor would be walking him out for his professional debut at Madison Square Garden.
“Conor’s doing me a great favour, coming here, helped hype the fight, build it even more. It’s an honour to have him walking out with me. He’s the biggest star in combat sports at the minute and also he’s a national hero in Ireland now. It’s crazy,” Conlan told Boxing News.
Michael might have to get used to boxing at Madison Square Garden. His promoters, Top Rank have it booked for St. Patrick’s Day for the next five years. “It could be every year now here is the big one,” he said. “My face on big digital screens on Madison Square Garden, outside, it’s special.”
Conlan is not stranger to controversy. Volubly condemning a poor decision against him, taking on AIBA, Olympic boxing’s governing body, on the airwaves, Michael made a worldwide impression. But as a boxer he’s going to be his own man, not following the mode of the “Notorious” Conor McGregor. “I’m not that type of guy,” Conlan said. “You’ve got to be yourself. I’m not going to go and be Conor McGregor and act like Conor McGregor. I’m going to be myself. A person who speaks what he believes and speaks confidently at all times.”
He’s seen McGregor at work in the gym, and would happily help him out with his boxing if the rumoured fight with Floyd Mayweather happens. “If he needs help, but I’m sure he’ll have proper coaches. He’s a smart man, a smart businessman and he knows what he’s doing. He knows it’s a fight where both fighters could make a lot of money. If you think, Floyd needs the fight more than him or wants the fight more than him, it’s a lot of money,” Conlan said. “He looks in shape, he’s always in shape, he’s always training hard. He gives it 100%. He is actually a very good boxer.
“He’s very confident it’s going to happen, just got to get round the UFC situation… If he gets that out the way it’s happening, 100%.”
Expect Conlan to go far and quickly. He is a ‘universal boxer’, he can do it all, fight, counter, box moving forward or on the backfoot. As an amateur he medalled at every major tournament possible. Trained by Manny Robles as a professional, he’s been doing elite work in the gym.
“I’ve been sparring with Emilio Sanchez, 13-0, 8 kos, Jesse Magdaleno, a world champion at super-bantamweight, Oscar Valdez, he’s a featherweight champion and a few others,” Michael says. “I’ve been flying. I’ve had some tough spars too. The toughest one of all was Valdez, he’s very, very good.
“Being in there with a world champion shows if I want to go fast, I can do it, if I don’t I can take it easy. We’re just going to see how it goes, play it by ear. But I do want to do it within the next two or three years. I’ll see how it goes and keep performing and hopefully I’ll be there definitely.”