In the aftermath of Mick Conlan’s unjust elimination from the Rio Olympics, many people have suggested that the Belfast man should have turned pro after 2012, and that he would have been a lot further along in his development than when he inevitably ditches the vest later this year.
An interesting argument, but when one properly analyses Conlan, and the rest of the Class of 2012, over the past four years, a more complicated picture emerges and I would argue that now, rather than four years ago, is a better time for the Irishman to begin his assault on World titles.
In London, Conlan won flyweight bronze but, considering how the past four years have went, his development in between Games should be seen as a benefit rather than wasted time.
21 in 2012, had Conlan turned pro he would have started most likely in the super flyweight division. Still young, he would have been confronted with a host of four-round undercard fights, most likely hidden away abroad, to help him develop.
In 2013 Conlan took the step up to bantamweight and has properly filled into the weight in the past few years. Had this scenario played out in the pros it would not have been the 4kg (8.8lb) jump he made in the amateurs and would more likely have been staggered (super fly to bantam to super bantam) thus preventing him from properly building a reputation or a ranking in any of the three divisions.
At 21/22, and still growing, Conlan was too young to turn pro.
Of all the younger Olympians who turned over, the more successful ones have came, and stayed in, boxing’s more glamorous divisions. Anthony Joshua was 22 in London, Oscar Valdez was 21, Errol Spence 22, JoJo Diaz 19. In the last four years these four boxers have all had at least 17 fights, being built and developed relatively slowly.
For Conlan, now 24, he will be hoping for a more direct route to the top. With day-before weigh-ins, the West Belfast man will most likely turn pro at super bantam, and will be looking at the blueprint set out by the likes of two-weight World champion Vasyl Lomachenko and upcoming WBO cruiserweight title challenger Oleksandr Usyk. The Ukrainian duo turned pro in late 2013 at age 25 and 26 respectively and have blazed to the top of their divisions in a combined total of just seventeen fights.
Last Summer Conlan outlined his plans, tweeting “I can’t wait to turn pro. One thing’s for sure, I’ll be fighting quality opponents from the get go, hate seeing fighters fight journey men every single fight. I would like to fight for a British or European title in four fights and a World title within twelve. I want the best!”
Conlan would not be able to take this approach had he turned pro in 2012. Firstly there’s the weight issues already mentioned. Then there is the undeniable fact that he is a vastly superior boxer now. Indeed with the changing of the scoring system, Conlan has grown into a more pro-style fighter and there wont be a repeat of the problems faced by the likes of Zou Shiming.
Additionally his current style in no small part is due to his time in the World Series of Boxing. Fighting over five rounds, Conlan had ten bouts in this pro-style format against top opposition and has basically already served his ‘starter for ten’ apprenticeship that most boxers are faced with when turning over. What possibly can Conlan learn from stopping ten overmatched journeymen? Boxing has changed for the better, and less and less emphasis is being placed on the number of wins one has before they are in real fights. If you are good enough you are ready, and Conlan is good enough.
Profile is another thing. In 2012 Conlan was the least known and the least lauded of our four Olympic boxing medalists, but in the last few years, 2015 especially, he has become a star. Following a run of Commonwealth, European, and World gold, as well as Olympic qualification, Conlan became probably the most famous AIBA boxer and one of Ireland’s most well-known fighters. Chosen as RTÉ and BBCNI Sports Personality of the Year in 2015, Conlan is one of the biggest sports stars on the island and, after his robbery on Tuesday, one of the most well-known Olympic boxers Worldwide.
None of this would have happened had he turned pro in 2012. Conlan may have been around 20-0, but he could have been in a worse position than he is now. He wouldn’t have been a promoter’s priority, with weight-changes he could be only slightly further along in his career than where he will be when he makes his pro debut, and his profile would be nowhere near as high as it is now.
Looking from the outside it’s sometimes tough to realise that boxers are real people with real families. Over the next few months Conlan will deservedly take it easy, go on a few holidays, eat nice food, and have a few pints.
I’m joking here, but it is almost a shame, because I really want to see him fight as a pro and I can’t wait until he makes his debut, hopefully later this year. When he eventually does debut it will be one of the bigger sporting events of the year.
Long-time amateur rival Andrew Selby, whom perhaps is less suited to the pro game than Conlan, made his debut last year in an eight-round fight against Tanzanian Haji Juma [15(7)-7(1)-5)].
Let’s hope Conlan jumps in at at least this level, then the exciting part can begin.