Boxing has long been one of the most popular sports in Belfast, and the Titanic City is widely recognised by many in the fight community as the home of British and Irish boxing.
The city has seen a resurgence of the sport in recent times, with Carl Frampton the obvious example as he travels the world with thousands of fans in his wake.
This hardcore fanbase is nothing new to Irish boxing. During the 1920s, 30s, and 40s, the Ulster Hall and Kings Hall drew thousands of fans on a near-weekly basis to watch combatants slug it out round after round for the entertainment of those in attendance.
Amongst them there were instances of famous boxing brothers. The Warnock siblings Jimmy, Johnny, Freddy and Billy all boxed professionally, with the youngest Jimmy being the stand-out performer of the four Shankill scrappers. The flyweight was idolised for his two victories over British, European and World champion Benny Lynch. Firstly in 1936 when more than 10,000 packed out the famous Kings Hall to watch him outpoint the Scottish champion, and again in 1937, when he travelled to Glasgow. Here, in front of more than 20,000 at Celtic Park he again outpointed the champion in a non-title bout.
Also around that 1920s and 30s era, there were the Magill brothers – Jimmy and Davy, who were born in Larne, but boxed in Belfast. Jimmy was a massively talented amateur, winning three ABA championships and a Golden Gloves title in Boston. The immensely skilled fighter however never got the chance to box at the Olympics, with politics denying him the chance to compete at the 1932 and 1936 Games in Los Angeles and Berlin respectively.
Older brother Davy was a pro brawler and a two-weight undefeated Irish champion, having picked up the heavyweight and light-heavyweight crowns in the mid 1920s. Davy’s crowd-pleasing style saw him become a star attraction in Belfast, catching the attention of boxing bigwigs in New York and securing him three contests at the ‘Mecca of Boxing’ – Madison Square Garden. Here he won the first two of his bouts before suffering a defeat to Ad Stone in the third which ultimately cost him a chance to challenge the great Gene Tunney.
Today the top Belfast boxing brothers are, of course, the Conlans – Mick and Jamie – and there are parallels to the Magills.
Younger brother Mick, the star amateur who suffered Olympic heartbreak, while in older brother Jamie you have the crowd-pleasing pro star who has carved out a reputation for himself following a string of bruising battles.
Both headline shows in the next two weeks on opposite sides of the Atlantic. First Commonwealth super flyweight champion Jamie [18(11)-0] will top a BoxNation bill at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast this Friday, before Mick makes his professional debut at the Theater at Madison Square Garden against Tim Ibarra.
Mick’s move into the pros comes following his controversial Olympic exit. Since flipping the bird to the judges following that baffling loss to Vladimir Nikitin, the super bantamweight became a media sensation, with images of his disgust spreading across the world as fast as his fists did against the bloodied head of Nikitin. A record-breaking contract with American giant Top Rank followed and we now stand on the brink of one of the biggest professional debuts in the history of boxing.
The sequence of events has older brother, and biggest fan, Jamie pinching himself. He admits “it’s a bit surreal, we are just two kids from a big family in a small terrace house in West Belfast that believed we can be the best in what we do.”
“I’m very happy with how things are going for my career after a start-stop beginning to it, but I’m more proud of what Michael has achieved to be Ireland’s first ever male world champion in amateur ranks, to sign the biggest professional sign-on fee ever for an Irishman, and to top the Mecca of Boxing, Madison Square Garden on St Patrick’s Day in only his first fight.”
“It’s something that will be talked about for years to come. He’s destined for greatness.”
Like many siblings before them, the Conlans have lived the boxing lifestyle from birth. Their father John, who is one of the top coaches in the country, has been honing their crafts from a very young age, installing a belief within them that they can go one further than the Belfast boxing brothers before them, and deliver world titles to the city.
A close-knit family, 30 year old Jamie notes that “everything we have achieved in life and sport is down to my dad!”
Mick however now finds himself 8,000 kilometres away in Los Angeles, training with Manny Robles at ‘The Rock Gym.’ Nevertheless, such is the closeness of the clan, he was soon joined on the West Coast by Jamie, John, as well as friends Paddy Barnes and Tyrone McKenna for a few weeks training.
25 year old Mick was grateful for the company, and described how “it was great having them here, it was like I was back home with all the lads. I didn’t miss anyone when I was leaving, but when they came here and left I did miss them – but that’s all part of the sacrifices you have to make.”
“My dad loved seeing how I was getting on and getting to have a chat with Manny about me and about boxing.”
With the two headlining shows on opposite sides of the world, there’s surely a proud feeling among the family, and Mick agrees, noting that “there definitely is. We are a boxing family and a very proud one, so I think for me and Jamie to be headlining our own shows a week apart is a great feeling for our parents and family.”
“I speak to Jamie almost every day, he’s always giving me advice on everything in life not just boxing, but he has taught me a lot and told about what to expect in the pro game.”
With Jamie set for a WBO title final eliminator this year, and Mick seemingly being destined for stardom, there seems to be no limits to what these two Belfast boxing brothers can achieve.
So, sit back and enjoy the journey – or go one better and be a part of it!
Huge numbers will hit Manhattan to watch the debut of the already household name, with over 1,000 expected to make the trip from Ireland. Jamie’s fight at the Waterfront is also expected to sell out, as boxing in Belfast continues its resurgence.
Tickets for Jamie’s fight are priced at £30, £40, £50, £60, £80, £100 & £150 VIP and can be purchased from the fighters on the bill (the avenue which we recommend) or HERE.
Tickets for Michaels debut at Madison Square Garden can be purchased HERE