Jamie Conlan believes ESPN+ deal “rejuvenates” Belfast boxing


Conlan, MTK President Bob Yalen, and Top Rank COO Brad Jacobs

Irish boxers will no longer have to suffer the kind of frustrations Jamie Conlan had to endure throughout his career according to ‘The Mexican’ himself.

The former super flyweight world title challenger now acts as Professional Development Co-Ordinator for management outfit Mack The Knife Global who recently announced a three-year link-up with U.S. promotional behemoth Top Rank.

The deal will see an average of 30 MTK shows – most of which will take place in Ireland and the UK – air on the ESPN+ streaming app.

Conlan is adamant the deal with revolutionize the sport in Ireland and Belfast in particular.

The Falls Road fight man believes it enables the kind of long-term planning that Conlan claims never really existed in Irish boxing.

Fighters not only have regular shows to look forward to, they have the chance build a name stateside and even potentially impress their way onto Top Rank’s books and main ESPN cards.

In that regard, the former Commonwealth champion suggests that, for the first time in many Irish fighter’s careers, there is a clear pathway to the top.

“It rejuvenates things here. It gives us a platform to build in whichever way is best,” an excited Conlan told Irish-Boxing.com at the Ulster Hall.

“We can build on a constant basis and grow fighters over time. It’s not like Eddie Hearn is going to come on and put one show on a year and all the fighters are waiting for that. It’s not basing it around one fighter you base it around the quality and quantity of the stable.”

“In terms of boxing we have the content to entertain American audiences. We always said we had the content here to run shows on consistent basis in Belfast and Ireland. Now we have a broadcaster backing us and giving us free reign to do what we want,” he adds before explaining fighters can get more than just their face seen on the ESPN+ app, which has a subscriber base of around 2,000,000 in America.

Conlan outlined: “Impress on these shows and you can move on to Top Rank and being on big cards on the main ESPN channel. It’s a massive doorway. Fighters will be given the chance to work their way up and as a fighter you just want to see that pathway.”

“Fighters can grow from prospect to challenger and their fans can follow the journey.”

The first card of the partnership takes place tomorrow, with Mullingar’s Davey Oliver Joyce taking on Stephen Tiffney for the WBO featherweight title atop a cosmopolitan card in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. However, Conlan is adamant Belfast will be central to the deal and Irish fighters will benefit massively.

“Belfast will be one of the strongholds going forward. Irish boxing has always been close to the heart of MTK.”

“In Belfast we have the quantity and the quality to hold our own with the rest of the UK now we can get that talent out there- and to be getting it out there on ESPN is amazing. The boxers can build here and advertise their brand abroad.

“Plus it’s not just good for MTK’s Irish fighters, it’s good for all Irish fighters. We are open to working with all fighters and promoters from Ireland. We will extend the hand of friendship to anyone,” he pledged, echoing similar calls from last summer.

Jamie Conlan back in 2010
Jamie Conlan back in 2010

The older brother and manager of Top Rank prospect Michael Conlan recalls his early fight career, where the then-prospect was waiting on Matchroom and Sky Sports to come to Belfast. At that time he suggests his ability to keep busy relied on the success of Paul McCloskey and then Carl Frampton.

That frustration probably makes him best versed to discuss the benefits of regular shows and individual pathways and is probably why he is so passionate about the influence Top Rank and ESPN+ can have.

“We were starved,” recalls Conlan.

“McCloskey was coming once or twice a year then Carl the same. You were getting a fight here and a fight there. There was no stability, no structure, no given route to follow.  Now we can sit down and map out a plan for our fighters.”

“It’s not like ‘we can get you out here and hopefully that will lead to this or that’ or ‘hopefully Eddie or Frank come back in a few months’. We can have solid road maps. It opens doors for the young guy coming through and the more established MTK fighters who will top these bills.”

“Belfast and surrounding areas will benefit and boxers in Ireland now have a hub from which to build. It’s not just one fight and the promoters away. One fight against, let’s say in the away corner, against a Matchroom fighter or a Frank Warren fighter. You’re up against it in that regard, you sell your tickets and then those promoters are gone for a good while.”

It is somewhat strange to be talking to Conlan about business outside the ring, not that the always likable character isn’t impressive fresh faced and with a tie on, more you’re used to seeing him with cuts and wraps after a ring war.

The former world title challenger admits it’s something he too has to get used too, but claims he is enjoying his new role in the sport.

“Everything is mad these days. Ussually I am sitting across the ring getting ready to get back up and punch someone. Now I am sitting across the table talking about how we can grow boxing in general. Then sitting down with my brother and making that worldwide.”

“It’s learning on the job, it’s new, but I have taken it in my stride and I am enjoying it.”

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Jonny Stapleton

Irish-boxing.com contributor for 15 years and editor for the past decade. Have been covering boxing for over 16 years and writing about sport for a living for 19 years. Former Assistant Sports editor for the Gazette News Paper Group and former Tallaght Voice Sports Editor. Have had work published in publications around the world when working as a freelance journalist. Also co-founder of Junior Sports Media and Leinster Rugby PRO of the Year winner. email: editoririshboxing@gmail.com