Boxing isn’t a big deal in my hometown of Skerries.
On a Thursday afternoon in August 2012 I stood among ten or so people in the town’s main pub to see Katie Taylor win Olympic gold, while the last fight to be shown prominently in a pub was Froch-Groves 2.
Around 9,000 people live in the Dublin commuter town, and there is no demand for a boxing club in an area where Gaelic games, rugby, soccer, and even hockey rule the roost.
Therefore, it was to my great surprise that, standing in Jack Demsey’s for the Mick Conlan Pro Debut Afterparty on Friday night, I bumped into two people from home who had made the trip over for the fight.
Sneer and call them bandwagoners, event-junkies, casuals, whatever, this sort of support is crucial to a boxer on the global stage. Between his amateur achievements, his controversial exit from the Olympic Games, the promotion from Top Rank, and the endorsement of Conor McGregor, Mick Conlan is already a star in terms of profile and support.
When most fighters make their debut they sell a lot of tickets, with grannies and aunties filling seats for the proud family moment. Invariably there is an understandable drop off over the next few fights before, hopefully, momentum starts to build and numbers begin to rise.
Mick Conlan isn’t most fighters, and had an unprecedented pro debut at The Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York, topping the bill in a six-round fight in front of one of, if not the best atmospheres ever seen for an Irish fighter.
In a current boxing climate where Vasyl Lomachenko v Nicholas Walters can scarcely attract 2,000 fans, 5,102 souls came out for the super bantamweight’s debut in the famous basement, with thousands making a transatlantic trip. There was no sense either that it was a one-off, this is the beginning of a journey, and this week will have seen fans who were in attendance relaying stories at the watercooler and in the local about what was an epic night, nay weekend, in the Big Apple.
Plans are already being made, at least among the Irish boxing media, for next year. It’s going to get bigger and better, and the word is that Top Rank have pre-emptively booked the 20,000 Arena upstairs for the next five years straight. St Patrick’s Weekend at the Mecca of Boxing looks set to become an annual pilgrimage for boxing fans, hardcore and casual alike.
Bringing on board Irish fans, Irish-Americans, general boxing fans, and a surprisingly large number of Scots, the Belfast man could rule New York for the foreseeable future – although the Irish hotbeds of Boston, Chicago, Toronto, and California will all want a slice too, as will his home city where he is contractually obliged to fight once a year.
It’s almost a footnote, but the most disappointing part about the whole event, apart from the $12 beers, was Conlan’s performance itself, something he noted in the post-fight interview.
As well as this, some looked to criticise TIm Ibarra, the Colorado boxer plucked from obscurity to be the man in the opposite corner. Ibarra, who had over two months to prepare and was a handy amateur himself, was a well above average debut opponent. People only need to look at Paddy Barnes v Stefan Slavchev among many, many others to see how farcical professional debuts can be. As can be seen with Katie Taylor, opposition will be a tricky sell initially for Conlan, with the bread and butter early fights being subject to the intense scrutiny from people expecting immediate competitive fights.
Regardless, most agree that performance is not an issue to worry about, with pressure and ring-rust all playing a part in an understandably stiff seven minutes. Indeed, while it might annoy some, Friday night was not about the fight, it was about the occasion, which played out perfectly.
It was a well-oiled machine; The olé olé olés, Niall Horan and McGregor tweeting their approval to millions, Celtic fans the world over being brought onboard with a rendition of Grace, the Irish motif that managed to stop just short of diddley-eye beggorah-ness, and the electric atmosphere being transmitted the following evening to hundreds of thousands of viewers on RTÉ2.
Between the Boxing Writers Association of America Awards the night before, and the Gennady Golovkin v Danny Jacobs middleweight title clash the night after, New York was jam-packed with a who’s who of boxing media, almost all of whom were stunned by the atmosphere created. To see some of the biggest names in boxing writing, hard-to-please scribes, whip out their phones to video the fans was almost surreal.
“It’s John Duddy times ten,” said one. “Carl Moretti [Top Rank Vice-President] looks like he could cry,” added another.
They obviously knew it would be big, or else they wouldn’t have done it in the first place, but Friday’s event went beyond even Top Rank’s wildest dreams. The Falls Road 25 year old has instantaneously become one of the American promotional giant’s most profitable stars. A solid banker going forward with the potential for real superstardom.
With his talent, achievements, personality, and the injustice he suffered last year, it’s hard to argue that he doesn’t deserve it.
The day after Conlan lost his Olympic quarter final to Vladimir Nikitin, we published a 13th Round article entitled ‘Passionate Mick Conlan will be a f*cking star.’
Who knew it would take just 213 days?
Photo Credit: Ricardo Guglielminotti – The Fighting Irish (@ThefIrish)