IRISH BOXER MICHAEL Conlan will fight at home for the first time as a professional this summer, his promoters Top Rank have confirmed.
The two-time Olympian, 6-0 (5KOs) in the punch-for-pay ranks, will headline a card at Belfast’s SSE Odyssey Arena on 30 June. His opponent will be named in the coming weeks.
26-year-old Conlan will first fight at the 20,000-capacity Madison Square Garden arena on 12 May, trading leather with 10-1(2KOs) Spaniard Ibon Larrinaga on the undercard of Jorge Linares’ WBA World lightweight title defence versus Vasyl Lomachenko.
His homecoming this summer will be a joint promotion by transatlantic peers Top Rank and Frank Warren, and broadcast live on the ESPN+ platform in the States as well as BoxNation and BT Sport on this side of the pond.
“To be very frank, in his last fight on St. Paddy’s Day in the Garden, we saw a tremendous improvement in Conlan,” Top Rank founder and CEO Bob Arum told The42 of the Irishman’s last ring outing. “I mean, his new trainer [Adam Booth] is having him sit down more on his punches, so he’s punching with a lot more authority. I liked what I saw very much on 17 March.
“We decided to bring him back quickly, and put him on this major card in the ‘big’ Garden: 17 March was in The Theater at Madison Square Garden, but 12 May we’re in the big Garden with 18-20,000 people: it’s Lomachenko v Linares for the lightweight championship, and Michael is on that card.
“So our goal this coming year is to keep him busy; five, six – hopefully six fights during the course of the year so he can develop even faster than he had before.
“Then, after what’s hopefully a successful fight on 12 May, we’re going to bring him back to Belfast in the summer. He’s going to headline a card in Belfast [on 30 June], and then we’ll bring him back to the States – maybe in September or October.
“We’re going to keep the lad busy, and as long as he’s showing the improvement that we saw on 17 March, it’s all good.”
Hall-of-Fame promoter Arum, 86, confirmed he will travel to Belfast himself to watch Conlan’s professional bow in his homeland.
The Top Rank chief promoted two shows in the Northern Irish capital in 1985 and is enthused by the prospect of returning to a far less volatile city 33 years on:
When Barry McGuigan was in his heyday, we did a couple of shows in Belfast with Barney Eastwood – during The Troubles. That was like the wild west, then, Belfast: I mean, oh my God, blowing up cars in the streets.
“But when Barry fought, there was peace and harmony in the building. We did the Bernard Taylor fight, the [Eusebio] Pedroza fight. It was quite an adventure.
“I’ve got to come over and see it this summer. I certainly hope it’s a lot different!”
Conlan has a clause in his Top Rank contract which dictates that he can fight at home at least once a year, but logistics dictated otherwise in 2017.
Indeed, despite telling The42 last year that he was determined to bring a Conlan card to either Belfast or Dublin, Arum didn’t envisage the homecoming coming to fruition due to time difference and how it pertains to TV broadcasts.
Top Rank’s game-changing deal with ESPN, however, has opened the door for plenty of European ventures. Arum confirmed that Conlan will now “absolutely” fight at home with more regularity, in large part thanks to ESPN’s new streaming service.
“We do have a contractual stipulation for Conlan to fight in Ireland, which has language like ‘if reasonably possible,’ et cetera,” Arum said. “But now, it’s here, it’s possible! Absolutely, it will happen now.
When we first announced the signing of Michael, and we talked about him fighting at home, we weren’t able to actually say that it would happen. That was a problem: ‘How could you do a big, big fight for him in Ireland at four in the morning? You can’t.’ It wouldn’t have made sense.
“But now, absolutely we can do it. If he fights at prime time in Belfast or Dublin, it’ll be shown in the afternoon in the United States. Everything’s fine.
“I have to be honest with you: we didn’t envisage that possibility opening up like it has with ESPN, because the original deal we made with ESPN did not encompass the fact that there would be an appetite for boxing in the afternoon [in the USA]. But what we’ve now seen is incredible.
“For example, last Sunday in Yokahoma, [Ryōta] Murata defended his WBA [regular] middleweight championship title, and 17 million people watched it live in Japan. In the United States, at eight o’clock in the morning New York time, and at five o’clock in the morning in Los Angeles, over 200,000 people watched it at that crazy hour. Of course, you guys have done that for years!
“But Mick’s fight in Belfast will be shown on a Saturday afternoon in the United States, which allows him to fight prime time in Belfast; in other words, he doesn’t have to fight at a crazy hour in the morning to be prime time in the United States.
“Now, because we’ve expanded this ESPN platform so much, we can have him fight at a regular time in Ireland, which is afternoon time over here. That’s really special.”
Earlier this week, Arum confirmed to The42 that Conlan’s Rio Olympics conqueror, Vladimir Nikitin, had turned professional under the Top Rank banner with a view to fighting Conlan next year.