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Michael Conlan: I never dreamed I'd be headlining in New York after Olympics furore

By Laure James

Published 29/10/2016

Raring to go: Michael Conlan, pictured at his press conference at the Titanic building in Belfast, can’t wait for his professional debut at Madison Square Garden on St Patrick’s Day
Raring to go: Michael Conlan, pictured at his press conference at the Titanic building in Belfast, can’t wait for his professional debut at Madison Square Garden on St Patrick’s Day

Both the dynamic and situation must have been so surreal. To his right, his manager Matthew Macklin, to his left Todd du Boef, a man whose company Top Rank has promoted fights featuring Muhammed Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard, Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao.

Going pro has been both realising the inevitable and triggering a leap into the unknown for Michael Conlan.

Now, he's sitting in front of fans and media at a press conference in the Titanic building between two men who could potentially make him the greatest Irish super-bantamweight boxer, plugging the sensational fight night he will headline in New York's Madison Square Garden on St Patrick's Day.

"My face is sore from smiling," he admits after the formalities conclude and he has posed for hundreds of photographs. "But thank God nobody asked me to give the finger, I had already become fed up with that."

He's referring to his cheeky, yet politically very powerful gesture to ringside judges at the Rio Olympics, who he, and many critics, accused of corruption.

They had unanimously awarded the decision to Russia's Vladimir Nikitin in the 56kg bout, and quest for gold, in Rio, after the west Belfast hero had dominated the fight.

Maybe it's the crude nature of giving the middle finger, maybe it's the association with a summer best forgotten. Perhaps it is the refusal to have a genuine grievance with the AIBA cheapened.

"I've done it enough. I was in Liverpool to see Derry Matthews fighting, and the number of people who wanted a photo with the finger was crazy. I've given it more than I ever have lately," he says.

"But I don't want that stick. It's not my thing."

Nevertheless, Conlan concedes had he won gold, and had his enraged rant not put him in the spotlight, he may not have signed a professional contract so promptly.

You got it wrong: Michael Conlan shows what he thinks of the judges' decision in Rio
You got it wrong: Michael Conlan shows what he thinks of the judges' decision in Rio
Michael John Conlan of Ireland during his fight with Vladimir Nikitin (not pictured) of Russia in the boxing Men's Bantam (56kg) Quarterfinal 1 on Day 11 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Riocentro on August 16, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Blood covered Russia's Vladimir Nikitin reacts to winning against Ireland's Michael John Conlan during the Men's Bantam (56kg) Quarterfinal 1 match at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Riocentro - Pavilion 6 in Rio de Janeiro on August 16, 2016. AFP/Getty Images
TOPSHOT - Ireland's Michael John Conlan (R) fights Russia's Vladimir Nikitin during the Men's Bantam (56kg) Quarterfinal 1 match at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Riocentro - Pavilion 6 in Rio de Janeiro on August 16, 2016. / AFP PHOTO / Yuri CORTEZYURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Images
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 16: Vladimir Nikitin of Russia is introduced to his fight with Michael John Conlan (not pictured) of Ireland in the boxing Men's Bantam (56kg) Quarterfinal 1 on Day 11 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Riocentro on August 16, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 16: Vladimir Nikitin (R) of Russia fights Michael John Conlan of Ireland in the boxing Men's Bantam (56kg) Quarterfinal 1 on Day 11 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Riocentro on August 16, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 16: Michael John Conlan (L) of Ireland fights Vladimir Nikitin of Russia in the boxing Men's Bantam (56kg) Quarterfinal 1 on Day 11 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Riocentro on August 16, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 16: Vladimir Nikitin (R) of Russia fights Michael John Conlan of Ireland in the boxing Men's Bantam (56kg) Quarterfinal 1 on Day 11 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Riocentro on August 16, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 16: Michael John Conlan (L) of Ireland fights Vladimir Nikitin of Russia in the boxing Men's Bantam (56kg) Quarterfinal 1 on Day 11 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Riocentro on August 16, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 16: Vladimir Nikitin (L) of Russia throws a left on Michael John Conlan of Ireland in the boxing Men's Bantam (56kg) Quarterfinal 1 on Day 11 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Riocentro on August 16, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 16: Vladimir Nikitin (R) of Russia fights Michael John Conlan of Ireland in the boxing Men's Bantam (56kg) Quarterfinal 1 on Day 11 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Riocentro on August 16, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 16: Vladimir Nikitin (L) of Russia throws a left on Michael John Conlan of Ireland in the boxing Men's Bantam (56kg) Quarterfinal 1 on Day 11 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Riocentro on August 16, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 16: Vladimir Nikitin (L) of Russia celebrates his victory over Michael John Conlan of Ireland in the boxing Men's Bantam (56kg) Quarterfinal 1 on Day 11 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Riocentro on August 16, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 16: Michael John Conlan of Ireland jestures to the crowd after his defeat to Vladimir Nikitin (not pictured) of Russia in the boxing Men's Bantam (56kg) Quarterfinal 1 on Day 11 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Riocentro on August 16, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 16: Vladimir Nikitin (L) of Russia throws a left on Michael John Conlan of Ireland in the boxing Men's Bantam (56kg) Quarterfinal 1 on Day 11 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Riocentro on August 16, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 16: Vladimir Nikitin (L) of Russia celebrates his victory over Michael John Conlan of Ireland in the boxing Men's Bantam (56kg) Quarterfinal 1 on Day 11 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Riocentro on August 16, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 16: Vladimir Nikitin of Russia celebrates his victory over Michael John Conlan (not pictured) of Ireland in the boxing Men's Bantam (56kg) Quarterfinal 1 on Day 11 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Riocentro on August 16, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 16: Michael John Conlan of Ireland jestures to the crowd after his defeat to Vladimir Nikitin (not pictured) of Russia in the boxing Men's Bantam (56kg) Quarterfinal 1 on Day 11 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Riocentro on August 16, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Ireland's Michael John Conlan, bottom, gestures after losing a men's bantamweight 56-kg quarterfinals boxing match by a decision against Russia's Vladimir Nikitin at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2016. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

"To be honest, had I gone on to win gold I don't think I would be here today. I think I would have always turned pro, but I think it would have been having gone down a different route," he admits.

"I don't know if Top Rank would have wanted me as much, in some ways, even though had I won gold I still would have been something to want, if you see what I mean. Who knows, it's impossible to tell."

He went on to talk of another strange dichotomy, between earning professional stripes and being known for having, as Du Boef puts it, 'a spicy personality'.

"I don't think I would have been able to box in an AIBA competition again, to be honest," Conlan says. "And after what I said, I don't think I would have been allowed.

"I wouldn't have anyway, but then again had someone told me after the Olympics furore happened that I would be looking ahead to a fight under Top Rank at Madison Square Garden, I wouldn't have believed them.

"Things have worked out in an unreal way, I am very, very pleased as it's been a bit unexpected, but I always believed in my ability, and that I'd be a World champion in the pros, so that's the next one.

"It's a huge turnaround to have Top Rank here in Ireland and me headlining at Madison Square Garden, it's a huge difference, it's special, and somewhere I didn't think I would be after the Olympics so it's really, really pleasing."

Conlan's fiancée Shauna Olali and daughter Luisane will join him Stateside from the word go.

"I think it's very important, my family are coming with me. It would be extremely hard if they weren't with me, so the fact they'll be there alongside me for the move is the extra bit of help I'll need," he says.

"I knew when the prospect of moving to America came up, it would mean big things professionally and personally. I am going to do something nobody else has ever done and that's really great for me."

As the preparations for his debut get under way, Conlan is getting his head around the razzmatazz of a professional duel, and awakening his inner showman. He gives in to a stream of consciousness about the spectacle.

"I just couldn't wait to get the ball rolling, I've not felt nervous about it all, whatsoever," he insists. "What has occupied my mind over the last two or three days is what I am going to come out to, what I'll be wearing. I want to do something special and something a bit mad. Maybe a top hat or something!

"In fact, maybe some U2 would be special, to have them for our audience would be amazing. The guys at Top Rank were talking about getting the Dropkick Murphys.

"The atmosphere will be amazing, but I won't be getting carried away. I might have just one on the night, as I'll be looking forward to another fight, potentially just weeks after that debut. I might not even drink at all, I might just keep myself dedicated.

"I was thinking about this the past few days; I don't miss drink. I don't have any qualms over not drinking and it was easy enough to do. I was never a big fan of drinking pints anyway, I don't like beer so that tells you everything!

"At the minute, I don't even know who I want to fight. There are great fighters there, and when I am at the level I need to be at, I will want to fight them."

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