Michael Conlan enjoyed an unforgettable experience in his pro debut - and that was long before the opening bell even rang Friday evening at Madison Square Garden Theater in New York City. The St. Patrick's Day celebration was capped by the two-time Irish Olympian and now pro super bantamweight prospect halting Tim Ibarra in three rounds in front of a sold-out crowd of 5,102 adoring fans.
A night that came complete with Irish dancers and a ringwalk accompanied by renowned MMA superstar Conor McGregor also came with a little bit of boxing. Perhaps only that much, if you were to hear the tale told by the eventual victor.
“I was relaxed coming to the ring,” Conlan (1-0, 1KO) insisted to those in press row following the bout, which aired via one-hour delay on UniMas in the United States. “You can’t help your emotions when you get in there. You just want to impress and perform."
Conlan did just that, fighting as if knockout was on his mind all the way in the evening's main event, which was contested at a 124-pound catchweight. You can't blame him for carrying such a mindset, given the turnout the last time he commanded ringspace. The 2012 Olympic Bronze medalist from Ireland sought no less than repeat feat in 2016. He instead became the primary source casting a much-needed floodlight on the ugly and corrupt side of Olympic officiating, as he was blatantly robbed in a quarterfinals matchup with Russia's Vladimir Nikitin. The final decision prompted the Irish star to stand shirtless and with middle fingers extended while in center ring, even going so far as to accuse Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia of bribing the officials to ensure Russia racked up in its total medal count.
There was far less concern for shoddy officiating on Friday, not that Conlan ever had any intention of leaving things in the hands of the three judges. It was knockout or bust for the 25-year, who was relentless in his pursuit of Ibarra. Two rounds of non-stop pressure finally gave way in round three, when a defenseless Ibarra was rescued by veteran referee Benjy Esteves who stopped the contest at 0:59 of round three.
Despite his actually predicting the ending to the exact round, it was far more entertainment than true boxing skill as far as the winner was concerned.
"I would give my performance an ‘F’ if I had to give it a score," Conlan admitted afterward. "I didn’t think I performed well but it’s to be expected. Who has a debut like this and has this kind of pressure?"
His ring return could come as soon as April 22, as promotional outfit Top Rank has an independent Pay-Per-View airing live from Carson, California. The more likely scenario is his landing on a show in Boston on May 12, by which point Hall of Fame promoter Bob Arum hopes to have a new TV deal hammered out in order to showcase his Olympic-sized stable of newcomers.
Whenever his return, Conlan will undoubtedly spend some of the downtime reflecting on a truly special night.
"Tonight was something I never experienced before and even if I fight for a world title, I have that world title atmosphere for me," Conlan said of his surroundings. "So I’m happy with how things went.”