A day out from St Patrick’s Day festivities, New York’s 7th Avenue cut a more Irish hue than ever before.
Its people make amends for much of the typical ‘Irish car bombs for $5’ paddywhackery. Where, in any other year, an Irish tourist might have been asked, ‘Are you here for the parade?’, one particular sign illuminating Pennsylvania Plaza sees this year’s visiting Irish contingent receive wholly different line of questioning from the Big Apple’s native passers-by:
“You guys are here for the fight, right? Hey, uh, so what’s this Micky Conlan guy like?”
They know him, all right. A far cry, then, from the relative peace and quiet Michael Conlan expected when he upped sticks after Christmas. The 25-year-old Belfast man makes his feverishly anticipated professional debut tonight as a big fish in a big pond.
“It’s completely the opposite to what I expected,” he says. “I’m getting a lot of attention and doing a lot of media stuff. But then, it hasn’t really hampered any of my training like the way it would have back home.
“I have time to do anything I want here, and training’s always the number one priority. So it hasn’t bothered me. I feel welcome.”
Conlan intends to eventually relocate to New York from Los Angeles — it’s more his type of city, so says the man himself, who admits the Irish sense of humour can get lost in Hollywood’s more vacuous ether.
The perception here is that the charismatic super-bantamweight can further invigorate the Big Apple’s already resurgent boxing scene, with his promoters Top Rank intending to make MSG ‘home’ for their highly lucrative recruit.
New York needs a fighting Irishman, but with all of this comes an added pressure for Conlan to justify the hype with an explosive display tonight.
“Obviously it’s a different type of pressure this time, but as I always do say, I thrive under it,” he says. “Pressure is what makes you a better fighter. There’s going to be that element of wanting to impress and put a show on, because it’s the first fight I’m going to have. And with all the backing that’s been given to me, I’ve just got to put that to bed and go in and relax and perform.
“That’s the main thing, is focusing on relaxation and performance, and not just looking for a knockout and being reckless.”
Initially keen to tap into the Irish-American market with Conlan’s signature, Top Rank officials are overwhelmed by the hoards of Irish-born-and-bred supporters who have traversed the Atlantic to watch a professional boxing debut.
Conlan indicates that he shipped over 2,000 tickets in Belfast alone.
Frankly speaking, it’s unheard of; former WBA World featherweight champion Carl Frampton, for example, whose ‘Jackal Army’ famously took New York last July, brought over 500 fewer fans from the same city, and his was a world title fight.
“Listen, if you want to look at it that way, it’s not too bad,” says Conlan, whose friendship with Frampton seems destined to morph into rivalry in due course. “You have to remember Carl only brought 150 people when he fought in Texas, so yeah, it’s a big difference.
“But I’ve asked for this to happen. I expected this to happen, if I’m honest. I’m looking forward to the crowds getting bigger and bigger, but at the same time I’m extremely grateful to have this sort of support and it’s only my professional debut.
“This is like a world title fight in terms of build-up. It’ll benefit me in the long run that I’m being thrown in at the deep end when it comes to the event and the pressure on the big stage.”
It will be difficult to top having his new pal Conor McGregor carrying the tricolour to the ring like a Paddy’s Day parade grand marshal, but first impressions are everything.
And, despite being notoriously self-assured, Conlan confirms he won’t be bringing a nickname with him to the ring tonight, explaining that he’d “feel like a bit of a tool” if he christened himself.
“I’ll let it come naturally,” he says with a chuckle.
Such will be his approach to the fight itself, where Conlan is expected to blow out Tim Ibarra in significant style and formally introduce himself to the city and boxing community he intends to take over.
Considering he’s already managed to bump the parade off top billing, it might be considered unwise to back against him.
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