Top Rank has been in the boxing business longer than any of the other existing promotional outfits that keep the sport going. So they do know something about signing and leading a newcomer to prominence and more so with the international flavor when you mention Oscar De La Hoya, eight time division champion Manny Pacquiao of the Philippines and Miguel Cotto the first four-division champion from Puerto Rico.
But to follow the path of Cotto in New York and at Madison Square Garden, that is the question. Bob Arum the Hall of Fame promoter believes he has a version of Cotto, with Michael Conlan who makes his pro debut in the Garden Theater Friday evening.
Cotto was an amateur who won a silver medal and with Top Rank, the Garden ring in the process became his home venue when not in Puerto Rico.
Conlan, 25-years old, may be a little older than the Cotto who made his debut in New York and for all intents and purposes that is still young in the sport. You add a Silver medalist from Ireland in a six-round featherweight bout, as part of the main even and on St. Patrick’s Day, well you get the picture.
Cotto became an icon and hero for Puerto Rico in the main arena at the Garden. Top Rank made it a weekend in June on the eve of the National Puerto Rican Day Parade and Cotto sold out the Garden more times than any fighter who fought in the building known as the “Mecca” of boxing.
So it is clear that Michael Conlan could have that annual date at the Garden. All he has to do is climb the ladder in a division that is meaningful and one of the more prominent weight classes in the sport.
It begins Friday night and Top Rank expects the Theater to be in a celebratory mood and perhaps, Conlan moves to the main arena around the day for the Irish similar to Miguel Cotto and his fans from Puerto Rico and New York.
The words are similar as to a plan Top Rank has in store when it comes to the career path of Conlan. Top Rank has that history of promoting fighters around the globe and down the line, Conlan could have one or more fights in Belfast.
Similar to Cotto, it’s only a matter of time.
“We’re working on his marketability,” said Todd DeBoeuf the CEO of Top Rank. “Obviously we promote fighters from all over the world.”
So what makes Conlan special, and even before classifying the Olympian as a sensation and marketable fighter? There is that popularity abroad, a fan base here, that ability to finish off an opponent and he does bring some controversy to the resume.
Right or wrong, Conlan makes no secret of the fact how he was robbed of Olympic Gold. After a controversial decision that went the other way in Rio last Summer, Conlan gave the judges a double and middle fingered salute that did not damage his reputation. It was time to turn pro and Arum jumped on the opportunity.
He believes, as did Cotto, that a championship belt will be his within the next two or three years. Arum has that reputation of building a fighter and Conlan has the fists with power to achieve that goal.
He said this week, his first experience dealing with a snowstorm in New York, “I’ve got a big, big debut here at Madison Square Garden. It’s been great. I don’t feel any pressure . It’s going to be a big event and hopefully it will be remembered as the start of something huge.”
Lucrative opportunities await Conlan. And unless something goes wrong Friday night against Tim Ibarra, 4-4-1 from Denver, he is on his way. Conlan holds nothing back and says he wants to be the greatest fighter ever from Ireland, a bold statement and that is tough shoes to fill.
But, there is that desire like Cotto to make history with his people. And Conlan has Top Rank on his side which will make his task a little easier with their ability to market a fighter that is unknown here with an average boxing fan.
“There is going to be an atmosphere on Friday night that no one has ever seen before,” said Conlan. “Over 2,000 fans from Ireland are coming in. I pray and hope I will fight at Madison Square Garden every St. Patrick’s Day.”
He got the good news late Wednesday. Top Rank informed Conlan’s manager Matthew Macklin, the three-time world title challenger, that his fighter has the Garden reserved for him the next five years on St. Patrick’s Day. And that is very much Miguel Cotto again for Arum and Top Rank.
The Theater Friday night. After that, the Garden main arena is sure to hear the calls and see a lot of Irish eyes smiling for Michael Conlan.