Northern Ireland’s Michael Conlan will on Friday make a fitting professional debut at New York’s Madison Square Garden in the knowledge he can expect to fight there for years.
The super-bantamweight, who famously insisted he had been cheated out of a gold medal at Rio 2016, meets the United States’ Tim Ibarra over six rounds on St Patrick’s Day having also been told he can be Ireland’s finest ever fighter.
His powerful US-based promoters Top Rank have such faith in him they have already booked the Garden’s theatre out for the coming five years in anticipation of his popularity growing. His manager Matthew Macklin similarly wants his career path to follow that of Miguel Cotto, one of the modern era’s highest-profile fighters.
The retired Macklin, 34, was unfortunate not to win a world title at his peak but retired last year, long after he had declined. He believes helping Conlan to become a world champion will do much to make up for his own disappointment, and also knows the 25-year-old plans to avoid making his mistake in fighting on for too long.
“Because of his age and amateur pedigree, he’ll not be rushed but moved quickly,” said Macklin of a fighter who plans to retire within five years. “With that level of ability, where he could fight for a world title in maybe two, three years.
“It’s the perfect launch for what will eventually go down as the best Irish fighter of all time.
“If I can help guide his career, help him fulfil his potential and win a world title, it’ll certainly help make up for not getting over the line in my own career.”
Referencing the popularity Puerto Rico’s Cotto built with his many natives based in New York while fighting out of the Garden, Macklin said: “If you look at what Top Rank did with Miguel Cotto, that’s the blueprint for how Michael will be brought along.
“Madison Square Garden was very important in building Cotto - he made it his home. And before he was at that Pay-Per-View level they brought him around on big-show undercards.
“When you realise how many Irish are in New York, it’s very fitting his pro debut is going to be at Madison Square Garden on St Patrick’s Day weekend. That’ll be his day going forward.”
Conlan’s compatriot Conor McGregor will join him on his ringwalk on Friday evening. Asked if he felt under pressure after Macklin suggested he could eclipse Irish greats such as Carl Frampton, Steve Collins, Barry McGuigan and more, he responded: “No, that’s what I’ve been wanting to do and who I want to be.
“My main focus is to be Ireland’s greatest ever fighter. I have that faith in myself and I truly believe I will be that fighter.”