When you are considered the greatest male amateur in Irish boxing history, a national hero and treasure, a young man could hardly be blamed for feeling immense pressure and the weight of Ireland on his shoulders. Having the eyes of the Irish world fixed upon him, a sea of tri-color flags being waved by hordes and masses behind him and throngs of Irish school children who want to be like him when they grow up, Michael Conlan treats them as the force behind him pushing forward as he steps onto the world stage of professional boxing and not as burdens that weigh him down.
Cultivated from an era of historic, well documented conflict between Catholics and Protestants, the Irish and English, fighting became a way of life for those born and raised in the thick of it all. Knowing how to handle yourself when tensions would boil over in the streets or surviving a mugging, perhaps worse, was a must. It’s how Conlan and his close friend Conor McGregor found themselves in the gyms of Belfast and Dublin sharpening their “scrap game.” Ireland’s relatively small national population of 4,749,153 (New York City alone has 8,550,405 citizens), means neighborhood popularity can quickly turn into national stardom.
The world over, McGregor has become the face of MMA.
In Ireland, Conlan IS boxing.
After fighting in over 400 amateur fights, losing only 14 and spending more than a decade being trained by his father John Conlan, Michael is hungrier than ever to crash the party in the professional ranks. Fighters, trainers and promoters have all had their collective eye brows raised and are bracing themselves for the tidal wave he has been projected to create. Top Rank so far has had him fight every two months since he made his pro debut back in March at Madison Square Garden as the main event of the evening. Conlan’s walk to the ring was jokingly said to have lasted longer than his debut opponent, Tim Ibarra, did. Conlan was accompanied to the ring that night by his friend Conor McGregor.
Given how his storied and legendary amateur career ended with such controversy and spectacle, even casual fans can not help but understand why Conlan is motivated to tear fighters apart as a professional. Conlan is not fighting with just a chip on his shoulder. He seems to fight as if he wants to leave no possible doubt in the minds of those watching that he is everything they are afraid he is. Conlan seems fight with the judges in mind. The more he can do to leave the fate of his fights out of the judges hands, the better. More than anyone else in the venue, Conlan fights wanting to erase every possible doubt in their minds that he is the better man in the squared circle.
Avid boxing fans know and remember quite clearly the controversy that Conlan found himself in, in the middle of in August of 2016. Most, however, do not know the events leading up to what became the most infamous controversial decision in Olympic Boxing history. There were events that perhaps influenced the judges to make a blatant judgement against Conlan and award a victory to a bloody and beaten Russian, Vladimir Nikitin. The call was so clearly wrong that Conlan responded to the judges and media with gestures and language that set the boxing world on fire. In the process, it endeared him to the Irish public even more.
Most felt Conlan was Ireland’s only chance for a gold medal at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Things did not turn out as planned. Here’s a time line of events starting from Conlan’s Olympic experience through to today.
August 8th and 9th, 2016: Conlan, placed bets on Olympic fights in his weight division. Conlan did not place bets on his own fights. However, fellow Irish boxer Steven Donnelly bet on himself to lose. Donnelly won his fight, which meant he lost his bet. Conlan lost all of his bets. Their wagers were placed with small stakes. These facts would not be known to the public for about another month. Conlan was later quoted as saying, “I was bored in the Olympic Village,” as his main reason for wagering on bouts.
August 15th, 2016: Conlan faces Nikitin in a quarter-final bout for a guaranteed bronze metal. Boxing experts on hand and all over the world felt Conlan won all three rounds easily, though the judges chose to award the first round to Nikitin after clearly being overmatched. Even after they gave the second round to Conlan the judges shocked the boxing world when they gave a unanimous decision victory to the Russian Nikitin. In the eyes of most who follow amateur boxing, it simply confirmed their belief that Russian amateurs around the world pay for fight results to wind up in their favor.
“AIBA (the Amateur International Boxing Association) are cheats. They’re f***ing cheats. Sorry about that, but that’s me. I don’t give a f***, I’m cursing on TV,” Conlan said.
“My chance at Olympic gold is over. My dream’s been shattered, but you know what? I’ve got a big career ahead of me and these, they’re known for being cheats. They’ll always be cheats. Amateur boxing stinks, from the core right to the top. They’ve robbed me of my Olympic dream. Obviously Russia can’t dope this time so they are obviously paying the judges a lot more.”
The International Boxing Association (AIBA) acted after several boxers and their trainers accused the world organization of either corruption or overseeing what one highly respected coach called some “crazy” judging decisions in Brazil.
The AIBA R&J Commission (referees and judges) had reviewed all 239 bouts up to that date in Rio “and determined that less than a handful of the decisions were not at the level expected”, said the statement.
“Consequently it has been decided in accordance with the AIBA R&J evaluation committee that the concerned referees and judges will no longer officiate at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. In accordance with AIBA rules the result of all the bouts will stand.”
Mid September, 2016: Sports articles and news reports are published for the first time saying that the International Olympic Committee had discovered Conlan’s gambling. “Conlan is found to have violated the Rules for the Application during the Games of the XXXI Olympiad in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro of the Olympic Movement Code on the Prevention of Manipulation of Competitions. Conlan is required to demonstrate, in order to have his accreditation validated for the next edition of the Olympic Games in Tokyo in 2020, in the event that he is eligible for that competition, that he has successfully followed the educational programme of the IOC; Is required to support, through active participation, the education programmes organized by either the Olympic Council of Ireland, AIBA or the IOC.”
The “severe reprimand and consequences,” from the IOC are things he will never have to worry about now that he has turned professional.
OPINION: All indications suggest that the IOC, AIBA and others perhaps had knowledge of Conlan’s gambling on olympic events BEFORE he took part in the quarter-final bout with Nikitin. If the IOC, AIBA, the judges in Rio or members of any officiating body knew of Conlan’s gambling before hand, they decided to give him a slap on the wrist and let him off with a “severe reprimand.” Why allow him to continue to compete at all? Why allow him to put himself and another amateur boxer in danger by enduring a slugfest if they seemed to have known they would rule against him no matter the outcome? It seems that a cold knockout of Nikitin would have been only outcome that could have ever come out in Conlan’s favor because there was never any indication that officials would judge the bout fairly from the very beginning of the bout. If the IOC or the AIBA were serious about discipline, they should have barred the members of the Irish team that had admittedly gambled from further competition in the 2016 Olympic Games. If they were being allowed to continue competing, Conlan deserved a fair shake.
“Looking back, it’s been a blessing in disguise,” shared Conlan in an interview. “If all that hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t be where I’m at today.”
The road Conlan has since taken has led him to a pro debut at Madison Square Garden (Tim Ibarra), UIC Pavilion in Chicago (Alfredo Chanez) and a Manny Pacquiao undercard bout in Brisbane, Australia (Jarrett Owen) where he has completely outclassed and outmatched each one of his opponents scoring a third round TKO in each bout.
Conlan has fought all over the world. London, Qatar, Brazil, Australia, New York, Chicago, to name just a few. Now…Tucson.
On September 22 at the Tucson Arena, Conlan faces 30-year-old Kenny Guzman, an undefeated featherweight from Kalispell, Montana. It took a long while for Top Rank and matchmakers to find Conlan an opponent for this event. In order to keep Conlan’s career momentum going, they had to schedule this one. Organizers close to the event happening on the 22nd of this month told us that Top Rank was taking it’s time to try finding a quality opponent for the Irishman. This week, it was announced that they had chosen Guzman.
Dillon Tabish, sportswriter for the Flathead Beacon in Kalispell, Montana, has been following Guzman for the last eight years. Tabish described to us what seemed to be a tank of a fighter. A small, compact, aggressive, covers up well, in-your-face style of opponent Conlan may face at the Tucson Convention Center.
“Kenny is smaller in stature but he makes up for it with a really aggressive, strength. He likes to get close,” Tabish told us when he described how Guzman loves to eliminate distances.
Tabish continued by delving into Guzman’s style, athleticism and his reputation for being a complete gym rat, “Guzman’s got a really good defensive style. He covers up really well. Being smaller in stature, opponents haven’t been able to unload really big punches on him being that he’s so up close and opponents are usually just having to stick with jabs. Another thing I will say about Kenny that stands out is that he’s very quick. It comes from just being a natural athlete. He plays a bunch of sports and does total body training. He can rattle off a lot of punches in a short amount of time.”
Top Rank could have just as easily chosen a local fighter from the Old Pueblo to face Conlan and fill out their incredibly stacked card. A source shared with us that someone had been found a few weeks back but for whatever reason had to back out and since then, matchmakers had been scouring the world for a quality opponent to get in the ring with the Irish sensation. Hopefully, Guzman is the kind of opponent that, at last, gives Conlan a challenge.
The card for September 22nd, 2017 at Tucson Arena
WBO World Super Middleweight Title – Gilberto Ramirez (35 0 0) vs Jesse Hart (22 0 0)
WBO World Featherweight Title – Oscar Valdez (22 0 0) vs Genesis Servania (29 0 0)
welterweight – Egidijus Kavaliauskas (17 0 0) vs Mahonry Montes (33 6 1)
welterweight – Leonardo Zappavigna (35 3 0) vs Fidel Monterrosa Munoz (38 13 1)
lightweight – Fazliddin Gaibnazarov (2 0 0) vs Victor Rosas (9 6 0)
super featherweight – Robson Conceicao (4 0 0) vs Carlos Osorio (13 7 1)
super bantamweight – Michael Conlan (3 0 0) vs Kenny Guzman (3 0 0)
lightweight – Mikaela Mayer (1 0 0) vs Allison Martinez (1 2 0)
Up next: A breakdown of the Mikaela Mayer vs Allison Martinez, Robson Conceicao vs Carlos Osorio and Leonardo Zappavigna vs Fidel Monterrosa Munoz bouts.
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