Michael Conlan victorious in Madison Square Garden

The result was as inevitable as the choruses of 'Olé Olé' which preceded it, but Michael Conlan was made work for victory on his professional debut at a sold-out Theater in Madison Square Garden, writes Gavan Casey.

Beckoned to the ring by the one and only Michael Buffer to a raucous New York noise, Conlan admitted that pre-fight jitters played a role in a slightly off-colour opening two rounds against Denver's Tim Ibarra, who brought with him to the ring a modest record of 4-4.

Conlan struggled to establish his range early doors, occasionally over keen to impress the deafening Irish fans who threw every shot with him, firing high and wide of Ibarra's respectable guard and defence.

An excited Conor McGregor, who walked Ireland's former amateur boxing icon to the ring at MSG's Theater, stood between press row and a neutral corner, and when he wasn't enjoying a couple of testy exchanges with boxing's notorious light-heavyweight star Sergey Kovalev, he was vociferously offering instructions to Conlan in the ring. "Use your jab, relax your shoulders and be playful" were McGregor's rather astute instructions, and sure enough, a more composed Conlan began to enjoy himself after an inaccurate opening two stanzas.

Detecting a fragility in Ibarra, and with 5,102 fans sensing blood, the 25-year-old went hell for leather halfway through the third, when his world class amateur pedigree became more prevalent. Conlan's footwork in particular bamboozled Ibarra, as the Belfast man jigged his way into 90-degree angles and laid waste to his overmatched opponent.

As the referee stepped in, a sea of Ireland jerseys erupted in unadulterated glee - the cherry on top of their Paddy's weekend sealed by a ferocious Conlan flurry against the ropes. It took two-and-a-bit rounds, but the visiting contingent – and the admirably engaged New York residents – saw the scorned 2016 Olympian justify the hype surrounding his signing by Top Rank in the States.

Michael Conlan celebrates after defeating Tim Ibarra in their featherweight bout at The Theater in Madison Square Garden in New York, USA. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

"I was telling people all week that I was going to get a stoppage in the third round," Conlan said, as he eyed the thousands of fans who traversed the Atlantic from Belfast and other corners of his homeland. There may or may not have been a nod towards 'Mystic Mac' at his side, who roused the crowd with fist bumps aplenty.

McGregor, for what it's worth, was questioned by Us television as to whether we'll see him in the ring versus Floyd Mayweather in the near future. His response was surprisingly definitive: "Tonight is Michael Conlan's night."

The first of many on New York's 7th Avenue, according to Top Rank officials at ringside. It was, ultimately, a debut to remember. Beneath New York's Friday night lights, Conlan got the job done. 'The fighting pride of all of Ireland' - emphasis on the 'all' - as Michael Buffer introduced him, goes 1-0 on his path to pugilistic greatness.

KEYWORDS: sport, boxing.


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