Michael Conlan hopes to follow in Miguel Cotto’s steps with MSG holiday tradition
Often times in boxing there is a gray area when an upcoming fighter attempts to graduate from being a prospect to becoming a bonafide contender. Irish featherweight and former Olympic hero Michael Conlan is not sure where exactly he fits going into his third consecutive appearance at Madison Square Garden on St. Patrick’s Day when he faces Mexico’s Ruben Garcia Hernandez in a scheduled 10-round bout streaming live on ESPN +.
“I’m a contender on the brink,” Conlan, 27, told RingTV with a smile. “I may not be all the way there yet but I’m definitely not a prospect. If I win this fight I should be seen as a contender then.”
Conlan, (10-0, 6 knockouts), won all five of his bouts in 2018 starting with a TKO victory over David Berna at The Hulu Theater inside Madison Square Garden on St. Patrick’s Day.
“It’s the one day on the boxing calendar I can circle and look forward to,” Conlan said. “It’s an exciting time of year and I am anxious to be with my fans in New York City.”
It’s not lost on Conlan that Puerto Rican Superstar Miguel Cotto fought at Madison Square Garden six times the evening before the annual Puerto Rican Day Parade in Midtown Manhattan.
“We talked to Top Rank about that and the way they dealt with Cotto,” Conlan said. “That help make Cotto a legend and a crossover star and we want to follow the same path.”
Conlan made his professional debut at a sold-out Theatre inside The Garden on St. Patrick’s Day in 2017 and had none other than UFC star and fellow Irishman Conor McGregor walk him out of the dressing room and into the ring causing the already rowdy crowd to go into a frenzy.
“If there is anything that can prepare you for long boxing career it’s my debut performance and the atmosphere inside the building,” Conlan recalls. “The atmosphere was wild and my nerves were all over the place until the doors open and I saw the lights and hear the fans. Then my nerves went away and I was ready to fight. That first feeling will be hard to replicate.”
Conlan recalls having a star like McGregor standing in the ring alongside him actually helped take some of the pressure off him that night as expectations for his professional debut was off the charts.
“Conor really helped relax me,” Conlan said. “One of the best pieces of advice he gave me that night was to remain calm in the chaos. I can still hear him say that to me now just remain calm in the chaos.”
Adding to the hoopla this week will be the first time Conlan and his Olympic rival Vladimir Nikitin, who famously defeated Conlan in a controversial bout in the 2016 Summer Olympic in Rio de Janiero, will appear on the same card as professional fighters. After awarding Nikitin the victory, the judges at ringside were greeted by Conlan famously flipping the Olympic officials off making headlines all over the world. Top Rank, who promotes Conlan as well, has signed Nikitin in hopes of building his professional profile and giving Conlan an opportunity for revenge.
“That’s definitely a fight that I want soon,” Conlan states emphatically. “We won’t need the judges this time because I will try to knock him out.”
Top Rank is planning a homecoming bout for Conlan to fight in his native Belfast later on this year and Conlan would love nothing more to face Nikitin on his turf and extract revenge.
“Fighting in Belfast will be emotional for sure,” Conlan said. “But I need stay focused on what’s in front of me. That’s always been like this. Before I can get focused on one task we already have another fight, a bigger fight on the horizon and it’s dangerous for me if I lose focus.”
Conlan recalls another time he was preparing to enter the ring for a bout and was already signed on to appear on a Manny Pacquiao card a few months later.
“It was my second pro fight and I made some mistakes that night even though I got the win,” Conlan said. “It taught me to only be focused on the fight in front of me. Everything else is irrelevant. If I lose this fight there may not be a homecoming fight so what’s the point of worrying about it.”
The task at hand on Sunday will be to defeat Hernandez (24-3-2, 10 KOs), who went the distance in a unanimous decision loss to Nonito Donaire in 2017.