By Eric Lunger
Former Olympian Michael “Mick” Conlan of Belfast, Ireland, returns to Madison Square Garden on Saturday night to take on Luis Fernando Molina (7-3-1, 2 KOs) of Argentina in a six-round featherweight bout on the undercard of the much-anticipated Lomachenko vs. Rigondeaux Top Rank on ESPN event.
Photo Credit: Top Rank Twitter Account
Conlan (4-0, 4 KOs) first rose to international prominence in the 2016 Rio Olympics where he was blatantly robbed of a decision in a quarterfinal bout against Vladimir Nikitin of Russia. Conlan let the judges know exactly how he felt; the image of him standing in the middle of the ring, flashing the double bird in his hand wraps to the judges, sums up the ineptitude (to be charitable) of the judging in the Rio tournament. His tirade in the aftermath of the decision was likewise memorable. Not content to let matters rest there, Conlan even sent a tweet to Russian President Vladimir Putin, “How much did they charge you, Bro???” Putin has been called a lot of things, but probably never “bro.”
Whatever the state of international judging, Conlan, age 26, quickly signed a professional contract with Top Rank and made his debut at the Theatre at Madison Square Garden, on St. Patrick’s Day 2017, defeating Tim Ibarra by a third-round TKO and sending the Irish fans into a frenzy. In his last outing in August, Conlan scored a dramatic second-round knockout win over Kenny Guzman, showing significant improvement in form over the Ibarra fight.
Conlan grew up in the Catholic districts of West Belfast, a tough area still struggling to put the effects of the bloody and bitter “Troubles” (as the civil strife between Unionists and Republicans was known) behind them. Like kids on other mean streets, boxing for Mick Conlan was a way to a better life, a channel for energy that might otherwise have been ill-spent. He wears his pride in his roots on his sleeve, but he equally proud of where boxing has taken him. Trained from his amateur days by his father, Mick moved to the US and currently lives and trains in southern California under the guidance of veteran trainer Manny Robles.
Stylistically, Conlan likes to be on his front foot. Fighting out of an orthodox stance, he can jab effectively to the body and the head; in fact, he likes the jab to the chest to set up the overhand right. His left hook, though, is also an effective weapon to the rib cage or as a lead to the head. In short, he possesses a professional offensive tool kit. Defensively, Conlan relies on a combination to head movement, body lean, and quick in-and-out footwork. He also possesses a bit of the showman streak in the ring, switching to a southpaw stance in order to confuse an opponent, to open the fight up, or just be entertaining. But the southpaw work has become more than show: after the win over Jarrett Owen in Australia in July, Robles confirmed that the southpaw offense was something they had been intentionally drilling in the gym.
Is Mick Conlan ready for the top names in the division? No, and no one should expect him to be. He has a deep amateur background, but he has plenty of areas to develop first, especially in tightening up his hooks and polishing his defensive skills. Will he be a contender down the road? Almost certainly, as long as he continues to be brought along carefully. Saturday night should be another step, and, judging from his previous bouts, it will definitely be entertaining.