When Irish amateur star Michael Conlan, 25, conjured up the best way to make a huge splash in his professional boxing debut on Friday -- St. Patrick’s Day, no less -- inside The Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York, he thought of one name to contact.
Conlan, who won a bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympics before making a much more (pun intended) “notorious” statement in Rio four years later, sent a text to his good friend, UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor.
“I’ve known Conor a good way now,” Conlan told CBS Sports on Tuesday. “I asked him would he walk with me [to the ring] and he said yes. Then I put him under pressure a bit [in person] in front of a crowd and he said he would be honored and he would love to. So he’s got a flight booked, and he’s here on Thursday.”
McGregor, whose longtime girlfriend Dee Devlin is expecting the couple’s first child in April, has been spending his extended paternity break from the UFC stirring up rumors of a boxing superfight with retired champion Floyd Mayweather. But he’ll be by the side of Conlan on Friday (UniMas, 11 p.m. ET) when the Belfast native faces Tim Ibarra (4-4, 1 KO) in a six-round featherweight bout.
The pair first became friends in 2015 when McGregor, the first fighter to simultaneously hold UFC titles in multiple divisions, reached out after Conlan captured gold as a bantamweight at the World Amateur Championships.
“He told me well done and then he was just giving me some advice,” Conlan said. “And then I ended up meeting him in person when I had to bring him some sparring partners for [his UFC 202 rematch] against Nate Diaz. The sparring partners were part of the key to success for him. Ever since, we have stayed in touch and kept in contact and built a friendship.”
One has to assume there’s a natural kinship between McGregor, the self-promoting whiz who has taken combat sports in general by storm in recent years by constantly keeping himself in the headlines, and the equally brash Conlan -- especially after the latter’s antics at the 2016 Olympic Games.
Conlan, who was eliminated in the quarterfinal round following a controversial decision, flipped off the judges with two hands before later accusing them of corruption. He was later reprimanded for placing bets on Olympic boxing matches.
Asked what he has learned the most from his friendship with McGregor, Conlan intially answered with just one word: “business.”
“That’s what it is all about. It’s just business,” Conlan said. “You’ve got to be able to promote yourself on both sides. In the ring, yes, you have to do your job 100 percent, and you’ve got to do it good. But outside, you have to be as good. You’ve got to sell yourself and promote yourself.
“You’ve got to do everything. I see that fighters just kind of stay to themselves and keep quiet. I see [McGregor] has done an amazing job, and honestly, I try to replicate some of his stuff.”
Many have equated McGregor’s incredible gift for trashtalking to that of Muhammad Ali, and his business sense, as a record-breaking UFC draw, has drawn comparisons with Mayweather. But while Conlan has surely taken notes, he has also marveled at how diferent McGregor is behind the scenes as a friend.
“He is just a lovely person,” Conlan said. “In the ring is one thing, but he’s not the same guy you see putting a show on for the media. He’s a really proper gentleman.”