With Conor McGregor by his side, Irish star Michael Conlan shines in pro debut

In front of a sold-out crowd on St. Patrick’s Day and an entourage which included a trio of bagpipers and UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor, the pro boxing debut of Michael Conlan proved to be more of a party than a prizefight.  

Conlan, 25, the former Irish amateur star who made international headlines following his exit at the 2016 Rio Olympics, sent the partisan crowd – which included more than 2,000 who made the trip from Ireland – home with a smile.  

Targeting the body early before switching to southpaw and swarming his opponent late, Conlan proved too much for Tim Ibarra in a third-round TKO inside The Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York.  

Conlan (1-0, 1 KO) didn’t get the clean knockout he had wanted coming in and proved to be his harshest critic in the aftermath. But the Belfast native forced a stoppage at 59 seconds of Round 3 as referee Benjy Estevez Jr. rescued a Ibarra along the ropes amid a flurry of combinations. 

“I’ve give it an ‘F.’ I don’t think I performed really well, but I got the stoppage,” Conlan said. “It was nerve-wracking, but at the same time, I think I handled the pressure for my debut fight and think I’ll go on to bigger and better things. This is the start of something great. Look at this crowd and look at this atmosphere. Where else in the world can you get this?” 

The crowd was at a fever pitch by the time Conlan walked to the ring dressed in a green top hat with green boxing gloves. McGregor entered behind him, wearing a suit and a full-length mink coat, all of it draped in the Irish flag.  

“I don’t think I’ll ever forget this any day of my life,” Conlan said. “This is real, real special for me. It was special. Who gets the biggest star in their country and one of the biggest stars in the world to carry the flag with him? We are a small country and we stick together. 

“I am proud to be Irish today.” 

Ibarra (4-5, 1 KO) was tentative early as Conlan focused almost exclusively on body punching. The 2012 Olympic bronze medalist had trouble timing his opponent with big right hands before he eventually found his rhythm thanks to a switch to southpaw.  

“I knew for two rounds I wasn’t going to go for anything big,” Conlan said. “I was going to take my time. I would’ve gone for a more clean knockout, but it is what it is.” 

After the bout, McGregor entered the ring to celebrate with Conlan before both climbed the ropes in the corner to wave to the crowd. McGregor then approached the boxing media at press row and let out a fiery rant about a possible superfight against Floyd Mayweather before storming away.

McGregor was not only the flag bearer for Conlan, he also motivated the boxer before his fever-pitched debut. “Stay calm in the chaos, controlled in the chaos. Relax. Let it come to you. This is your night,” McGregor told Conlan, according to the fighter’s camp.

CBS Sports Insider

Brian Campbell covers MMA, boxing and WWE. The Connecticut native joined CBS Sports in 2017 and has covered combat sports since 2010. He has written and hosted various podcasts and digital shows for ESPN... Full Bio

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