Michael Conlan is no stranger to the pressure of a big occasion.
As an amateur, Conlan boxed at two Olympic games, as well as multiple world and European championships. He rose to that pressure too, winning a bronze at the London 2012 Olympics, gold at the 2015 European championships and another gold at the world championships in Doha that same year.
However, what he experienced on Friday night at The Theater at Madison Square Garden was something different.
Fighting in front of a packed house at the baby brother of the world’s most famous venue, Conlan was the undisputed star of the show and he received treatment worthy of that status, with a dramatic ring walk and an introduction by legendary MC Michael Buffer. He may not have been fighting an opponent the calibre of some of the men he fought at the top level as an amateur, but as a pro, an entertainer of sorts, he was now expected to turn in an exciting performance – not just a winning one.
All these things carry added pressure.
With Conlan backstage before the fight, however, was a man who knows these kinds of pressures very well. A man who appears unfathomably calm amongst them and thrives in their midst.
UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor, bedecked in characteristically outlandish attire, offered some words of advice to Conlan about how to deal with what he was about to encounter.
“It’s your night. There’s a lot of people out there, great energy. Stay calm in it. Feed off of it but don’t overfeed off of it,” McGregor said to his 25-year-old countryman. “You know this. You’ve been doing this a long fucking time. Go out and enjoy yourself out there.”
When he stepped out onto the floor of the arena, which by then looked like an island in a tumultuous sea of green, Conlan appeared calm and he seemed to be taking everything in. Dressed quite outlandishly himself, like some kind of Irish Apollo Creed, Conlan looked to be right at home in the chaos of a big pro fight night.
He would go on to record a third-round TKO victory over Tim Ibarra, much to the delight of the partisan crowd.
You can watch Conor McGregor’s little pep-talk with Michael Conlan below, courtesy of iFL TV.