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‘Belfast or Dublin, live on ESPN’: Bob Arum eyeing massive homecoming for Michael Conlan

Erik G

BOB ARUM SAYS Top Rank have their eyes on a homecoming fight for Michael Conlan “in the first six months” of 2018, and believes the Belfast super-bantamweight can emulate Manny Pacquiao in accruing a massive Mexican fanbase Stateside.

The two-time Olympian and former amateur world champion has headlined his first three professional bouts since inking with the promotional giants last Autumn, winning all three by stoppage in New York, Chicago and Brisbane respectively, with a fourth bout – on the undercard of gym-mate Oscar Valdez’s WBO World featherweight title defence in Tucson, Arizona – confirmed for the 22nd of next month.

Arum maintains that ‘The Old Pueblo’ makes for an ideal pit-stop on Conlan’s journey, and particularly on a Mexican-heavy card, due to his potential compatibility with the high proportion of fervent fans in the region whose roots lie south of the border.

“In a way it’s not my first rodeo!” Arum tells The42.

I mean, I was involved in fights for Barry McGuigan many years ago, and we brought fighters over to Belfast to fight during The Troubles, and we had him fight in Vegas. I realise what a figure Barry was at the time, and we feel that Conlan could even be bigger in this time.

“There are Irishmen all over the world, not only in Ireland but in England, in the United States, in Australia – that’s why we brought him to Australia.

“The idea is to keep him active, so his next scheduled fight, we want to expose him to different audiences, different ethnic groups, different people, which you can do in this country. So he’s going to fight in Tuscan, Arizona, which is a heavily Hispanic town.

There’ll be two title fights on the card: Oscar Valdez defending his title in one of them, and Gilberto Ramirez defending his title in the other. Two Mexicans, and we’re plopping Michael right in there, because I think the Mexicans will take to him the same way they took to Manny Pacquiao.

With Conlan already deep in camp for his desert duel, his Hall of Fame promoter is already casting his eyes beyond the Autumn.

Having recently reached a deal for ESPN to beam Top Rank events into 90 million Stateside homes, give or take, Arum intends for Conlan to become a major beneficiary from his stable’s heightened exposure.

The 85-year-old promoter suggests the Worldwide Leader might soon be headed for these shores to broadcast Conlan’s slated Irish homecoming to the US masses.

“We have a big, major Lomachenko fight in Madison Square Garden, to showcase Michael on that card in New York,” Arum says.

“And then, for next year, there’ll be a Boston stop I’m sure, and then hopefully in the first six months of the year we’ll do a fight for him in Belfast or Dublin, which would be live on ESPN.”

It had long been suggested that Conlan would return for a fight on home turf in the winter of 2017 – this as per a supposed stipulation in his contract.

Arum, however, insists that it’s a case of go big or don’t go home where the Falls Road super-bantamweight is concerned, while dismissing any logistical issues regarding a transatlantic upheaval provided Top Rank can adequately time Conlan’s return to these shores.

“We want to definitely do a fight in Ireland for him, but we want to do it right, and we want to do it where we get the biggest possible audience in the United States.

“Therefore, we’ll have to do it outside of the American football season, because those games are played in the afternoon over here – whether it’s a Saturday or Sunday – so that’s no good.

So if you’re going to do a Michael Conlan fight [in Ireland], and you want it shown in the United States, you do it in February or March – probably February – so you can get the time on ESPN for an afternoon fight, and it would be evening over in Ireland.

“But if you put him on now in Ireland, you can’t get an audience [in America] because everybody is crazy with American football – college football, pro football – just the way you guys are crazy with the soccer.”

He’s adamant, too, that a Conlan fight in Ireland would need to be broadcast on ESPN in order to provide it with the largest TV platform possible, but insists ‘Conlan to Ireland’ is very much in the pipeline.

“Why would we not take advantage of getting a million, two million eyeballs watching it, right? Otherwise it makes little sense. But that is the plan.”

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