By Thomas Gerbasi
NEW YORK - It could have been a title fight at The Theater of Madison Square Garden on Friday night, as a sold-out crowd of 5,102 roared from start to finish for two-time Olympian Michael Conlan, the Belfast native who capped off the St. Patrick?s Day festivities with a third-round stoppage of Denver's Tim Ibarra in his professional debut.
Brought into the ring by the NYPD Emerald Society and UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor, the junior featherweight Conlan was told by the MMA superstar before the fight to 'Stay calm in the chaos, controlled in the chaos,' and the 25-year-old followed those instructions to a tee, using a stiff jab to control the action and keep Ibarra from mounting any significant offense.
In the second, Conlan (1-0, 1 KO), who represented Northern Ireland in the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, began working in more power shots, and in the third, he effectively mixed up punches to the body and head, leaving Ibarra on the defensive. As Conlan poured it on, referee Benji Esteves began watching closely, and after an unanswered barrage of blows, Esteves stepped in, halting the bout at the 59-second mark of round three.
'Relax,' McGregor told Conlan. 'Let it come to you, this is your night.'
It sure was.
Rising junior welterweight star Alex Saucedo impressed in the co-main event, stopping Michigan's Johnny Garcia in the second round.
Saucedo nearly finished the bout in the opening frame with a barrage of shots, but Garcia survived, only to get dropped later in the round. Garcia made it through the round, but Saucedo kept coming, and in the second, another unanswered series of blows forced referee Steve Smoger to step in at the 2:42 mark.
With the win, Oklahoma City's Saucedo moved to 24-0 with 15 KOs; Garcia falls to 19-4-1 with 11 KOs.
In the televised opener, Brazil's Olympic gold medal winner in 2016, Robson Conceicao, remained unbeaten, tearing through Aaron Hollis in two rounds in a junior lightweight bout.
With one of the most unorthodox styles seen from an Olympic gold winner, Conceicao was still effective with it, as his chopping shots jarred Hollis and then knocked him down late in the first frame. The second didn't go much better for Hollis, and while referee Shada Murdaugh's hook at the 36-second mark after an unanswered barrage of blows might have been a bit early, it didn't seem like the night was going to for the Cincinnati fighter, who falls to 4-4 with 2 KOs. Conceicao improves to 3-0.
Unbeaten featherweight prospect Jose Gonzalez got some good rounds in with veteran Jhovany Collado, going the route in winning a six-round unanimous decision.
Scores were 60-53 across the board for the New Yorker.
Gonzalez (7-0-1, 2 KOs) was in control throughout thanks to good fundamentals and a lightning-fast straight left hand. That left hand produced two knockdowns, one to the body in the first round and one to the head in the third. Collado was up quickly from both, and while he has now lost six straight, falling to 4-12-2 with 1 KO, he hasn't been stopped since Matt Remillard turned the trick in 2005.
In an entertaining junior welterweight scrap, Caguas, Puerto Rico's Alexander Picot hit the .500 mark as a pro with a four-round unanimous decision over the Bronx's Ben Garcia.
Scores were 40-35 and 38-37 twice for Picot, now 2-2-1. Garcia falls to 1-2 with 1 KO.
Garcia had some success early when he used his length and jabbed from long range, but as soon as Picot got close and made it ugly, the tide turned. In the second, Picot caught his foe with a shot on the ropes everyone but Garcia saw, and the New Yorker product hit the deck hard. Upon rising, Garcia got a long look from referee Steve Smoger, but by the end of the round, he appeared to have his legs back.
Garcia got back into the fight in the third round, though he was still having difficulty when Picot would bull him in the ropes, but he did have his best round in the final frame, as he used his reach well and even avoided some bombs when on the ropes.
A member of the 2016 Honduran Olympic team, Teofimo Lopez Jr. moved to 3-0 (3 KOs) as a pro with a second round finish of Mexico's Daniel Bastien.
Bastien (4-3, 1 KO) was willing to fight, with several thudding shots getting Lopez' attention, but most of his output was of the haymaker variety, leaving him open for the counters of the technically solid Brooklynite.
In the second, Lopez had gotten in enough work, and he unloaded with both hands, sending Bastien to a knee, where he took the ten count from referee Shada Murdaugh. The official time was :39 of round two.
Clones' Larry Fryers got the night off to a winning start for the Irish contingent, winning a shutout four-round unanimous decision over a game, but outgunned, Gabriel Solorio in the welterweight opener.
All three scores were 40-35 for Fryers, now 3-0 with 1 KO. Solorio falls to 2-4-1.
The sharper puncher from the opening bell, Fryers looked to be on his way to an early night when he dropped Seattle's Solorio with a right hand in the second round, but Solorio was able to survive and make it through all four rounds thanks to a gritty effort.