James “Buddy” McGirt says he expects to lead the resurgence of his latest charge, Irish junior lightweight Michael Conlan.

McGirt, one of the most respected trainers in boxing, is confident that the 32-year-old Conlan (18-3, 9 KOs) will fulfill his dream of becoming a world titleholder despite the fighter coming off two consecutive stoppage defeats, including a May 2023 fifth-round TKO loss to Luis Alberto Lopez in a bout for Lopez’s IBF featherweight strap. 

He will be a world champion,” McGirt told BoxingScene. “He has a lot of talent that people haven’t seen yet.”

Following the loss to Lopez, Conlan announced a split from trainer Adam Booth. In December 2023, he moved up to 130 pounds and was stopped yet again, this time in the seventh round by Jordan Gill, in one of the upsets of the year. 

The defeats prompted Conlan to reflect – not just on outside factors but also on what was going on in his own head. 

“I don’t feel my last fight was a fair representation of me,” Conlan said. “I probably shouldn’t have been in the ring. There was an awful lot going on in my family life at home for a good while and I wasn’t in the right place or mindset. It was a fight I didn’t need to take, and I probably shouldn’t have taken it.

“I believe there’s still an awful lot more in the tank and I can still be world champion. I’ll give it everything.”

Now, one of the greatest amateurs to emerge from Ireland has joined forces with former BWAA Trainer of the Year McGirt, who has a long history of turning careers around, including those of Arturo Gatti and Antonio Tarver. The American coach got the nod over names such as Stephen Smith, Jorge Rubio and Grant Smith.

McGirt believes Conlan still has a lot to offer the sport. “There is nothing really to improve on because he is better than what he has shown.”

Conlan won gold medals as an amateur at the World Amateur Championships, Commonwealth Games and European Amateur Championships before turning pro following the 2016 Olympics. At the 2012 Olympics, the Belfast native came out as a bronze medalist.

Conlan was tabbed for greatness at the pro ranks and his decision to move up attracted a lot of interest from promotional outfits. Top Rank secured his signature, and he made his pro debut in March 2017 against Tim Ibarra at Madison Square Garden. After winning his first 16 matches, Conlan came up short in his first fight for a world title as then-WBA featherweight champion Leigh Wood stopped him in the 12th round of a thrilling affair. 

When asked whether Conlan would return to the ring before the year ends, McGirt wouldn’t give a definitive answer.

“That I don’t know, but it is going to be soon,” McGirt said. “Like I said, he will be champion, and I am looking forward to working with him for a longer term.”

Bernard Neequaye is a sports journalist with a specialty in boxing coverage. He wrote a boxing column titled “From The Ringside” back in his native Ghana for years. He can be reached on X (formerly Twitter) at @BernardNeequaye, LinkedIn at Bernard Neequaye and through email at bernardneequaye@gmail.com.