Irish Olympian Michael Conlan inks multiyear deal with Top Rank

Michael Conlan, the Irish fighter whose loss in the quarterfinals of the bantamweight tournament at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics was one of the most controversial of the boxing tournament, is going pro.

Conlan signed a multiyear deal with Top Rank at the company offices in Las Vegas on Monday and will fight primarily in the United States.

He plans to begin his career in the 122-pound junior featherweight division and is likely to make his professional debut in March on St. Patrick's Day weekend at the Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York City, Top Rank president Todd duBoef told ESPN.com.

"I think this is an incredible signing for Top Rank and incredible for boxing in America, because he will fight the majority of his fights here in the U.S., building a big fan base in the Irish community," duBoef said. "We think he is the next big star in boxing in America. There's a huge Irish population here in the United States."

Terms of the agreement were not disclosed, but Conlan and Top Rank said he would fight at least six times in 2017, with one of the bouts taking place in Ireland.

"I'm really looking forward to all of this," Conlan told ESPN.com. "I couldn't be with a better team than Top Rank. They'll take me to a world title. I'm looking forward to the journey."

Said manager Matthew Macklin, a former longtime middleweight contender: "Everyone wanted to sign him, but once we touched base with Top Rank, we locked into that. We believe they will be the best to develop Michael's career and build him into a pay-per-view star. His bags are packed to be based in America. We believe he is with the right people and will become a huge pay-per-view star here and on the other side of the Atlantic."

Conlan, who turns 25 in November, said he loves the idea of turning pro on St. Patrick's Day weekend in New York, where Irish boxing fans have a reputation for giving their fighters tremendous support.

"I think it's every Irish fighter's dream to fight on that weekend in New York," Conlan said. "It's going to be big. I'll take the opportunity with both hands."

Top Rank chairman Bob Arum has signed several Olympians through the years and developed them into world champions and pay-per-view stars, including Oscar De La Hoya, Floyd Mayweather and Miguel Cotto. He said Conlan will follow in their footsteps.

"This kid, I feel, is something special," Arum said. "There's something about this kid. He has a lovely personality and, obviously, based on what my matchmakers say, he has ability, which is what counts. As far as his personality, he lights up the room. The fans are going to love this kid. I'm going to hit all the Irish cities -- New York, Boston and over in Ireland also."

Conlan's elimination from the Rio Olympics in a decision loss to Russia's Vladimir Nikitin in the bantamweight quarterfinals was one of the most controversial of the boxing tournament and partly responsible for the International Boxing Association (AIBA), which oversees amateur boxing, sending several judges and referees home from the tournament for failure to perform up to the expected standard.

After the defeat, an emotional Conlan raised both of his middle fingers at the judges while still in the ring and then ripped them and AIBA. He had so dominated the fight that Nikitin was too busted up to fight in the semifinals and withdrew from the competition, giving American Shakur Stevenson a walkover into the gold-medal match.

After the decision, Conlan said: "AIBA cheats, AIBA f---ing cheats. That's me; I'll never box for AIBA again. They're cheating b------. They're paying everybody. I don't give a f--- for cursing on TV. That's the end of my Olympic gold. My dream has been shattered now.

"I have a big career ahead of me. These ones are known for being cheats. They have always been cheats. Amateur boxing stinks, from the core right to the top. I thought I boxed the ears off him in the first round, but they scored it against me. So I had to fight his fight, which I did. I outfought him. It's a shambles, to be honest."

Conlan said the judging controversy in Rio will drive him as a professional but that he will get over it.

"I think what happened will be the driving force for me to become the greatest Irish fighter ever, because it will give me a kick, like it did for Roy Jones and Floyd Mayweather," Conlan said, referring to Jones and Mayweather's controversial losses in Olympic bouts. "I can get over things really fast, and I can push on. I won't forget it, but now I will focus on becoming a world champion and a star with Top Rank."

Conlan, who won a flyweight bronze medal at the 2012 London Games and gold medals at the 2015 World Amateur Championships and European Championships, is the most decorated Irish amateur in history. Now he aims to be Ireland's greatest professional fighter.

"I think I have a great following already, and my goal is to be Ireland's greatest ever fighter," Conlan said. "I believe I can be that. I think I'm the guy to do that. I will give the Irish fans something to shout about. I think I can be a three-weight world champion."

Conlan, whose 29-year-old brother, Jamie Conlan (17-0, 11 KOs), is a professional featherweight, said his aim is to win a title at junior featherweight and then move up to win world titles at featherweight and junior lightweight.

Only two Irishmen have won world titles in two weight classes: Ireland's Steve Collins and Northern Ireland's Carl Frampton, who did it on July 30 by outpointing Leo Santa Cruz to win a featherweight belt in Brooklyn, New York.

Conlan is the second 2016 Olympian to go with Top Rank, which last month signed lightweight gold medalist Robson Conceicao, 27, a three-time Olympian who thrilled the home fans in Rio by becoming the first Brazilian boxer in history to win an Olympic gold medal.

Top Rank also signed several Olympians after the 2012 Games, including two-time Ukrainian gold medalist Vasyl Lomachenko, who has gone on to win featherweight and junior lightweight world titles, and Mexico's Oscar Valdez, who won a featherweight world title in July.

Arum said he is always interested in signing the cream of the crop from the amateurs.

"We're not crazy, so we're not running after a million guys," Arum said. "We want only quality. Conlan is quality. In the old days, we had to run after people, and now they run to us because of our reputation. They know we know how to build a fighter into a superstar."