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Conlan set to satisfy his Nikitin craving

Michael Conlan deep in conversation with older brother, Jamie during Tuesday’s press conference Michael Conlan deep in conversation with older brother, Jamie during Tuesday’s press conference
By David Mohan

SINCE the words ‘in the blue corner’ reverberated around a stunned Riocentro on August 16 2016, there has been a notable itch Michael Conlan has simply had to scratch.

His dreams of a second Olympic Games’ medal and the possibility of gold evaporated as one of the most sickening episodes in amateur boxing judging drew yelps of stunned joy from Russia’s Vladimir Nikitin and prompted Conlan to unleash the understandable fury at AIBA, amateur boxing’s governing body.

While the image of Conlan standing in the centre of the ring with his middle fingers aimed at the ringside judges to break the language barrier caught the eye, the fact he had removed the amateur vest immediately at the decision told its own story.

From that second, he was a professional boxer and promotional giant, Top Rank which has represented some of boxing’s biggest names over 50 years were quick to snap up the world amateur champion.

Their signing spree didn’t end there as Nikitin also penned a deal with Bob Arum’s organisation and of course, these old foes were on a collision course that will finally come to a head at he Falls Park on August 3.

While Conlan has made greater strides a pro (11-0 to Nikitin’s 3-0) and potentially could be looking at different opponents, perhaps even an early world title shot, it’s righting the wrong of that afternoon in Rio that must be addressed before he can leave it behind and this summer, he gets that chance on home soil.

“Career-wise, it would probably have made more sense to go for someone else here, but for me, I need to get this one out of the way,” said the 27 year-old on Tuesday at a packed Balmoral Hotel.

“I probably am too far ahead of him now as a pro, but it’s the story. He is certainly a live opponent and he’s not coming here for a pay cheque – he’s here to win as he thinks he won in Rio.

“Now, it’s done and I’m really excited it is. I’m facing someone who got a decision over me he shouldn’t have got, but he feels a different way and thought he won fair and square.

“This is a fight I need to have now because I want to move on in my professional career. I don’t want to be waiting around for him before I can move on.”

US broadcaster, ESPN were a little reluctant to approve this as a main event given both men could well go onto claim titles and meet in an even bigger showdown, but for Conlan, this time is now and apart from a world title fight, he simply couldn’t think of another fight outside of a world title worthy of bringing to the Falls Park this summer.

“This fight has been bubbling since then and while some may not think we’re at the stage to say it’s big enough of a main event, it’s the story behind it,” he continued.

“This will sell to the casual fans and people who were feeling what I was during the 2016 Olympics. This is a huge fight for me, personally and for anyone who saw what my reactions were after.

“I couldn’t have had a fight here against Joe Bloggs or a top-10 international opponent because people wouldn’t buy it. The personal feelings and the grudge behind it means the public want to buy into it. The only thing outside of this that could sell an event like this would be a world title fight.”

Conlan has made steady improvements as a professional since his debut just over two years ago and climbed into the world rankings when winning the WBO Inter-Continental featherweight title against Jason Cunningham in Manchester back in December, but plans to move down in weight after this grudge match to target world honours.

Under Adam Booth, piece-by-piece the jigsaw is coming together with his last outing against Ruben Garcia Hernandez on St Patrick’s Day his most impressive to date.

There is spite to add to the silky, switch-hitting skills and while he acknowledges Nikitin will be fired up and is certainly a quality boxer, Conlan insists he not only intends to win on August 3, but do it in some style to avenge that 2016 loss and another narrow defeat to the Russian in 2013 when he had just moved up in weight.

“I don’t think he’s been the same dude since I beat him and I’m going to show that on August 3,” he insists.

“I’m going to go in there, do what I do and take him out. I don’t mean it’s going to be a slugfest, but I will make sure I stop him.

“The last performance was definitely my best against someone who gave Nonito Donaire a hard time at stages. Because I’m in the spotlight, I’m always going to be criticised. I have to be superb before people say I was okay.

“I was very happy with my last performance. Everything is coming together and you will see how easy I make it against Vladimir Nikitin.

“This is closure for me even though that was the Olympics and the amateurs. This will not be going to points – I’ll take him out.”

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