Michael Conlan: “I Wanted The Toughest Fighter We Could Get”


By: Sean Crose

“Having Diego Alberto Ruiz step in for Vladimir Nikitin didn’t really change how I approach the fight,” says rising featherweight, and Olympic Bronze medalist, Michael Conlan. “I suspect Ruiz will come forward but maybe not as aggressively as Nikitin was going to.” Conlan is referring to his fight this Saturday against the 21-2 Diego Alberto Ruiz, a scheduled 10 rounder that will go down at Falls Park in Belfast. Conlan was originally supposed to face Vladimir Nitkin, who bested Conlan via a highly controversial – some would argue outrageous – decision at the Olympics. Nitkin suffered an injury, however, and was forced to step out of the fight.

“For me,” Conlan continues, “I wanted the toughest fighter we could get after Nikitin fell out, and that’s what I told Top Rank and MTK Global. Every fight to me is important, but I wanted to make sure the August 3 fight in West Belfast was going to entertain the huge crowd.” As the match will be going down in Conlan’s home town, in front of a reported 10,000 fans no less – there was real reason to want the competition for the Irishman to be solid.

Though the outspoken Conlan clearly loves drawing in crowds, and attention, the undefeated fighter clearly isn’t someone starved to adulation. “I’m a humble person,” he says. “There’s a lot of chatter coming from different fighters, some who are in a similar place as me in their careers and it’s getting a bit much, especially on social media. I prefer to let my performances speak for themselves.” This may seem strange for a man who first made himself known by flicking the bird in the middle of an Olympic boxing ring. That moment aside, however, Conlan is a different breed than some of the sport’s showier figures. It’s clearly something he wants the world to know.

Still, Conlan is considered a lucrative property and is therefore being managed carefully. Aside from the hometown bout this weekend, Conlan plans on returning to New York, where he made his professional debut to much fanfare on Saint Patrick’s Day weekend, 2017. “I plan to fight again on St. Patrick’s Day at Madison Square Garden next year,” he says. “It’s my favorite arena, and I love the atmosphere inside the arena and in New York City during fight week.” So enthralled is Conlan with the famed MSG, that he hopes to fight for a title there – and sooner rather than later.

“I could see a title fight against {IBF featherweight world champion} Josh Warrington coming to fruition within 12 months,” he says. “It would be big anywhere in the UK or Ireland, but I’d love to have my first world championship fight at Madison Square Garden.” First, though, Conlan has to get past Ruiz. Not only has the 25 year old Argentine won ten in a row, his second (and final) loss came way back in 2016 – ages ago by boxing’s fast moving standards. Not that Conlan is worried.

“We’re truly working on getting better each camp and every day,” he says, “so that when the time comes to fight for a world title, I’ll be ready.”

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