During a recent interview with Boxing Insider Radio which can be heard on Spotify, iTunes and on Boxinginsider.com, undefeated boxer Michael Conlan took the time to discuss just how important a win against Vladimir Nikitin on December 14th, at Madison Square Garden is for his legacy, as well as future a future contest against WBO Featherweight champion Shakur Stevenson.
It was the middle finger that was seen around the world.
During the 2016 Olympic games in Rio De Janeiro, Michael Conlan was running through his competition. It was becoming more and more clear that he was on his way to possibly bringing a gold medal with the display of skills he was putting on for everyone to see.
Everything was going as he expected. He danced around his bigger opponents and punished the smaller ones. Conlan was on cloud nine and everyone could understand why. He entered his quarterfinal matchup against Russian opponent Vladimir Nikitin as a significant favorite. There in the crowd stood Conlan’s mother, father and fiancée. They expected Conlan to cruise to victory and that is exactly what he did.
Conlan made it look easy against Nikitin. He was barely touched during the bout while Nikitin on the other looked as though he had been in a fight with a wild grizzly bear.
Yet, for some inexplicable reason, Nikitin was given the victory. Much like Roy Jones Jr who was robbed at a chance of gold during the 1988 Olympics and Floyd Mayweather Jr in 1996, Conlan had his olympic dreams taken away from him in a contest in which he clearly won.
Instead of going back to his locker room with pain and agony, Conlan let it all out as he flipped the middle finger to the judges that were scoring the bout.
Fast forward nearly four years later, and Conlan will now get his chance for revenge as the two will face off on December 14th, at Madison Square Garden. This time, as professionals.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said Conlan to Boxing Insider Radio. “The engine is warm and we’re ready to rock. I’m expecting a big, big performance.”
This contest between Conlan and Nikitin actually won’t be the second time they meet in the ring. It will be their third. Every and anyone who watched these two share the ring against one another during the Olympics in 2016 would rightfully have given the fight to Conlan, but the fact of the matter is, he did not officially come out with the win.
For the Ireland born fighter who has a future just as bright as anyone else’s in the sport, he will now have one final time to prove something to not only his naysayers, but also to himself.
“I’ve lost both times. It’s a chance for me to get my redemption. People may look at the 2016 fight and think that I won but let’s be honest, when the decision was called his hand was raised so I actually didn’t win. I’ve got to go in there and prove to myself and to the rest of the world that what happened in Rio was an injustice and the wrong decision. But more than anything I have to prove to myself that I can beat this guy and I am better than him. I believe I want it more and I believe that I am the better fighter but I have to go out there and prove it.”
Conlan isn’t the only person who is motivated for their upcoming clash. So is Nikitin as well. Conlan may have something that he wants to prove but his rival will have a chip on his shoulders that will be just as enormous.
“He’s obviously coming to prove a point that the decision in Rio was the right one. He probably has a lot of ill feelings towards me but I want to go in there with no emotions and treat this as a demolition job. I don’t want to leave this in the hands of the judges. I want to go out there and beat this guy and look good doing it.”
On the surface level it may seem like a boxing match between two fighters who aren’t exactly very fond of one another, but it isn’t just about that. For Conlan, this contest stretches far beyond just the boxing ring.
“It just lets me close a chapter in my amateur career and how it finished and the controversial saga. I think for me and many people around the world, if you have been screwed over whether it was in sports or in life, everybody has had that feeling of injustice against them. The fact that I have a chance to rewrite a wrong that should have never been written, I think a lot of people can feel that. A lot of people never get that chance to right a wrong so this is bigger than me and it’s bigger than just this fight. It’s about righting wrongs and injustices that should have never happened. It’s more than a boxing match. It’s like history being rewritten.”
For as badly as Conlan wanted to bring home the gold in 2016, his career has seemingly not suffered in the slightest. Not only is he undefeated in 13 professional contest, but he was also arguably the hottest amateur prospect with a seemingly endless amount of promoters who were vying for his services, including Floyd Mayweather and Mayweather Promotions.
“It would not have been beneficial for me because I’m an Irish guy and the time zone differences with where he is located. With Top Rank they put me in Madison Square Garden and have promoted me really well so it was a no brainer for me to sign with Top Rank.”
The promotion and hype surrounding Conlan has been unbelievable since day one. Top Rank has continuously placed him in the limelight where he has shined. For the budding star, he has countless supporters in Ireland but he has grown a fan base in New York that rivals the love and affection he receives in his native land.
“I Can’t really compare them because Ireland is my home but fighting in New York is my home away from home. It’s where I have boxed the most as a professional and the atmosphere’s are actually pretty similar. In my last fight I boxed in August it was in Belfast and it was very special to me, so it would be very hard top that one but the two best places that I am supported in the world is New York and Ireland.”
At the age of 28, Conlan isn’t your typical boxing prospect. Young fighters who are fighting their way up are typically in their early 20s. With 30 coming right around the corner, Conlan won’t be afforded the same time frame that many of his younger counterparts are given. In comparison, Conlan’s fellow stablemate Shakur Steven is only 22 years of age, but he has already captured a world title and is widely regarded as a future pound for pound level fighter.
The accomplishments of Stevenson haven’t gone unnoticed by Conlan. The Ireland born fighter would be willing to face not just Conlan in the near future but against any world champion.
“Fantastic matchup and a fantastic fighter. He has answered every question that has been placed in front of him so far. If that is a fight that is going to happen next year, I’m ready. I see myself fighting for world titles. Fighting against a specific opponent doesn’t matter but I see myself fighting for multiple world titles. If he is the champion then I’m ready for anything but I am focused on December 14th, so I can’t even take a peek ahead of what’s to come.”
The future of Conlan is undoubtedly a bright one, but at the moment it is stuck in the past. He can take his first step forward if he manages to defeat Nikitin on the 14th of December.
With as much history as the two have, a simple win for Conlan won’t be good enough. He intends on putting on a show.
“You can possibly expect a war or you can expect a masterclass. I can out box the guy completely if I want. Whether it lasts three rounds, seven rounds or ten rounds it will be a statement and it will be exciting.”
As for the now infamous middle finger that propelled Conlan to national notoriety might also make an appearance when this fight is set and done as well.
“I’ll start it off by giving him a middle finger and then I’ll give him a thumbs up at the same time.”