Saturday 25 May 2019

'Revenge will be sweet' - Michael Conlan to face Olympic foe Vladimir Nikitin on the Falls Road

Michael Conlan after the decision against Nikitin in 2016
Michael Conlan after the decision against Nikitin in 2016

Sean McGoldrick

Three years after their controversial clash in the Rio Olympics, Michael Conlan will face his Russian nemesis Vladimir Nikitin in a 10-round featherweight bout in Belfast this August.

At the Olympics, Conlan - then the reigning world amateur bantamweight champion - looked to have done enough to see off the challenge of Nikitin in the bronze medal fight. But the judges decreed otherwise which set in motion a controversy which still rages.

Conlan reacted furiously, vowing he would never box again in the amateur ranks. Soon afterwards he opted to turn professional, signing a long-term contract with American promoter, Top Rank. Though his progress in the professional ranks has been slower than expected, he remains unbeaten in his 11 fights. Just to rub salt into Conlan’s wounds, Nikitin had to withdraw from the Olympic semi-final because he hadn’t recovered from injuries sustained in his two previous fights.

The Russian fighter remained in the amateur ranks for another 12 months after Rio – he was actually beaten in the National Stadium by Galway’s Patrick Mongan in 2017 - but once he turned professional with Top Rank, it was obvious there would be a re-match between himself and Conlan.

The fight, which will be shown live in the United States on ESPN+, will take place outdoors at Falls Park in West Belfast as part of the annual Féile an Phobail, Europe’s largest community festival.

"This is the opportunity for Mick Conlan to right what most observers felt was an injustice," said Top Rank chairman Bob Arum. "That being said, Nikitin is a real aggressive fighter, and he believes that a victory over Conlan in August would cement the one he was given in the Rio Olympics."

"I am delighted that I will be fighting Vladimir Nikitin in front of 10,000 fans," Conlan said. "This is literally home turf for me and it is absolutely huge. I am West Belfast and Falls Road born and bred so this means everything to me. Vladimir Nikitin and I have unfinished business from the 2016 Olympics, and I can't wait to set the record straight."

"When I turned professional last year, the man I wanted to fight most was Michael Conlan," Nikitin said.

"Michael has said a lot of things since the Olympics about how he was robbed of a medal. Well, I am coming to his hometown during their biggest festival to show everyone my Olympic victory was not a fluke. This is going to be repeat, not revenge. Conlan will regret pushing for this fight. I beat him twice in the amateurs and will do the same as a pro. It will feel even sweeter to beat him in his hometown. Belfast, here I come!"

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