CROSS Michael Conlan at your peril. After a notorious decision went against him in the quarter-finals of the last Olympic Games, the Irish boxer famously condemned AIBA. He had beaten Vladimir Nikitin so badly that the Russian was unable to continue in the tournament. Subsequent events have also not exactly disproved Conlan’s accusations. The Olympic referees and judges were suspended. Ching-Kuo Wu is no longer the president of AIBA and the governing body is in a mess, with the IOC seriously considering throwing them and the sport of the boxing out of the Olympic Games.
Conlan himself is now a professional, represented by promotional powerhouse Top Rank. Eight fights into his career he has boxed in Madison Square Garden and most recently celebrated a homecoming bout with an assured eight rounds points win over Adeilson Dos Santos last weekend.
“The atmosphere on Saturday, I think that topped everything so far,” Conlan told Boxing News. “I knew how the crowd were going to get so involved in it. I kind of envisioned that part of it. It came true. It fulfilled my expectations and actually exceeded them because I didn’t think it was going to beat the Madison Square Garden atmosphere but it did.”
He delivered a confident performance. “I think I stuck to the gameplan of boxing this guy and trying to outsmart him because I knew he was dangerous. I knew I couldn’t be taking any risks against an opponent who I know I’m better than although he has a lot more experience and was a big puncher. I had to be smart and use skills. I think I done that quite well. I didn’t let the occasion get to me. Although I did feel the pressure I didn’t let it affect the kind of style and performance I was going for,” Michael said. “He lost to Kid Galahad over 12 rounds, he lost to Jessie Magdaleno and got stopped and then he has another two losses in there. But at the same time he’s picked up an awful lot of experience and he’s improved. He’s learned from the losses. He had a full training camp for that fight. Top Rank told him he was boxing me… He had a full training camp and he was prepared. He was training for me the whole time. It wasn’t like it was a last minute call like he’s had in the past.
“He’s boxed over 12 rounds obviously a few times and he’s able to condense that kind of fitness and pace of fight into an eight-round fight, which I was aware of. Maybe I overthought a bit, instead of just working on myself. Because I’ve been sparring 12 rounds in the gym and felt good but with the pressure of the occasion, that all played a part in it. It was good I got the eight rounds in with that guy, who made me work for the full eight.”
This kind of contest will bring him towards the higher class of opponent. “Because of the platform I’m on and the profile I have, people probably expect the finished article already. But I’m only eight fights in. These type of fights and these type of opponents are what’s building me for the big fights and the big events. These are just parts of my career which are very important but they are small parts,” he said. “Now I think the opponents are going to start getting harder and harder.”
There is one fight in particular that he wants to get in the near future. Vladimir Nikitin, his old rival from the Olympic Games has signed with Top Rank and makes his professional debut in New Orleans on July 14.
“I’m delighted. I’m really happy. Vladimir has texted me personally, I’ve met him a few times,” Conlan said. “What happened wasn’t his fault, I understand that. I think he understands that he’s turned professional now and the fight he needs to make a lot of money, is me. And he knows that.”
Conlan doesn’t want to have to wait for that fight. “At an early stage, I want him. I know my career is going to go a lot longer than Vladimir Nikitin. He’s going to happen next year some time, I hope. It’ll be at that point. Once I take out Vladimir Nikitin that will be me saying I’ve arrived. Really arrived, you know what I mean. That’s the fight for me to showcase everything, showcase what I can do. That guy, I can outfight him. I can outbox him. I’ve more heart than him. I have everything but at the same time that guy, he’s determined, he’s relentless, who can bring out the best in me. His style can bring out the best in me. That’s what I want. I need someone like that,” Conlan said. “He’s someone I can outpunch, who I feel stronger than. I think it’s just the perfect fight for my career at the early stage.
“If I’m 100% honest, with Nikitin, they have to be careful with him. Because of how he fights, it’s eight ounce gloves, if he’s in with one of those tough Mexican journeymen and he’s trying to bulldoze them, and they can bang, and they hit him, the way he comes forward they could hurt him. I know that because I’ve fought him twice [at the European championships and Olympics] and the noise that he makes when you hit him, it tells me that he has give up in him… I know him really personally. I feel I know a lot about him, I know his behaviours.”