MICHAEL CONLAN has turned professional with Top Rank. Here is the exclusive interview Boxing News did with him in Rio in the aftermath of his controversial exit from the Olympic Games in August:
Michael Conlan’s departure from Rio 2016 could not be ignored. The reigning World gold medallist lost a controversial decision in the bantamweight quarter-final to Russia’s Vladimir Nikitin, only the day after uproar had greeted Russia’s Evgeny Tishchenko’s shocking win over Kazakhstan’s Vassiliy Levit in the 91kgs final. Conlan did not take his defeat meekly. He tore off his Ireland vest and clearly held up his middle fingers to the judges, before launching a verbal tirade.
After the final day of the Olympic Games, outside the confines of Riocentro, the boxing venue, Conlan sat down to speak with Boxing News. As dusk turned into night, a strong wind whipped up stormclouds. Lights flickered and went out as a powercut left Riocentro and the rest of the block in darkness. It seemed somehow an appropriate setting for the interview.
What did it feel like during the bout with the Russian, did you feel in control?
The first round, I came back to the corner, I felt in control. Didn’t feel no pressure, felt I was fighting at my own pace. I came back to the corner and they seemed really happy. I was saying to myself this is going to be an easy enough fight, just boxing off the back foot and I’m not even going to waste much energy because he’s walking on to punches. And then next minute we hear we’re down. My heart was just like, ‘Well, they’re going to do what Tishchenko done to Levit last night.’
After Katie [Taylor’s] fight the whole of Ireland were watching AIBA and giving AIBA stick, so there’s no way they could do this now if the whole world is watching, after the Russian fight as well. I believed it wasn’t going to happen to me. Then after the first round I went, ‘It might happen to me here.’ Then I went in the second round and gave him an absolute hiding, but I think they just gave me that round to even it up to kind of say it was a close fight and there’s no cheating going on here… But I thought I won it quite easy.
I beat him at his own game and then the third round I thought I’ll just do the same thing. Even though it was a closer round I still thought I won. You can give an argument for him, but I thought they were preferring when I was going in close and fighting. But they didn’t seem to even like that in the last round… I was still out-landing him and out-throwing him. It was heartbreaking.
Did you think twice about letting rip at the judges, and on live TV?
I remember last year in the WSB [World Series of Boxing] in Kazakhstan, I was done in Kazakhstan [he lost a contentious decision].
I was gutted then, I wasn’t going to do anything then.
I was thinking I wasn’t going to qualify [for the Olympic Games] then, because I had two losses in WSB I didn’t think I had enough points to qualify. In Venezuela [for his last WSB bout he thought about doing the exact same thing], but I was that knackered after the fight I said there was no point. It was a great fight, it was a tough fight because I went to try to knock the guy out, I made it a hard fight for myself. I didn’t bother doing it. That was the first time I ever considered doing it. But this time it just happened. There was no plan because I didn’t think I was going to lose. I knew from the start because the referee [Kheira Sidi Yakoub] warned before I’d even thrown a punch, she said, ‘Keep your head up’, before the fight had even started. She checked my gloves and said, ‘Keep your head up.’ She’s disappeared [after the contest]. She said to me to keep my head up before the fight had even started, so I was like, ‘What’s she saying that for?’ It was just, I knew I’d been done. I looked round at the judges, none of them would look at me. They don’t look at people, but you could see by the crowd’s reaction. As they got up and left, they all booed them, booed them out of the stadium. I just felt like what I done, needed to be done. No one stands up to AIBA and I felt I needed to be that person.
So when you saw the judges not looking at you was that when you decided to give them [your thoughts]?
I was shouting stuff at them as well, I was shouting pretty rude s*** at them, best not repeat it. But even when I was saying things to them they wouldn’t look at me. I said to Khiera after in the ring, I says, “Thank you, but you cheated me.” And she wouldn’t look at me. She shook my hand because I put my hand out. She shook my hand, but she wouldn’t look at my face.
Have you had a chance to see some of the other decisions in this tournament?
I’ve seen a good lot of fights where you went there’s no way they should have got that… Obviously Joe Joyce tonight, he was apparently done bad. It doesn’t surprise me now.
I think it’s probably going to be remembered for the bad things that happened at this Olympics, instead of the champions. If you look back on the last Games, you remember Lomachenko, Ramirez, Sapiyev, all the top boys. This Olympics you’re going to look back and remember Michael Conlan and Joe Joyce and Levit, all the people who were robbed. You’re not going to really remember the champions. Which is sad. Because I think AIBA have killed Olympic boxing.
And you feel robbed of your dream.
For me I felt this was destiny. I felt I was to be Olympic champion. I really and honestly and truly believed it. I woke up seeing it and I woke up feeling it. Everybody around me I spoke to believed it. There was no one that doubted me. I didn’t doubt me. But I felt it had been pulled away from me by corruption. That’s a hard pill to swallow. The more each day goes by since the loss, or since the robbery, I’ll not say loss, the more it sinks in. I’ve had great support.
I want to thank everybody who has supported me, old fans, new fans, other fighters all around the world, it’s not just Ireland and the UK supporting me, it’s the whole world and it’s amazing. They’ve made it a lot easier than probably what it would have been. But at the end of the day, the more I think of it, I should be Olympic champion and that’s been taken away from me now.
Have AIBA responded to your comments?
AIBA didn’t contact me and still haven’t been in contact with me. I actually unfollowed them on social media. But they didn’t get in touch, they didn’t apologise, not one word.
But they felt it was the right decision. I heard they went back and reviewed the fight so it just shows, they can review a fight but they can’t change a decision. That’s another bit of foolery they’ve done this time. [In 2012, bout results could be reversed.]
[Since Conlan’s bout] referees and judges were stood down, the executive director was reassigned…
I don’t understand what that means. I don’t understand what that means. How can you be reassigned?… It’s people’s dreams being lost.
So surely Olympic boxing has to change, if this tournament teaches us anything?
The IOC need to have a look at Olympic boxing and consider do they really want it in the next Olympic Games. Because there’s been so much drama and so much attention brought to these Olympic Games from the corruption and the robberies that’s happened in boxing, does the IOC really want that to tarnish the Olympic reputation?
My dad [his trainer John] said to me the other day he was so devastated because he didn’t believe this would happen in Olympic boxing. I said forget about it, it’s done. And he said – he doesn’t mean this – it’s like someone coming and telling you that God isn’t real. The Olympic spirit isn’t real. He believed in the whole Olympic dream and the Olympic set-up and the Olympic spirit and now to be told it doesn’t exist because of what’s happened here. He believes it doesn’t exist now. He compared it to being told God doesn’t exist. What do you believe then? It’s very hard for him to take because he knew what I put in, he knew what I’d dedicated, he knew what it meant to me and he knew what it meant to my whole family. My mum was crying the other day. She was saying it wasn’t meant to be like this. She’s here, she’s just devastated. She didn’t see this happening. None of us saw this happening.
But what I’ve learned from it already is it’s meant to happen. This is meant to happen. This is my destiny. This is what it’s brought me to. It’s a different route than I imagined but this is the route it’s going to bring me and this is all part of the learning process for me.
At least by speaking out, it means people can’t ignore it.
I just hope what I’ve done now has opened the eyes of the world on AIBA and amateur boxing as a whole and changed it for kids in the future. You can be dreaming about being Olympic champion but you might not be capable. You might not have the skill to do it. I was in a position where I had the skill and I had the dream and I had the belief. I just needed to put it into practice. I thought I did that, but it didn’t happen. I’d never wish that on a kid, to have that happen to them and get it dragged away from them because it’s disgraceful. I hope what I have done now has kind of stopped that or at least minimised that happening to people.
One thing’s for sure, I’m definitely not going to be wearing an amateur vest again.
Time is on my side. I’m young. I have options. What the future holds for me is a lot of success.