IRISH prospect Michael Conlan is on a collision course to meet a couple of Olympians, rivals from his amateur days, but must first focus all his attention on Nicola Cipolletta, his opponent next Saturday (October 20) in Las Vegas.
Cipolletta, a former Italian champion, is 14-6-2 (4) as a pro and should be a test Conlan passes with flying colours. Until he does so, however, any talk of future Conlan fights against Vladimir Nikitin or Shakur Stevenson, two rivals from his amateur days, will remain well and truly on the backburner.
“Shakur has performed well, and I know he’s talented,” said Conlan. “I give him respect but to me he’s just another possible future opponent. He and his people are just mentioning me so often to try and gain publicity.
“His publicist talks all this rubbish about me because I sold out Madison Square Garden. American athletes don’t do that and so they were just clutching at straws with the whole thing.
“If he wins a world title before I do, so be it. It doesn’t have any effect on my journey.”
Stevenson, the 2016 Olympic silver medallist, takes a step up in class this Saturday night (October 13) when he faces respected Romanian Viorel Simion for the WBC Continental Americas title on the Terence Crawford vs. Jose Benavidez undercard in Omaha, Nebraska.
Nikitin, meanwhile, the Russian who controversially outpointed Conlan at the 2016 Games in Rio, boxes on the same card as the Irishman next weekend. He, too, takes a leap in class and will rattle through his first eight-rounder against American Clay Burns.
“If there was someone who I was slightly focused on, the only person I have in mind is the Russian Nikitin from the Rio Olympics,” said Conlan.
“I want to right that wrong and then my focus will turn to something else.”
A Conlan vs. Nikitin rematch has been discussed for next year, either in Madison Square Garden or Falls Park, and would certain to happen so long as both men stay unbeaten. It won’t be for a world title, no, but it will be an intriguing trade fight, huge among the Irish contingent, it will allow Conlan the chance to right a perceived wrong, and it will also set him – or, indeed, Nikitin – up for title fights in the future.
“I’ve said since the start of my career that 2019 is the year I wanted to win a world title,” said Conlan, the 2015 world amateur champion. “It might be at the end of that year, so I can get as much time and experience as possible.
“I feel I’m on course to be thereabouts by then. I turned professional to challenge myself.”
On paper, a fourth-round stoppage defeat on your American debut doesn’t sound like the best result in the world.
In the case of Callum Johnson, however, a combination of context, performance, and opponent will ensure his fourth-round knockout loss to Artur Beterbiev last Saturday (October 8) is not only fondly remembered but that it also opens doors in the future.
Before succumbing to the fearsome IBF light-heavyweight champion in round four, Johnson managed to deck the Russian in the second and seemed, if only for a brief moment, on the verge of pulling off an almighty upset. That it never happened says more about Beterbiev’s powers of recovery, as well as his own crippling punch power, than it does Johnson’s limitations at a world-class level.
Which is why, as he dusts himself down and licks his wounds, Johnson is preparing himself to return to that kind of class – if not immediately, then definitely at some point in the near future.
“Beforehand, I maybe doubted myself a little bit. I’ll never doubt myself again,” Johnson told Sky Sports. “I know I can compete at that level with the very best. He’s an elite-level fighter. I take so much from that. Next time, I’ll be a different animal.
“I think he [Eddie Hearn, promoter] wants me to go for it and stay at that level, and not worry about the domestic scene, but we’ll see what happens. I’ve got my British title, so I’ve got that option there to defend that, if anybody wants to step up.
“But I would like to get out in December if I could, and defend the British, or whatever. I would love to fight for the European and win that belt, to add it to the collection.”
In addition to opportunities at home, Johnson, with a fan-friendly style and heavy hands, could also discover options in America following his exploits against Beterbiev.
“Eddie was mentioning February time, back out in America. DAZN, the TV network really loved me, and they want me back out there. Maybe a top 10 fighter, or a fringe world-level fighter in America.
“Before I went out, I said I would shock the world, and I think I have, even in defeat. I think good things are only going to happen. I’m excited about the future.”
Sometimes, in boxing, you win even in defeat. Callum Johnson, a courageous risk-taker, is proof.