Feature | Dec 20 2018

Michael Conlan prepared for difficult test against Jason Cunningham

Michael Conlan tells Matt Bevan how he could get his revenge over Vladimir Niktin as soon as next summer
Michael Conlan
Josh Warrington & Carl Frampton media work-outs  |  Action Images/Reuters/Jason Cairnduff

MICHAEL CONLAN hasn’t put a foot wrong since his highly awaited switch from the amateur code back in March 2017. The Belfast man has racked up a perfect record of 9-0, six coming early, and promises that the journey is only just getting underway.

However, he will look to cap off an excellent year in 2018, with a 10th win, this time over Jason Cunningham, a former Commonwealth champion from Doncaster, on the undercard of Carl Frampton’s clash with IBF featherweight king Josh Warrington at the Manchester Arena on BT Sport Box Office.

Conlan paid tribute to his promotional team at Top Rank who have guided his career after he joined the stable following the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. He told Boxing News: “I have a lot of respect for Jason Cunningham and I’m more than aware of what he is about. He’s tough and doesn’t back down and like me, he’s a tough, blue collar, working class kid, so he was never turning down this challenge. He accepted straight away and he believes he can beat me, otherwise he wouldn’t be in there. It’s a good fight for me though and I will show my class.

“I’ll finish 2018 at 10-0 and I plan on putting on a destructive performance then we move on to a big 2019. One of the main reasons I signed with Top Rank, and turned down big money from other promoters, was due to the history and knowledge of how to move fighters.

“I could have had a much easier ride anywhere else but when you look at the history with the likes of Oscar de la Hoya, Floyd Mayweather, Miguel Cotto and further back than that, they have made these fighters not just world champions but superstars.

“I’ve been asking for tough tests straight away and not one of my opponents so far has had a losing record. It’s different for high class amateurs, but you see some of them taking on guys with losing records or journeymen, which wasn’t the case with me. I believe that I have the pedigree to be a world champion in multiple weight divisions, which is my aim in boxing,” he said.

Michael Conlan

The 27-year-old former World amateur champion recently joined forces with the highly respected trainer Adam Booth, after a stint in Los Angeles, and he believes that the new partnership will take him to the heights that he has been striving for.

Conlan however admits that the time he spent in former trainer Manny Robles’ gym has helped him set him up for his pro journey, but now he is reaping the rewards of training alongside former world bantamweight champion Ryan Burnett and highly touted fellow Olympian Josh Kelly.

“It’s very important that I am with Adam Booth. I started my pro career with Manny Robles in LA, which brought me back in to what pro boxing is all about. I was sparring the likes of Oscar Valdez, Jessie Magdaleno and Joseph Diaz, so watching them taught me what it was all about, learning the Mexican style, as well as learning how to be dirty at the same time,” he said.

“Even in sparring there were elbows flying and heads going in, so I learned a lot from that. The reason that I wanted to come with Adam was that I think he is one of the best coaches in the world and his style suits mine. He’s a great mentor and friend and at this moment in time the best possible person for me to be working with.

“The atmosphere in the gym is insane. It’s not all serious, a lot of the time it is fun. I have to have a good bond with the people I train with and what I have with Adam, Ryan and Josh extends beyond just boxing, so I’m very happy where I am.”

So far, Conlan has fought the majority of his career in the States, with stops off in Australia and Belfast along the way. He describes fighting in different cities as an important part of his career, as he looks to build the Conlan name.

Conlan is also fortunate to have his brother Jamie, now an influential figure behind the scenes at MTK Global, who manage many fighters based in the UK and Ireland, including Frampton, Tyson Fury and Billy Joe Saunders.

The future featherweight star added the experience of his brother is invaluable as he looks to head towards world titles in the very near future, however he is refusing to look past the Cunningham fight on Saturday in Manchester, where the Irish fighters are sure to be roared on by a big travelling support.

“I love fighting here and in the States, it means that I’m hitting all the markets. Top Rank are the best at capitalising on these things and they are with ESPN, so with DAZN looking like they’ll be coming here, they know they need someone over here to compete and I think one of the major reasons I’m on this week is because ESPN want a familiar face for the viewers across the pond,” he said. “I get great support from the Irish and normal boxing fans, which is crazy, but what happened in the Olympics catapulted my name in the consciousness and although it was bad at the time, it was probably the best thing that has happened to me.

“I’m very lucky to have a brother who has been in the sport and most importantly, seen the bad side of the sport. He’s had fights cancelled and not been paid, which I may never experience because I’m being looked after so well. Jamie is managing me with MTK and he knows how lonely boxing can be.

“He’s been up and down, in the tough fights and on the wrong side of defeat, so it’s so important that I have him involved. I have a wife and two kids, so being away from them during training camp is tough but my team make me feel at home wherever I go.

“It will be a bit like Ireland on the 22nd with us all on the same card, but I know Josh Warrington brings an amazing crowd and I know Jason Cunningham will bring a few as well which I expect. I want to be on the other side of the boos, I want to be up against an atmosphere that wants me to lose and I think I will feel a bit of that on Saturday. Jason’s fans will be against me and I’ll have to perform, so it’s another box ticked along the way.”

The famous image of Conlan’s reaction to his controversial defeat in Rio is etched in the memories of many boxing fans. It is an image that has followed him ever since the iconic moment. But, the Belfast man is more interested in getting the win back and has set a date and time for the rematch with Vladimir Nikitin, which is sure to garner plenty of interest should it go ahead.

“It’s become an iconic image and no matter where I go, people want a picture with me sticking the finger up. You get a bit sick of it from time-to-time, but that’s what people want and I’m having fun with it, so that’s the main thing,” he said. “Me and Nikitin in Belfast and it looks really likely next summer. Potentially on Saturday August 3 at Féile an Phobail. That fight will never go to the judges, even in Belfast, because I will never let it and having watched him since he turned over, I believe it will be all over inside six rounds.”

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