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Dublin: 14 °C Thursday 24 May, 2018

Michael Conlan's Olympic rival turns pro - and they're already talking about an epic showdown

Rio silver medallist Shakur Stevenson signs pro deal with Top Rank.

Stevenson: won Olympic silver under Billy Walsh's tutelage.
Stevenson: won Olympic silver under Billy Walsh's tutelage.

SHAKUR STEVENSON, THE American teen who won Olympic silver in Michael Conlan’s bantamweight division, has turned professional.

And the two are already being pointed at a showdown which is being touted as the Sugar Ray Leonard v Thomas Hearns of its era.

Stevenson, 19, signed a pro deal with Bob Arum’s Top Rank, the same promoters who snapped up Conlan after his controversial Rio campaign.

“My matchmakers say he’s a major, major boxing talent, and I feel I can judge whether he has charisma and marketability and I believe he does,” Arum told ESPN.

I think this kid can be the next American superstar.

Seeded on opposite sides of the draw, Conlan and Stevenson were expected to meet in a mouthwatering Olympic semi-final last summer.

But that plan was turned on its head when Conlan was robbed by scandalous judging and lost in the quarter-finals to Russia’s Vladimir Nikitin.

Nikitin was so badly injured in his “win” against the Belfast boxer that he was unable to fight Stevenson in the semis, and the American, trained by Billy Walsh, was given a bye into the final where he lost to Robeisy Ramirez of Cuba.

Stevenson will begin his pro career at featherweight (126lbs), a few pounds heavier than Conlan’s super-bantamweight (122 lbs), but a clash between the two is already being talked up.

“My goal five years from now is to have this era’s Sugar Ray Leonard-Thomas Hearns fight when Stevenson fights Conlan,” Arum said.

“Conlan got robbed in the Olympics and didn’t fight Stevenson. Now they’ll fight as pros and make real money.

“I love thinking about fights like that. Here I am at 85, I’m an old fart. But I sign these young kids and they’ll keep me ticking for a long time. I’m not going to die until I develop these kids.”

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Niall Kelly

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