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Conlan finally gets revenge chance against Russian who 'beat' him at Rio 2016

The Irishman will face Olympic rival Vladimir Nikitin at Belfast’s Falls Park this August.

Michael Conlan is left disgusted as Vladimir Nikitin is given a contentious decision in their Olympic quarter-final in 2016.
Michael Conlan is left disgusted as Vladimir Nikitin is given a contentious decision in their Olympic quarter-final in 2016.

MICHAEL CONLAN HAS finally gotten his wish, and so too has Vladimir Nikitin.

The Irish and Russian former Olympians will square off as professionals in Conlan’s hometown of Belfast this August, almost three years since their quarter-final bout at Rio 2016 which saw Nikitin’s arm raised in scandalous circumstances.

The long-awaited bout — as much a shot at vindication for Nikitin as it is a revenge chance for Conlan — will take place outdoors at Belfast’s Falls Park as part of Féile an Phobail on 3 August.

Conlan-Nikitin and an undercard featuring several other as-of-yet unnamed Irish fighters will be broadcast live on the ESPN+ platform in the States, with Irish and UK TV details to follow.

Conlan, then the reigning amateur world champion at bantamweight, appeared to clearly beat the Russian in their Rio quarter-final only to be condemned to defeat by the judges, on whom he then turned.

The Falls Road native raised his middle fingers towards each of them before giving a now-iconic, expletive-laden interview to RTÉ in which he lamented his dream being taken from him and labelled amateur boxing’s governing body, AIBA, “cheats”.

The bout, and the widespread outrage with which it was met, made news headlines around the world.

Following Conlan’s defeat and a number of other highly contentious decisions at the Games, all 36 judges and referees who officiated in Rio were stood down by AIBA. The governing body remains plagued by Rio-related scandal to this day, with further suspicion arising around certain 2016 Olympic results as recently as March.

Michael Conlan following his defeat to Vladimir Nikitin 'Cheats'.

“It was probably the worst day of my amateur boxing career,” Conlan told a press conference in Belfast this afternoon of his Rio elimination at the hands of Nikitin. “And it’s a wrong that needs to be put right this time.

“It’s probably going to be the first fight that I’ve actually been able to get up for because it’s the only fight I’ve wanted since then.

“I probably fought in the Falls Park as a kid,” he added with a laugh. “Now, I’m getting paid to fight in the Falls Park against the biggest rival of my career.

“This is literally home turf for me and it is absolutely huge. I am West Belfast and Falls Road born and bred so this means everything to me.

“Vladimir Nikitin and I have unfinished business… I can’t wait to set the record straight.

“I want to give the people of Belfast and Ireland a night to remember forever on 3 August. This is going to be epic.”

Michael Conlan Conlan has waited three years for his chance to right the wrongs of Rio. Source: Stephen Hamilton/INPHO

Conlan signed with Bob Arum’s Top Rank months after his Olympic exit and has since amassed a record of 11-0 with six stoppages as well as a world ranking with the WBO. He has topped bills at Madison Square Garden’s Theater venue on each of the last three Saint Patrick’s weekends, also notably stepping through the ropes in Las Vegas, at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane, and at home in Belfast for the first time last year.

Last April, The42 reported that Nikitin had joined Conlan in the Top Rank stable, with Bob Arum telling this publication: “I met the youngster: we’re going to give him a couple of fights here in the United States, and then we’re going to make a huge match with him and Mick. It will be a chance for Mick to exact revenge for the terrible decision at the Rio Olympics.”

Nikitin has fought only three times as professional and hasn’t torn any trees up thus far but, like Conlan (2012), he is an Olympic bronze medalist; the Russian was forced to withdraw from his Olympic semi-final due to injuries sustained in his last-eight clash with the Belfast man.

“When I turned professional last year, the man I wanted to fight most was Michael Conlan,” he said. “Michael has said a lot of things since the Olympics about how he was robbed of a medal.

Well, I am coming to his hometown during their biggest festival to show everyone my Olympic victory was not a fluke. This is going to be repeat, not revenge.

“Conlan will regret pushing for this fight. I beat him twice in the amateurs and will do the same as a pro. It will feel even sweeter to beat him in his hometown. Belfast here I come!”

unnamed-4-101-390x285 Conlan and Niktin have met in a friendly capacity since their Olympic battle.

Added promoter Bob Arum at today’s press conference:

Well, I think as everybody observed [in 2016], while Nikitin had the gloves on, it was really Michael against Vladimir Putin. Clear as that. Putin was directing which Eastern Bloc fighters would win medals.

“Nikitin, we signed to a contract after we signed Michael, with the idea that one day we would match them against each other in a fair-and-square contest with no political implications.

“The best man will win.”

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