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Belfast in the mix for Conlan's clash with Nikitin

 

Front foot: Michael Conlan in win over Ruben Garcia Hernandez
Front foot: Michael Conlan in win over Ruben Garcia Hernandez
David Kelly

By David Kelly

Michael Conlan looks on course for a rematch with bitter amateur rival Vladimir Nikitin - and Belfast is in the frame as the venue.

Conlan gave his most impressive performance so far when outpointing Mexican Ruben Garcia Hernandez in Madison Square Garden's Theatre venue over 10 rounds in the early hours of yesterday morning, retaining his WBO inter-continental featherweight belt in the process.

The 27-year-old Belfast man is expected to return to the ring in early June, possibly in Las Vegas on a big show headlined by heavyweight star Tyson Fury. The plan would then be for Conlan to headline at the annual west Belfast festival with Nikitin quite possibly the man in the opposite corner.

Nikitin benefited from some awful judging at the 2016 Olympics in Rio when he was given the verdict over Conlan, who immediately turned his back on the amateur ranks and went professional with American firm Top Rank.

"We can get 12,500 people into the Falls Park for a show there and it's now looking nailed on for my 13th fight. That would be a night I would cherish for the rest of my life," said Conlan.

The Belfast man was never in any danger as he cruised to victory over Hernandez, switching smoothly from orthodox to southpaw and picking his shots with ease to body and head.

Nikitin was on Conlan's mind immediately after the one-sided points victory (100-90, 100-90, 100-90). The Russian had earlier chalked up a third consecutive professional success with a majority points win over Texan Juan Tapia.

"Vladimir, I know you're here, I know you're here tonight, we need to do it again, we need to have that rematch. I need to right a wrong that shouldn't have been written," said Conlan from the ring after soaking up the plaudits from the 6,000 in the arena.

Conlan admitted that he could have maybe looked to force a stoppage but he was happy with his showing regardless. He added: "I showed a lot of good defensive moves we've been working on. I think I just used my skills as I said I would. There were a few times I probably could've stepped on it, but we wanted to practice things we've been working on. I felt I did that.

"We were in no rush to try and take out this guy. He's tough. He went the distance with Nonito Donaire and a few other top fighters. He had a tough head on him."

Another two victories would keep Conlan on track for a world title shot 12 months from now.

Already ranked in the top 10 of the WBA, he expects to have one of the four champions in his sights by the end of the year.

"There has already been talk about a world title fight back in the Garden on St Patrick's Day next year. That would be an amazing occasion. I just have to keep winning," added Conlan.

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