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Michael Conlan eyes Vladimir Nikitin stoppage after 2016 Olympic controversy

 

New chapter: Michael Conlan on the front foot against Jason Cunningham
New chapter: Michael Conlan on the front foot against Jason Cunningham
Michael Conlan showing his emotion after the Rio 2016 robbery
David Kelly

By David Kelly

Commonwealth Games champion, European champion, world champion… 2016 Olympic champion. The script was written for Michael Conlan, he had already read it and then someone decided that the final chapter would not have a happy ending. Sobbing alone in his bath in Rio, Conlan was hit by the full force of a broken heart.

In the early hours of Sunday morning in New York's Madison Square Garden, he will be on what has been naturally dubbed a mission of 'revenge' when he meets Vladimir Nikitin. In reality, the judges took away his golden moment and their penalty is that none of the officials in Rio will be used at the boxing competition in Tokyo 2020.

Conlan has to live with what they did to him for the rest of his life and Nikitin's bronze medal will forever be tarnished. He knows Conlan defeated him and it should happen again in the Big Apple, only this time there will be nobody to view it any other way.

American channel ESPN were determined to have the bout after it was postponed in the summer due to Nikitin sustaining an injury. The history was too good to let go and so they meet again.

As Conlan reflects on the events of 2016, he focuses on the positives and how it paved the way for a lucrative contract with Bob Arum at Top Rank - the biggest firm in the business - but also admits to the pain of the loss which his dad and coach John had been told about 24 hours before the first bell in Brazil.

"At the end of the bout I won but I had a feeling they were going to rob me… even after the first round, I could sense it from the corner. They were telling me to go out and nail him... then when it came to the decision I knew I'd won but the way the referee pulled my arm to my side I knew it wasn't going up.

"When the decision was announced I was just so disgusted, it broke my heart. I automatically thought after the way I reacted, giving the finger to the judges, that I had really messed up and no professional promoter would want me. Then I went on social media and the whole world had reacted to the decision so I felt justified.

"That evening I left the Games and stayed in an apartment with my wife Shauna, mum and dad and brother Jamie and I didn't go back until it was time to get my gear to head home about a week later.

"That night I turned on CNN and they were calling out the corruption at the Games… it was surreal being big news, the biggest channel in the world was focused on me. For a while, there was like a buzz of being the centre of attention but then when I was having a bath and everything hit me, I was sobbing - there was still no gold medal and I just thought, 'What do I do now?'

"Thankfully Bob Arum had been watching the fight and he later told me that as soon as he saw me react that way he wanted to sign me. He said he reminded me of a younger version of himself."

Now Conlan prepares to meet Nikitin knowing he could be just two wins away from a world title shot next year. The Belfast man insists that all the emotion of Rio will have no bearing on tomorrow night's clash.

"I'm not taking this fight in a personal way, that I need to go and hurt him, nothing like that. I have to go about my work smartly. He has beaten me twice, he's a world silver medallist and I have to take care of business," added Conlan. "People may think this is going to be easy for me but I have the mindset that I'm the underdog and I'm hungry to go in and get the win - and of course I would like to stop him."

So, maybe there is a little emotion still left over from that summer night in Rio…

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