Michael Conlan is more ruthless than ever in world title drive
Michael Conlan says he is ready to deliver the best performance of his career so far as he seeks to head into 2020 with sights firmly set on a world title shot.
The Belfast man says he has developed a new edge to his approach to the sport as the major fights draw ever closer and tonight in Madison Square Garden he intends to show that ruthless streak against old amateur rival Vladimir Nikitin.
Conlan is once again on a major stage as he is part of the supporting bill to world welterweight champion Terence Crawford, one of the best pound for pound fighters on the planet, and he will return to the Garden for another St Patrick's Day event in the new year.
But for all the talk of a return to the Garden along with an expected world title shot in 2020, the Belfast man insists he has managed to focus only on Nikitin - the man who received a highly controversial decision over Conlan in the quarter-finals at the Rio Olympics.
"I usually really love Christmas and everything that surrounds it but this time Christmas isn't even happening in my mind - I won't let myself think about it at all until after this fight with Nikitin," said Conlan, who fought on December 20 last year when defeating Jason Cunningham in Manchester.
"Last year when I boxed on the undercard of Carl Frampton's fight with Josh Warrington, which was only a few days before Christmas, I would admit that my mindset wasn't right. I was actually annoyed that I was fighting so close to Christmas and that's wrong.
"So, this time I have a very different mindset and I think that has been developing over the past couple of camps. It was there for my fight in the Falls Park and I think I gave a good performance there. Now I want to improve on that and give my best performance yet against Nikitin."
Conlan picked up the WBA intercontinental featherweight title when defeating Diego Ruiz at Falls Park in August, adding to the WBO intercontinental belt he held. Both have given him a world ranking - indeed, he is the No.1 challenger for the WBO title.
Since then he has been working diligently with coach Adam Booth at his gym in London, including some sparring with former world super-bantamweight champion Kiko Martinez.
Conlan added: "I've had a 14-week camp for this fight with Nikitin and although it has been long it has been worth every minute because I'm in a very good place for this fight.
"I feel over the past 12 months I have made good progression with Adam. My work as a southpaw has improved and the work at close range has developed a lot. It hasn't been one or two things, but an overall development. I'm a much better fighter than I was last year.
"I learned a lot from that fight with Cunningham and I feel that in this fight I can show the changes that have been made and how I have improved. Everything is more finely tuned and more compact.
"It's another big night for me and people will talk about pressure but I have dealt with this my whole career. I'm looking forward to giving a performance that will really make people sit up and take notice. I have to stay calm and go about my work the way I have been in the gym and if I do that I will be happy."
Conlan has developed much further than Nikitin as a professional and a late stoppage or clear points win is expected.