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Michael Conlan ready to set up 'huge year' and world title bid with New York win


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Next step: Michael Conlan during his victory over Vladimir Nikitin

Next step: Michael Conlan during his victory over Vladimir Nikitin

�INPHO/Emily Harney

Next step: Michael Conlan during his victory over Vladimir Nikitin

The mantra of 'one fight at a time' could hardly be more applicable as Michael Conlan looks ahead to his return to the ring next month knowing a career-defining night in Belfast is on the horizon.

The unbeaten charismatic featherweight will face tough Colombian Belmar Preciado on March 17 at Madison Square Garden in what is essentially a world title eliminator.

Belfast man Conlan is once again the headline act in New York, where his popularity continues to grow just as his development as a professional has steadily moved to a point where he is knocking on the door of taking on one of the top guns and fulfilling his dream.

In December at the Garden, Conlan put to bed his rivalry with Vladimir Nikitin with a comprehensive beating handed out to the Russian. As the Belfast man headed home, promotional company Top Rank and brother Jamie, who looks after his affairs, were already making plans for St Patrick's night - and beyond.

Originally, the 28-year-old was to have faced Japan's former world title challenger Hiroshige Osawa - ranked one by the World Boxing Association - but he withdrew, and now he will meet Colombian Preciado.

"It does feel that this is going to be a huge year for me but I won't let the hype and excitement take away from what I need to do so it can be a special 12 months," said Conlan.

"I feel that over the past couple of camps I have become more and more professional and I even proved it to myself over Christmas. I only had one night out with my mates and my brother Jamie on December 21 and that was it.

"It was meant to be the 12 pubs of Christmas and I couldn't even manage that, but the craic was good. Then I enjoyed Christmas with the family and got back to training on December 27, having boxed on December 14.

"I had already got prepared for a fight with Osawa but now I'll flick the switch and get my mind set on this guy, who's a dangerous puncher.

"I know how big a night this is going to be in my career, there's no getting away from that and I will make sure that just like the last time every box is ticked."

Treated as "one of the MSG family" every time he boxes in the famous arena, Conlan is relishing another atmospheric night in the Garden.

Indeed, he admits that if brother Jamie and promoter Bob Arum had offered him the chance of a world title shot next month he would have grabbed it.

"I have to give my brother Jamie a lot of credit for the work he has put in and although I was up for a world title fight in the Garden he just told me to rein it in a bit and bide my time and I suppose he's right," added Conlan.

"Last week I watched the guy I beat in the world bantamweight final, Murodjon Akhmadaliev, win the IBF and WBA super-bantamweight titles in only his eighth fight and I just felt, 'Yeah, I'm at that level too as a professional'.

"I'm very excited about going back to the Garden. It's where I started my career and it's always special on St Patrick's night.

"It could be the start of a great year for me but there's a lot of hard work to be done in the gym because I know how dangerous this guy can be."

For his victory over Nikitin, Conlan sparred with former world champion Kiko Martinez and has suggested he may well work with the Spaniard again at his base in London with coach Adam Booth.

Belfast Telegraph