Belfast's Michael Conlan gets a little help from Kiko Martinez ahead of Nikitin clash
When Michael Conlan finally enjoys his moment of closure on a long running sore in the shape of Vladimir Nikitin this Saturday night in Madison Square Garden he will point to an unlikely source of help.
Former World super-bantamweight and European super-bantam and featherweight title holder Kiko Martinez has been part of the Belfast man's camp and Conlan says his contribution has been crucial in his development - not just for this bout but also the rest of his career.
Martinez, known to Irish boxing fans for his bouts with Carl Frampton and Bernard Dunne, has been pushing the double Olympian very hard along with Mexican Jose Santos Gonazlez at his camp in London ahead of another big night in his career.
Conlan suffered a dreadful decision in his bout with Nikitin (right) at the Rio Games in 2016, allowing the Russian to go on and take bronze while the Belfast man's furious reaction made headlines across the world. Now he seeks to take his revenge against Nikitin, who had to pull out of their proposed clash in August.
"I can't wait to go box again at Madison Square Garden and the shape I'm in I really feel I'm ready to put in a career-best performance. The sparring has been terrific with Kiko and Jose," said Conlan.
"I really appreciated the fact that Kiko was prepared to come over to London to work with me. The intensity of the sparring has really brought me on. I couldn't switch off for a moment because I knew he would be all over me.
"Being in with someone as knowledgeable as Kiko and with the power to hurt any featherweight was great. He's a real professional in everything he does and I have to say that I gained an awful lot of respect for him.
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"He boxes a bit like Nikitin and that has helped. We worked so well together he ended up thanking me when really I was the one should have been thanking him and he has told me that he is prepared to work with me any time and I'm sure I'll take him up on that."
While the challenge of facing Nikitin - and all the hyperbole that surrounds their clash - naturally has the Belfast man's warrior juices flowing, he insists that on Saturday night he will deliver a clinical performance to leave him looking at an exciting 2020.
Conlan has gradually been developing his style as a professional but believes this 14-week camp has developed him to such a degree that a world title fight is not too far away.
"Nikitin has beaten me twice so I have a point to prove but I'm not going to go in their and be silly, just charging at him. With the work that I've done, I will be going in there to be smart and do the business. I would love to stop him and that's the plan but the main thing is to be disciplined and box the way I want to," added Conlan, who is now ranked the No.1 contender for the WBO title and No.4 in the WBA ratings.
"I know there is talk of big fights next year but believe me I'm just totally focused on December 14 and doing the business there."