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Russian coach apologises as Michael Conlan deserved more

 Conlan gestures to the judges after the yesterday's bout in Rio
Neil Loughran in Rio

ROY Jones jnr and Floyd Mayweather jnr. Decent company to be mentioned alongside, but Michael Conlan must wish that wasn’t the case after he joined the two boxing greats on an ever-expanding list of fighters cruelly wronged at the Olympic Games.

Mayweather jnr was inside the Riocentro Pavilion yesterday, his image flashing up on the big screen just minutes before Conlan made his way to the ring to take on Vladimir Nikitin.

When the Russian was awarded a unanimous decision – despite most inside Riocentro believing Conlan had won convincingly – it must have brought back some bad memories of the former pound-for-pound king’s own Olympic nightmare in Atlanta 20 years ago.

Like Jones jnr in 1988, Mayweather jnr could only shake his head in disbelief when Serafim Todorov’s hand was raised after a featherweight semi-final the American dominated from start to finish.

Conlan now knows that feeling too after his gold medal ambitions cruelly halted in the last eight. The 24-year-old immediately ripped off his vest following what is almost certain to be his final fight as an amateur.

My view from ringside was that Conlan had edged rounds one and three, while taking the second comprehensively.

The reigning bantamweight world champion boxed beautifully at times in the opening round and, despite being on the receiving end of a couple of big shots, looked to have done more than enough.

The judges thought otherwise, with all three scoring it 10-9 for Nikitin.

 Conlan lost two of the three rounds despite being the more clinical boxer

Irish coach Zaur Antia admitted he was aware of the scoring, and changes were made. Conlan dominated the second, boxing well on the back foot and up close, though again the Russian landed some heavy, eye-catching shots. The judges all saw it for Conlan.

Both men tired in the third and final round, often standing toe-to-toe and slugging it out. Conlan finished the round strongly, getting on his bike and landing left hook-right cross combinations.

When the decision was announced, Nikitin’s yells of delight were just about audible above the din of boos and whistles that filled the auditorium. His coach later apologised for the decision.

Conlan circled the ring with his thumb pointed downwards. As he made his exit, a few choice words were fired in the direction of the judges sitting at ringside.

He didn’t miss and hit the wall either with his television interviews in the aftermath, and the Clonard fighter – accompanied by his father John – was still outraged by the time he appeared in front of the waiting press.

“I don’t know what else to say. I’m absolutely devastated.”

“Shame on them, shame on them,” added Conlan senior, before his son urged him to keep his cool.

As he left the media centre, Conlan launched a water bottle against the wall in frustration. The hurt, the pain was still so raw, this result will take a long time to come to terms with.

Standing in the midday sunshine out the front of the Riocentro Pavilion, Conlan’s Irish team-mates Brendan Irvine, Steven Donnelly and Joe Ward stood together in stunned silence.

“Just… unbelievable,” all Donnelly could muster.

 Nikitin landed a number of big blows in the final round

And yet Conlan wasn’t the only man to suffer at the hands of the judges yesterday, as little over half an hour after his fight, American light-welter Gary Russell jnr entered the media centre in tears having also been on the wrong side of the judges’ cards.

“Well, what did you think of that?” said USA head coach Billy Walsh with a rueful smile.

“Something has to be done.”

It has been a difficult fortnight for Ireland, a living nightmare that started when news broke of Michael O’Reilly’s failed drugs test 13 days ago, with Conlan’s defeat yesterday the final, dizzying blow.

It has also been a difficult fortnight for boxing. After what happened yesterday, and in the heavyweight final on Monday night when Kazakh Vassilly Levit was on the receiving end of a terrible decision against another Russian – Evgeny Tischenko - boxing’s name is once again being dragged through the mud. No matter what way you look at it, the sport deserves better. And Michael Conlan deserved better.

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