Boxing

Victory against Vladimir Nikitin tear-up at Madison Square Garden will pave way for Michael Conlan's 20/20 vision

Michael Conlan will face Vladimir Nikitin at Madison Square Garden on December 14. Picture Mark Marlow.
Andy Watters

FORMER world champions Kiko Martinez and Isaac Dogboe both turned down the chance to face him so Michael Conlan will lock horns again with Vladimir Nikitin at Madison Square Garden, New York on December 14.

The Irish News understands that Martinez was offered the fight at Falls Park in August when Nikitin pulled out with injury and former super-bantamweight world champion Dogboe turned down the opportunity to face Conlan on December 14 because he preferred a shot at Carl Frampton on November 30.

Conlan admits he thought the “ship had sailed” when Nikitin pulled out of their Falls Park showdown.

You can tell he is itching for the chance to test himself at a higher level but beating the Russian in a fight that looks tailor-made for the American TV market will set him up for a box office 2020.

“From what I've heard it seems like that's the fight which will be done now and, if I'm honest, I'm not too bothered,” said Conlan.

“It's a fight I'm happy to take, it's the next one on the list and if it's Nikitin, it's Nikitin.

“I want people to know that I accepted Isaac Dogboe and Genesis Servania. Dogboe decided to take the Frampton fight instead and then ESPN said they would prefer Nikitin over Servania – it makes sense.”

Nikitin holds two wins over Conlan – both at amateur level with the best known the infamous decision the Russian was awarded at the Rio Olympic Games.

“The fight has the storyline and there was a good build-up to it the last time,” he said.

“People still want to see it, they want to watch it. I had put it to bed once he pulled out of coming to Belfast. I wasn't bothered about fighting him again, it was done and I felt like that ship had sailed.

“But the opportunity has come for it to happen again and I'm going to take it.”

Martinez lost his IBF featherweight title to Frampton while Dogboe was the WBO super-bantamweight king until he lost to Emanuel Navarrete in December. Conlan would have relished the chance to face the former champions but he is confident he “would be ready for any of them”.

“You can't think too much about it,” he said.

“Maybe people are avoiding fighting me because maybe I'm not a comfortable style for them to face or maybe I'm not a big enough name for them? Maybe I'm not a big enough reward and too big of a risk?

“It is what it is, I know if I was to fight either of those guys they would be bringing 100 per cent and they would be tough fights but I would be ready for any of them.”

After an extended break following his knock-out win over Diego Ruiz at the Fall's Park Feile an Phobail spectacular in August, Conlan returns to his fight camp base London next Monday and will start training in Adam Booth's gym next Tuesday.

“It has been nice to be home, it's been nice to be around the kids for an extra period of time because I'm usually away by now,” said Conlan.

“We have been able to go on holiday with them so it has been really good. Of my sporting career that has been the highlight so far and it will take some beating.

“I've had some fantastic evenings and atmospheres already but that was extra, extra special. Being in the Falls Park a few yards from my ma's house, where I grew up…

“You could feel the tension and the atmosphere watching it back on TV, the whole event was so successful, there was no trouble or anything and everybody seemed to have a fantastic time so getting the stoppage at the end sealed a great evening.

“I was really happy, really proud and I know that when I look back on my career, when boxing is finished, that will be one of the highlights if not the highlight.

“There are plenty of big nights still to go but winning a world title could be hard even to match that. It was special and it was shown all over the world.”

BARRY McGuigan hailed Josh Taylor as the world's best light-welterweight ahead of the Scot's unification battle with unbeaten Regis Prograis at the O2 Arena on October 26.

Much to the displeasure of heavyweight Derick Chisora who launched a foul-mouthed tirade towards promoters Eddie Hearn and Kalle Sauerland at yesterday's press conference, Taylor versus Prograis is the headline act on a stacked Matchroom show.

“These are the two best super-lightweight fighters in the world,” said McGuigan, whose legal battle with Carl Frampton will now take place on January 20 next year. Frampton is suing McGuigan, his wife Sandra and Cyclone Promotions (UK) Ltd, for alleged earnings in excess of £4m.

“With the greatest of respect to Ramirez and Hooker, these two guys are the best in the 140lb division. Prograis is a tremendous puncher, he's very exciting, aggressive and he can box on the back foot too. Josh Taylor has improved rapidly since he turned pro.

“We've moved him on very aggressive and he is, I think, the best 140lb fighter in the world.”

Shane McGuigan-trained Taylor puts the IBF title he won in May on the line while Prograis (24-0), from New Orleans, brought puts up the WBC diamond and WBA super belts.

“I'm pure excited for it, I can't wait,” said Taylor (15-0).

“I'm fully confident. I think I'm bigger than him, stronger than him, I'm quicker than him and I punch just as hard as him so I think I can beat him in every department.

“If he comes and tries to walk me down I believe I'll walk him into a shot and get him out of there. If not I can out-box him for a full 12 rounds. I'm fully confident that I can win this fight either way.”

Prograis countered: “They all say that.

“Everybody I've fought, it was supposed to be 50-50, it was supposed to be an even fight and I dominated, I've blown everybody out (of the water).

“I don't want to repeat the same thing he said but I cannot see how he can beat me. I just can't.”

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