Michael Conlan determined to do a "demolition job" on Vladimir Nikitin
VLADIMIR Nikitin has shattered his dreams before, so Christmas and thoughts of the world title shot he wants in 2020 have been put on hold as “stone cold” Michael Conlan focusses all his attention on a third, defining, rumble with the dangerous Russian.
Conlan and his familiar adversary – the man who got an undeserved decision win against him at the quarter-final stage of the 2016 Olympic Games – meet at Madison Square Garden on December 14.
The west Belfast featherweight travels to New York this weekend having extended his unbeaten record to 12-0 this year and with the confidence of a training camp that included sparring sessions with former world champion Kiko Martinez and Mexican Jose Gonzalez.
“Monday was my last spar and what I wanted to do was throw tons and tons of punches to show that the output is there and that if my engine needs to be brought into this fight it’ll be there,” said Conlan.
“I did that, I had a fantastic spar and after the 10 rounds I felt like I could have done another 10, I felt fit and strong and really energised.
“I feel ready and calm and relaxed and I’m looking forward to being in New York and chilling during fight week and enjoying the whole experience of it all and taking it all in.”
Conlan finished 2019 with an emphatic win against Jason Cunningham in Manchester on December 22. He admits that he didn’t hold Cunningham in high regard and allowed his thoughts to drift towards home and spending Christmas with his family.
“I love Christmas, I always have,” he said.
“Christmas did come into my mind before the Cunningham fight to be honest but for the last three weeks it has been gone, it isn’t here until December 14th is done and then I can start to enjoy it.
“That’s the mindset I’m in, I’m fully focussed on the opponent and because I know him and because there’s history my preparation has had to be at a very high level. I know everything about him, I know what to expect and I know it can be a tough fight.
“Records don’t mean anything here, people saw how competitive the fight was the last time and the time before and this is the biggest fight of his life and it’s the same for me. There’s a lot riding on it and I’m not expecting to walk in and win it easy.
“This is something which is going to be special in my career and my lifetime and it’s something that I’m really, really excited about. It’s the first real test. It’s a real test and I have to go in and do the business.”
Conlan and Nikitin first traded leather at the European Championships in 2013. Nikitin won fair and square on that occasion but Conlan was the clear points winner in their rematch three years later at the Rio Olympics. Nikitin got the decision from the judges but he had sustained so much punishment in that contest that he had to withdraw from his semi-final against Shakur Stevenson with injury. Meanwhile, Conlan was so disgusted that he turned pro immediately after the Games.
“Nikitin has good punch output, he is an aggressive fighter so this is a good fight for me to have at this stage of my career,” said Conlan.
“It’s the biggest fight of my career so far and one that can set up a fantastic 2020 when I will become world champion.
“I’m not thinking of that though because my full focus is on December 14th. The only thing I’m thinking about is the demolition of Niktin and that’s what I have to do.
“I don’t try and create a dislike for any opponent but you do have a dislike for them because they are trying to beat you and take the bread off your table.
“Nikitin is different because of the past, the history between us. He has made little comments about me being bitter about what happened – which I’m not. But you do take them on board and think ‘Ok, I’m going to make you eat your words’. Things like that do come into your head but I’m going into the fight with no emotion. I’m going in to do a job and a demolition job at that. Stone cold.”
That is the mindset he needs. Everything else has to wait because although Nikitin has limped to an unconvincing 3-0 since turned pro in July 2018, as Conlan says, the Russian has “pedigree” and will be determined to prove his Rio win was no set-up.
“You don’t become a World silver medallist, Olympic bronze medallist, a European champion and the other things that he won as an amateur without being good,” said Conlan.
“This guy has got pedigree and he is a relentless, destructively strong guy who is going to keep going until the end. He is dangerous, he’s wild, he’s rugged and he’s reckless with his head… There’s an awful lot of things about him that are effective and I’m prepared for anything and whether I have to go and fight him or box him or whatever it is I have prepared strenuously throughout this whole camp.”