St Patrick's Day Osawa rumble could set Michael Conlan up for Falls Park world title fight night

Michael Conlan out-classed Vladimir Nikitin at Madison Square Garden in December
Andy Watters

A ST Patrick’s Day rumble in New York with Japan’s WBA number one-ranked featherweight Hiroshige Osawa could provide the stepping stone to an unforgettable Michael Conlan world title fight night at Falls Park this summer.

The former world amateur king, who is now using his profile to champion suicide awareness and treatment issues, says he is ready for a step up in class after dismantling Olympic Games nemesis Vladimir Nikitin at Madison Square Garden, New York in December.

Osawa (36-5-4) would provide that. A dangerous puncher with a good chin, the 34-year-old has world title ambitions of his own and he has amassed a ton of experience over a 15-year pro career that includes a clash with former WBO champion Oscar Valdez in 2016.

Negotiations for the fight are understood to be an advanced stage and Conlan says he will leave nothing to chance in his preparations.

“I know he is very experienced, I know he is tough and, if it happens, Jamie (Conlan, his manager) has told me it’ll be the hardest fight of my career and I’ll have to be switched on,” he said.

“I might do it easy, it might be hard… You never know. I’ll just have to prepare right and put my full trust in Jamie. Whoever he says, I have to say ‘yes’ because I know he has my best interests at heart and he knows me best. Whatever he thinks, I’ll be happy.

“I’ve been calling for a step up in class for a while and I think it is coming at the right time. If I had have got this earlier it might have been a bit too soon but I think everything is moving in the right direction at the right speed.

“Osawa is definitely a different calibre of opponent compared to what I’ve faced so far and I’m ready for it. That’s what I’m in the game for, to have fights like this that can take me towards a world title, I’m not in it to be a guy beating other guys, I want to be a world champion and I want to have a great legacy when I leave the sport so these are all the steps I need to take to get there.”

Away from boxing, socially aware Conlan is the driving force behind a high-profile campaign which is calling on Stormont minister Robin Swann to double funding for mental health counselling and slash waiting lists.

Fellow boxers including Carl Frampton. Katie Taylor, Andy Lee and Paddy Barnes as well as GAA stars, Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland footballers, actors, members of the business and arts communities and high profile figures from many other walks of life have pledged their support for Conlan’s initiative.

“There has been so much support and good will and it has been fantastic,” he said.

“Things are starting to move now and the letter has gone to Minister Swann and it’ll be great if this actually does make a difference and I really hope it does.

“People want to eradicate suicide and mental health problems and that is something that can be done. We can stop this and the funding being raised can be the start of that process.

“Please God, what we are doing can make a difference.”

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