Michael Conlan had his dream of being an Olympic boxing champion ripped away in 2016. However, his shot at Vladimir Nikitin is inspired by the future.
The future is bright for undefeated featherweight boxer Michael Conlan (12-0, 7 KOs). He’s rated by Boxrec.com as the 23rd-best featherweight in the world, and he’s only 28 years old. Conlan is a former Olympic bronze medalist and world amateur champion. While his future is promising, parts of Conlan’s past are clouded by what could have been.
Conlan won the bronze medal at the 2012 Olympics. In the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, Conlan dreamed of winning a gold medal. It’s something he fantasized about as a child, but he lost a highly controversial decision to Russia’s Vladimir Nikitin in the quarter-finals. In his eyes, his dream was taken by the corruption present in amateur boxing.
“My dream was stole [sic] of being an Olympic champion, which was my dream since I was a kid,” Conlan told FanSided.
At the time, Conlan was furious with the decision. He gave the judges of the bout the finger and expressed his anger in a post-fight interview with RTÉ, where he referred to the judges as “cheating bastards.”
His dream quickly turned into a nightmare, and things got worse. Conlan was issued “severe reprimands” and sanctions by the IOC for betting on boxing bouts in Rio. He turned professional after the Olympics, so the IOC’s ruling didn’t impact Conlan other than further taint his Olympic experience.
Rio didn’t go as planned, but that was three years ago. Conlan has steadily climbed the divisional ranks, but his past at Rio is the central backstory of his Dec. 14 bout at Madison Square Garden against Nikitin (3-0).
On paper, this matchup doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Conlan has three years of professional experience, and Nikitin only has three bouts under his belt. Nikitin is rated as the 523rd-best featherweight by Boxrec.com. It’s the Conlan vs. Nikitin 2016 Olympic drama that’s selling this fight.
“It’s high-risk, low-reward for me and high-risk, high-reward for him,” admitted Conlan.
It’s the kind of redemption backstory that fans and the media love. It’s a situation where there’s an old score to settle. People see this as Conan’s opportunity to right a wrong. Redemption does factor into the equation for Conlan, but it’s a small element. Nikitin is more representative of Conlan’s future than his past.
“I’ve made peace with everything that happened,” said Conlan. “I made peace with it a long time ago. Obviously, having the chance to go out and have a bit of redemption is fantastic. In terms with what happened in Rio with the results itself, never becoming an Olympic champion, I’ve made peace with it.”
Conlan is driven to pummel Nikitin in the ring, but the lingering memories of Rio aren’t at the forefront of Conlan’s motivation. He wants to be a world champion, and Nikitin is in his way.
“He’s just another guy to me if I’m honest,” revealed Conlan. “Obviously you start to think about it and delve into it, it does give you motivation. It helped me throughout the training camp. It helped get me that motivation for the preparation for this fight. People say, ‘does that piss you off, or does that get on your nerves what happened?’ No, because I’m very grateful that it happened because it left me in this position.”
Grateful — that’s the word Conlan uses to describe his Rio experience today. That might surprise people, but it shouldn’t. Conlan is young, healthy, prosperous, and has a beautiful family.
“My kids are four and one,” said Conlan. “They’re a great age and so put together, which is perfect.
“For me, everything I do is for my kids. That’s what I’m in this sport for, to make a life after boxing for my family much better than what it was for me growing up. I think I can give my daughter and my son opportunities I never had.”
Becoming a parent has a way of putting life’s regrets and disappoints into perspective. Conlan is thankful for what he has and isn’t worried about what he didn’t get the chance to achieve in 2016.
Nikitin is just “another guy” who’s trying to take what Conlan has. He’s an adversary, and Conlan is prepared to deal with him the same way he has dealt with all of his previous opponents. The difference is that he has a history with Nikitin. Beyond the spoiled memories of Rio, Conlan retains mental notes of what it was like to fight Nikitin.
“I know that when we did fight previously, I know the man better than most fighters that have ever fought him,” said Conlan. “I’ve heard the noise he makes when he’s hurt. I’ve heard the grunt he makes when he’s angry. I know him very well, and I know I can hurt him. I know my job is going to be to blister his head off and cut him to shreds, but I have to focus on what I have to do in the ring.”
Conlan was supposed to fight Nikitin in August, but Nikitin had to pull out due to a bicep injury. When FanSided talked to Conlan after his previous bout, he had this to say about Nikitin: “Vladimir Nikitin, I believe if he had come out on Saturday night, he wouldn’t have seen past the third round.”
It will be interesting to see if Conlan attempts to validate his previous prediction. If he does, it won’t be due to his angst stemming from days gone by. Conlan is inspired by what’s to come.
“You got to look to the future and live in the present,” said Conlan. “I’m living in the present. I’m happy where I’m at. I’m very grateful for everything that has happened in my life. I’m ready to go ahead and put on a good performance.”
Conlan vs. Nikitin goes down on Saturday, Dec. 14. Undercard bouts begin at 5:54 p.m. ET on ESPN+. The main event between Terence Crawford and Egidijus Kavaliauskas starts at