Conlan: USA star Stevenson is ‘just another opponent’

Michael Conlan is confident in his position as gold medal favourite ahead of the Rio Olympics this Summer.

The Belfast bantamweight enjoyed a stellar 2015 with Olympic qualification alongside European and World gold – and the 24 year old plans to top the podium again in Brazil.

The confident Clonard fighter is as short as 11/8 in some places to claim top prize in Rio – however, there is a groundswell of support building Stateside for New Jersey youngster Shakur Stevenson.

18 year old Stevenson has burst onto the scene recently after an outstanding underage career where he won World Junior gold in 2013 before claiming World Youth and Youth Olympic gold in 2014. The East Coast southpaw prodigy has stepped up to senior level seamlessly, and rubber-stamped his place in Rio on Thursday at the Americas Olympic Qualification tournament in Buenos Aries, Argentina.

The youngster’s performances in South America have been eye-catching to say the least:

Conlan however is unconcerned by the American’s growing reputation, and told irish-boxing.com that he sees Stevenson as “just another opponent.”

Nevertheless that is not to say that the Irishman has veered into the realm of overconfidence, and Conlan explained that “there is plenty of fighters who are threats, and they all are great fighters and I do rate them.”

“But I know what I have to do and what I can do, I know I will do everything I have to to get that gold”

In terms of Stevenson, some may feel that Billy Walsh’s adjacent position with the US Women’s boxing team will allow the former HPU coach to disclose inside knowledge on Ireland’s first ever AIBA World Champion. Whether or not this would be the case, Conlan is not worried by the proximity between a potential future opponent and his his former coach, and reasoned that “as fighters, we are always improving.”

“We have plenty of different game plans.”

“With Zaur and my father [John] in the corner there won’t be a problem.”

Conlan is currently deep in preparations for August’s Games, and by the time he steps into the ring in Rio it will be nearly 16 months since he qualified on that legendary night in Venezuela. The bantamweight however is savouring the massively long build up and mused that “I’m waiting for the games yes, but I have so much time for improving its amazing.”

“Each day I am trying to be better than I was the day before.”

“I can’t wait for the games but I’m enjoying everyday in the gym in the run up to them.”

Conlan now has 139 days left to enjoy and improve before boxing begins in Brazil, while his team mates will feature across a total of four qualifying tournaments before then, the first of which begins next month in Turkey.

Here, a nine-strong Irish team (to be confirmed in the near future) will aim to join Conlan, Paddy Barnes, Steven Donnelly, and Joe Ward on the plane to Rio.

Joe O'Neill

Reporting on Irish boxing the past five years. Work has appeared on irish-boxing.com, Boxing News, the42.ie, and local and national media. Provide live ringside updates, occasional interviews, and special features on the future of Irish boxing. email: joneill6@tcd.ie