The Belfast featherweight will headline a big outdoor fight night at the Falls Park later this summer as part of the Féile an Phobail and it has today been confirmed, as expected, that he will face Vladimir Nikitin [3(0)-0].
Conlan’s place in the community festival was announced last week with August 3rd and Nikitin being the suggested date and opponent and both were confirmed this afternoon at a public press conference at the Balmoral Hotel in West Belfast.
Top Rank boss Bob Arum and CEO Brad Jacobs were both in town today at the official unveiling of the show which will be shown on the ESPN+ app in America.
Viewing details for Ireland and the UK for the card which is titled ‘Redemption‘ will be confirmed shortly.
A fight which needs little ‘building’, Nikitin was the man that profited from the infamous decision against Conlan at the Rio Olympics in 2016.
Having been defeated by the same opponent at the 2013 Worlds, Conlan had gone on a sensational run to become the number one 56kg amateur on the planet, picking up Commonwealth, European, and World gold.
Heading to Brazil as the favourite to top the podium, it all came apart at the quarter-final stage versus ‘Toxic’ Nikitin.
Having seemingly dominated the first round, Conlan found himself down on all cards. Switching tactics, the Ulsterman would implement a beatdown on Nikitin, opening and worsening wounds suffered in the Komi fighter’s previous win over Thai Chatchai Butdee – itself a controversial verdict. This levelled the scores, but a somewhat closer third was given to Nikitin and Conlan was eliminated.
What transpired afterwards has become iconic, with Conlan taking centre-ring, stripping his singlet off and offering a double middle-finger salute to the ringside judges. Following an emotional and profanity-laden post-fight interview with RTÉ, where he lambasted AIBA, Arum was alerted and just a few weeks later a million-dollar Top Rank deal was signed.
Following Rio, Nikitin would initially stay amateur – moving to lightweight with little success and even losing to Galway’s Pat Mongan. Last year he made the switch, being snapped up by Top Rank and becoming a fixture on the U.S. West Coast, sparring with the likes of Leo Santa Cruz.
Arum would make no illusions when signing Nikitin, admitting that the Russian was brought on board solely for Conlan’s benefit – although his alignment with top Lithuanian manager Egis Klimas ensured that there was a major player in his corner.
Debuting last July, Nikitin has so far failed to set the pro game alight with three somewhat scrappy six-round points win – most recently a majority decision triumph on Conlan’s annual St Patrick’s Day card at The Theater at Madision Square Garden.
With this in mind, there was talk that ESPN were not keen on the 29-year-old pro novice as a headline opponent but, considering the narrative involved, common sense prevailed.
It’s a personal pit-stop for Conlan who has been closing in on world level in recent times.
The 27-year-old won the WBO Inter-Continental belt in December following an entertaining scrap with Jason Cunningham before building on this with a dominant win over Ruben Garcia Hernandez on the aforementioned St Patrick’s Day card – and he would call out Nikitin afterwards.
Now ranked #7 with the body whose current champion is former gym-mate Óscar Valdez, a move down to super bantamweight for a clash with Emanuel Navarrete has been suggested and looks to be where Conlan’s future lays.
But first, Nikitin.
Hello again pic.twitter.com/sNMR8ehhrx
— Joe O'Neill (@J0E_90) May 14, 2019