Jamie Conlan claims Vladimir Nikitin was easy to pick as the ideal outdoor homecoming arena dance partner for Michael Conlan – but he has revealed that persuading the Russian to come to Belfast proved difficult.
Indeed, the former world title challenger regales a negotiation process that was as back-and-forth and up-and-down as his classic bouts with Junior Granados, Anthony Nelson, and Yader Cardoza.
It’s long since been mooted that the World amateur gold medal winner would fight on his door step during the Summer festival period and the Féile and, for most, an emotionally charged contest with Nikitin would provide the perfect fit.
However, rumour suggested ESPN were not to keen on putting a fighter with just three pro wins to his name in a main event fight, but when speaking to the Belfast fighter’s brother, manager and former world title challenger Jamie Conlan it seems there were more troubles making and announcing the fight than believed.
Once Top Rank, Conlan and the Féile organisers were all on the same page it all became about the Rio revenge narrative and securing Nikitin for the away corner.
“It’s been since last August back-and-forth over various different things. Myself and Kevin Gamble sat down in a wee office on the Springfield road and laid out the possibilities of getting this done. From then it’s been back and fort with the Feile, with Top Rank and MTK. Then the decision was it had to be Nikitin and it was a long process with Egis [Klimas, manager] and Team Nikitin,” explained the elder Conlan.
Persuading the Russian and his team to come to Belfast became an issue. It seems the fighter, who is predicting knockout success, didn’t have any problem with facing his former Olympic foe for a third time and the first time in the pros, rather he didn’t want the bout to play out in Belfast in front of up to 10,000 Irish fans baying for his blood.
“His big problem was fighting in Belfast he didn’t want to fight in Belfast,” Conlan continued.
“He sees it in Madision Square Garden. He see’s it in New York. He knows in Belfast it’s going to be 10 times bigger. When I told him about the seats, what it’s going to be, an outdoor arena and that, he shied off.”
“At one stage it was definitely off. It was before St Paddy’s Day we sat down and I said don’t get your hopes up on Nikitin. They are not playing ball no more and are asking for way too much money and I don’t think Top Rank are going to pay it.”
Another stumbling block was the pair’s proposed June 8th bouts on the undercard of Óscar Valdez’s next defence is Tucson. Team Conlan were not happy for the Russian to fight that close to an early August fight night due to the fact Nikitin and cuts are friends.
“Then we went to New York and obviously Nikitin was on the card and we sat down with the lads, Tod Duboef and Brad Jacobs and we got the green light. Mick and Nikitin were both out on June 8th and that became a stumbling block.
“We were happy to step aside but Nikitin wasn’t. We all know Nikitin is susceptible to cuts so we had to go back to Top Rank to get him off the card. When that was done everything was good, but I was waiting for something else. We have been waiting for the last two weeks to get it out and get to work on the promotion of it and the different logistics.”
It’s a strange experience for a fighter who has yet to officially announce retirement but has confirmed he won’t fight on the Féile card.
Conlan has gone from preparing for fight dates in the gym to trying to arrange them around the meeting table.
It’s all new, but something the former Commonwealth super flyweight champion is enjoying.
“It’s completely new from last August. It’s learning on the job and it’s something I have completely loved and reveled in,” he explains before revealing a relief he has finally got the fight over the line for his brother.
“Today it was big because finally we get to announce it and finally we get to see both on a poster. Getting them together at a press conference was difficult because of visa issues from Russia. I said I’d push the press conference back, but Nikitin didn’t want to come over. He said ‘iI’ll be there August 3’.”