Conlan takes on the controversial Russian in a pro repeat of their infamous Rio Olympic clash, taking centre stage at the Féile an Phobail in Belfast on Saturday August 3rd.
Since that awful afternoon in Brazil almost three years ago, the pair have trod divergent paths. Nikitin would be forced to withdraw from his Olympic semi with Shakur Stevenson due to pre-existing cuts sliced open by Conlan while the Irishman would sign a million-dollar deal with Top Rank that September.
Nikitin [3(0)-0] would join Conlan on the books of Top Rank last year but there is little doubt in who Bob Arum is fully behind, with the Komi man quite obviously being signed purely to help further the career of Conlan.
‘Toxic’ Nikitin has been rather underwhelming as a pro thus far, registering three wins – and visibly struggling in his second and third pro bouts.
Conlan, meanwhile, has been climbing the ladder slowly but steadily, is now #5 with the WBO at featherweight, and has notched a number of decent wins by comparison.
The West Belfast starlet holds triumphs over Italian champion Nicola Cipoletta, Spanish champion Ibon Larrinaga, English and Commonwealth champion Jason Cunningham, world title challenger Adeilson Dos Santos, and most recently dominated Ruben Garcia Hernandez – an opponent that gave Nonito Donaire plenty of problems.
Their clash this August initially was not wanted as a headline fight by the powers-that-be at ESPN but they would eventually relent once coming to understand the history of the rivalry.
Conlan, a student of the game and always brutally honest, can acknowledge the ‘problems’ of the Féile headlinerand that it will do little for his progression towards world titles.
However, not only does the 27-year-old feel that is a fight which must happen for personal reasons, he believes that it will be an exciting clash.
Giving a reasoned rationale, Conlan said “listen, career-wise, it probably would have been smarter for me to go with someone else.”
“But for personal reasons, it overrode everything else for me, I need to get this one out of the way.”
“Maybe I am too far ahead of him, I’ve had eleven fights, he’s had three, but it’s the storyline and it sells.”
“People talk about the fight not being big enough for the magnitude of the event but it’s the storyline behind it. Storylines sell and this sells to the casual fans not just boxing fans – and maybe it doesn’t sell to some boxing fans.”
“The personal feelings behind this and the grudge behind it, the general public who watch all want to see it. The only other fight that would sell, other than this, is a world title fight.”
Like most, Conlan has been unimpressed by Nikitin in the paid ranks but, having shared the ring with him twice as an amateur, the Ulsterman knows what his opponent has in the locker and is expecting a genuine challenge on August 3rd.
“He’s a live opponent,” Conlan noted.
“In terms of a quality opponent, he’d be up there with a lot of people. He is still a quality opponent.”
“There’s a lot he hasn’t shown. I don’t he’s been the same guy since I beat him… well, since he got the decision, I don’t think he’s been the same dude. His performances haven’t been the same.”
“He’s not coming for no paycheque. He believes he won in Rio 2016. He’s coming here with intent.”