Belfast featherweight Conlan [6(5)-0] signed a seven-figure deal with the U.S. promotional giant in the aftermath of his controversial elimination from the Rio Games at the gloves on Vladimir Nikitin.
The highly criticised and scarcely believable loss meant Conlan missed out on a guaranteed bronze medal and a semi-final with U.S. teen sensation – who ended up getting a bye to the final, which he lost, as Nikitin had been lacerated so badly by Conlan and was forced to pull out.
Conlan was the story of the Games and was snapped up by Bob Arum before being joined in the outfit a few months later by the Andre Ward-managed Stevenson. Now, last month, Nikitin has also linked up with Top Rank.
Fights for Conlan with both have been mooted – with Arum suggesting Conlan v Stevenson has the potential to be a 2022 version of Hagler-Hearns while it seems Nikitin has been signed solely for the purpose of being an opponent for the Irishman.
Considering Stevenson;s profile and talents, a bout with him would certainly be the more lucrative for Conlan – especially if built until both achieve what most believe they have the talent to in the sport.
However, for the Falls Road fighter, a rematch with the Russian is the fight he desires most.
The 26-year-old confirmed this to ESPN during fight week for his seventh professional bout this Saturday night at the Madison Square Garden Arena in New York
“Stevenson, it’s a natural fight, but the one I really want is Nikitin,” Conlan said before revealing he blanked a message from the Komi fighter who was beaten by Pat Mongan in Dublin last year.
“Nikitin messaged me on Instagram the other day, sent me a picture of the article saying he has signed with Top Rank and saying something in Russian like ‘I am your friend’.”
“I didn’t reply to it, I have no ill feeling towards him personally, it wasn’t his fault and he didn’t profit from it and he’s probably got more stick than he should have.”
“He’s the fella I want and it’s very marketable. Stevenson has good boxing skills and is a smart fighter, but he doesn’t have the power to trouble me.”
Conlan, who fights Spaniard Ibon Larrinaga on the Linares-Lomachenko undercard before trading leather on an eagerly anticipated June 30th homecoming card, feels the Russian would be perfect for his annual St Patrick’s Day fight night in New York or his once a year trip home next year.
“I hope to have Russian on St Patrick’s Day next year either in the big room in the Garden or Belfast,” noted the fighter who is set to face former super bantamweight title challenger Adeilson dos Santos next month.
While Top Rank have signed ‘Toxic’ Nikitin with a view to building him as an opponent for Conlan, the Russian has also linked up with esteemed Russian manager Egis Klimas – the 2016 Manager of the Year and the man behind the likes of Vasyl Lomachenko and Oleksandr Usyk.
The 28-year-old, who has been spending time in Los Angeles sparring WBA featherweight champ Leo Santa Cruz, will no doubt be given the opportunities and platform to develop properly and ensure that a Conlan fight would stop short of pantomime.
A debut date for Nikitin has yet to been confirmed. There had been suggestions and calls for him to debut on the Conlan Homecoming bill, building the rematch further, but this would seem unlikely.