The saga is over.
Mick Conlan has defeated Vladimir Nikitin to avenge his infamous Rio Olympic loss and enter the 2020s chasing world titles.
Three years on from their controversial meeting in the Olympic quarter-finals, Conlan put the issue to bed with a scorecards win over the Russian at the Madison Square Garden Arena in New York.
Opening the televised portion of the undercard of Terence Crawford’s WBO welterweight title defence versus Egidijus Kavaliauskas, Conlan came to the ring on ESPN immediately following the presentation of the Heisman Trophy for the best College [American] Footballer of the Year.
With a large cohort of casual boxing fans viewing, the narrative-friendly clash with Nikitin was always a perfect fit and Conlan ensured a storybook ending with a wide unanimous decision win.
With Nikitin having been signed to Top Rank last year, the initial plan was for the pair to meet at the Féile an Phobail in August only for the Russian to pull out with a bicep injury.
Conlan would subsequently stop the higher-ranked Diego Alberto Ruiz in Belfast and the chance of a Rio Rematch looked to have been passed by.
However, a slot was secured on tonight’s prestigious bill and, with a world title shot on the 2020 radar, the final chance of revenge was taken.
Coming to the ring to his usual ‘Grace’ mixed with James Brown’s ‘Payback’, Conlan cut a focused figure and, within seconds of the opening bell, chants of ‘Olé, Olé, Olé‘ were ringing around the Manhattan arena.
The first round itself was quite tame, with Conlan, fighting southpaw, probing from the outside while Nikitin looked to leap in.
The 29-year-old challenger upped the aggression in the second and did ship a big left hook in the corner at the midway point.
Nikitin had fought just thrice as a pro before tonight and had been thoroughly unimpressive throughout considering his considerable amateur pedigree. That said, the occasion here had most expecting the ‘best’ version of the Komi slugger and this, it would turn out, was definitely the case
An off-balance Nikitin did find himself on the canvas in the third but it was, perhaps harshly, ruled a push by the referee. His best round thus far, Conlan was beginning to show more range in his attack, mixing in some nice uppercuts and work to the body.
Conlan continued his good outside fighting in the fourth while Nikitin began to look somewhat wild – although this aggression was affording him pockets of success.
Switching orthodox in round five, there were flashes of a more toe-to-toe battle before Conlan quickly returned to piercing in shots from the outside.
Back southpaw as we entered the second half, the Falls Road fighter slashed in hooks from both sides in a quiet sixth, surely banking another round on the cards.
The seventh was a first for Nikitin who had never been scheduled beyond six and the Oxnard-based hardman remained competitive, even forcing Conlan to the ropes in the closing seconds to trade.
A low blow from Conlan in the eighth drew a brief pause but the scrappy action soon resumed and, for the first time, the pair went all-in. Nikitin initially landed some heavy-looking shots but, as the minute or so of trading wore on, it was Conlan who had his man hurt.
The breakthrough was not without consequence, with Conlan finding himself cut to the right of his eye and damage appearing below Nikitin’s left. While his face was blood-stained, the Irishman was in control in the ninth, picking off the brave Nikitin who continued to roll forward unperturbed.
Into the final round, Conlan stuck to the skills, pot-shotting the brave Niktin and even raising his arms as the round drew to a close.
When the final bell did ring, Conlan could be seen to be making sure that Nikitin knew that there was nothing personal between the pair.
Going to the cards after a closer than expected contest, Conlan was confirmed a winner by unanimous decision on slightly wide scorecards of 100-90, 99-91, and 98-92.
— Top Rank Boxing (@trboxing) December 15, 2019
The relieving win sees Conlan improve to 13(7)-0 while Nikitin drops to 3(0)-1(0).
28-year-old Conlan, who retained his WBO Inter-Continental in the process, is currently ranked WBO #1, WBA #3, IBF #9, and WBC #14 – with boosts in the next update expected.
A world title fight in 2020 is expected, perhaps at the Féile an Phobail in August following another St Patrick’s Day headline slot at the Theater at Madison Square Garden – although tonight all he will want to focus on is the closing of a chapter in his career.
There was no joy on the undercard for Cork’s Noely Murphy [14(2)-2(0)-1].
The Macroom light welter took on hot prospect Josue Vargas for the IBF North American title but, after a blood and guts ten rounds, was outpointed by the Puerto Rican.
The final scores on all three cards read 98-92 in favour of Vargas.