Michael Conlan: ‘I can lose one arm and still beat Diego Ruiz’
As far as homecoming fights go, Irish superstar and undefeated featherweight Michael Conlan may have the granddaddy of them all when he steps into the ring Saturday night, at Falls Park, in his native Belfast, Ireland, to take on Diego Ruiz as part of the city’s annual Feile an Phobail summer festival. A reported 10,000 tickets have been sold for the two-time Olympian’s return home.
Conlan (11-0, 6 knockouts) was originally slated to face Vladimir Nikitin, the man who won a highly controversial decision over Conlan at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio De Janeiro, causing Conlan to famously lash out the judges and the entire Olympic program, citing widespread corruption in the scoring model. Since that day and through the beginning of his professional journey, Conlan has had painted a target on Nikitin and hoped to lure the Russian fighter back into the ring for what Conlan believes to be well-deserved punishment. The stage was set to give Conlan the opportunity to extract revenge in front of a raucous crowd who have supported Conlan since his early amateur days.
In the beginning of July with the bout just a month away, Nikitin was forced to withdraw from the bout claiming an injury, forcing Conlan and his team to tap Ruiz (21-2, 10 KOs) as a replacement.
“The show goes on,” Conlan told The Ring, waving off any hint of frustration. “I had such a great camp that I told my team to find the next highest rated guy. It doesn’t matter who it is. The way I feel now, I don’t think anyone can beat me on Saturday.”
Conlan has not only moved on from the notion of fighting Nikitin on this show but considers that he may never get a chance to beat on his old foe in the professional ranks and that suits him just fine.
“I think it definitely has hindered my career a bit waiting for him,” Conlan explains. “Vladimir hasn’t done anything as a pro while I continue to be ranked higher and higher with each fight. Waiting for him to catch up is pointless and now we are fighting a guy who is rated much higher and is a bigger threat to me.”
While Conlan puts the thought of fighting Nikitin behind him, he is now focused on challenging for a world title within 12 months time and has IBF titlist Josh Warrington squarely in his crosshairs.
“My style is all wrong for Warrington,” Conlan said. “My level of opposition when I was amateur was much better than his. I think I can beat him right now if he was my opponent on Saturday but within the next year I will fight him and beat him. My dream would be to do it at Madison Square Garden.”
The 27-year-old Conlan expects this week to be full of media obligations in Belfast but he believes he has had as just as much training in that department as he has fighting in the ring.
“I think New York has helped me understand how to balance these important out-of-the-ring obligations,” Conlan said. “We did more interviews for my pro debut than some world champions do. It was great learning for me.”
One of the things Conlan is looking forward to in Belfast is spending time with his family, something he can seldom do when he trains in London and fights in the United States.
“I miss my family so much but boxing is not forever and I have to do the most I can while I have the ability,” Conlan explains. I thought about training in Belfast but I am way too comfortable at home and my kids make me happy. Training in London is great because I can run home anytime and, at the same time, it gives me the chance to hone my skills and correct my mistakes.”
Conlan was impressed with fellow Olympian and Top Rank stablemate Shakur Stevenson’s homecoming fight in Newark, New Jersey, a few weeks ago and will try to get his opponent out of there in even more dramatic fashion.
“My goal is to perform for the people of Ireland and give them a show,” Conlan said. “Here in Belfast, the people have spent their hard-earned money so they deserve to see the best Michael Conlan.”
Conlan believes this camp was the best of his young professional career and is excited to see the results all the hard work will produce.
“I think I moved up levels in this camp,” Conlan states. “We worked on my movement, defense and how to manage my aggressiveness. Anything can happen to me and I will still come out victorious. I can lose one arm and still win. No one can beat me now.”
While Conlan fancies a New York City showdown with Warrington, if he allows himself to think longer term, he envisions a unification match – provided they each have championship belts – with Stevenson at Madison Square Garden.
“There would be a lot of money and interest in that fight,” Conlan said excitedly. “I have more fans in New York than Shakur and New York is my city.
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