Michael Conlan avenges Olympic heartbreak, defeats Vladimir Nikitin in grudge match
NEW YORK — Revenge was in the air before the first bell rang. Michael Conlan, the fan favorite from Belfast, walked to the ring to an a capella rendition of the Irish ballad “Grace,” before the tune switched to “The Payback” by James Brown.
Emotions were checked at ringside however, as Conlan boxed a disciplined fight to outpoint Vladimir Nikitin Saturday at Madison Square Garden, avenging his controversial defeat to the Russian brawler from the 2016 Olympics.
That night in Rio de Janeiro, Conlan became an international sensation when he flipped the double birds at the judges in a show of frustration. This time he’d raise both hands, winning the non-title featherweight bout by scores of 98-92, 99-91 and 100-90.
“I needed to right this wrong. Full credit to Nikitin, who fought his heart out,” said Conlan (13-0, 7 knockouts). “There’s no bad blood. There was never was. Now, we can put this chapter of my career behind me.”
“I needed to right this wrong. Full credit to Nikitin, who fought his heart out. There’s no bad blood. There was never was. Now, we can put this chapter of my career behind me.”
Conlan controlled the fight early on with his jab and movement, taking the drama out of the bout as Nikitin (3-1) struggled to keep up.
The 28-year-old Conlan became more stationary in the fifth, standing at range to target Nikitin’s body in the fifth. Nikitin took the invitation to land shots of his own upstairs. Nikitin, whose three prior pro fights had gone six rounds each, was entering unknown territory in the second half of the bout.
By round eight, Conlan’s respect for Nikitin’s power had disappeared as he stood and traded with Nikitin, taking a few shots but landing flush right hands that had Nikitin stunned by the end of the round. The following round, Conlan switched to southpaw and boxed a similar strategy on the other side, getting off to the outside and coming down with the left hand.
Conlan began to bleed in the ninth from above his right eye, but Conlan had a strong message to close the round with a right hook the body which took the wind out of Nikitin momentarily.
“Who do I want? I want a Christmas dinner with ham and all the trimmings,” said Conlan. “I want to enjoy this.”
The fight opened the ESPN-televised portion of the card, which is headlined by the WBO welterweight title fight between Terence Crawford and Egidijus Kavaliauskas.