By Tris Dixon
IRISH star Michael Conlan maintains that he is on a collision course with the Russian who denied him Olympic glory in the Rio 2016 Games.
He hopes a fight with Vladimir Nikitin will come off sooner rather than later because he is finding it more of a challenge getting up for other contests.
He feels that if he can avenge Rio, he will be able to move on and fulfil his potential in the pros.
“At the minute, in my brain, it’s the only fight I can really get up for and get excited for,” he admitted. “I know the guys I’m fighting are hard tests and I’ve got to approach them like world title fights because a loss nowadays can be detrimental to your career. I’ve got to approach it like a world champion and win every time, but the fight that really excites me is the Russian.”
And he feels he is also in Nikitin’s sights.
“One hundred per cent I’m on his radar,” he said. “I know he signed with Top Rank to get the fight with me and Top Rank really went for him, too, to make that fight for me. They said that even before he turned pro so that’s the fight they want to make. And I know he wants it because his career is going to be defined by controversially beating me no matter what he does because it was that big and there was that much media around it. It’s going to be like a blemish on his career even though he won. He’s going to want to right that wrong.”
Conlan is busy in camp with new trainer Adam Booth. He sparred 13-0 Archie Sharp, who meets Leon Woodstock in Leicester on October 6, and is happy amongst new stablemates, including Ryan Burnett, Josh Kelly and Harlem Eubank.
He linked up with Booth to be closer to home after the birth of his second child.
Now 8-0 (5) he confessed that decorated amateurs are on a countdown to world titles that is far quicker than it used to be. The exceptional success of the likes of Guillermo Rigondeaux, Vasyl Lomachenko and Oleksandr Usyk means expectations of early championship gold and “to make waves” weigh heavily.
“I think so,” he said. “There’s a lot of pressure if you come in as a highly-regarded amateur and a prospect. I’d say you have to step up a lot quicker than normal prospects and I do feel that’s been the case maybe since 2012. It’s picked up big time, especially with the likes of Lomachenko. I definitely do.”
Yet he knows what he wants and is sure he knows how to get it. He is running his race.
“I don’t worry about anyone else, I’m on my own journey and that’s the way I’ve approached it since I turned pro,” he said. “Whatever anyone else is doing is none of my business.”
So what does he need to improve, to move from 8-0 contender to a fighter capable of fighting for and winning a world title?
“Just more ring time as a professional,” he continued. “Being in there and getting the experience of being in a bit of a dogfight at times, with the smaller gloves, you’re still getting used to getting hit with small gloves. I’ve been hit with amateur gloves all my life and it is different so you’ve got to be careful – and getting the experience of the 12-round distance.
“I’m where I want to be but I definitely feel I haven’t shown a quarter of where I could be yet. It’s just taking time, taking time to get used to the whole thing and it’s a different game for me. I was an amateur boxer for 18 years of my life. That’s a long time and that style is in me so it has taken time to try and adjust. And when I went to LA I did exactly the opposite and went toe-to-toe and I felt I was going down a path that would have led me to a short career with the way I was sparring and how my fighting style was becoming. I looked around at the coaches at who I thought could have brought me back to what I was good at, using my boxing skills, and it was Adam. And he was the only one I wanted to train with in the UK.”
He acknowledges, though, that others predict big things for him and so he knows there is also pressure to not slip up.
“I’m very impatient,” he said. “I’m an impatient person but I’ve got good people around me, Adam, my brother, Top Rank, and I know with those guys they’re going to bring me along at the right time, at the right speed for me and I do have complete trust in them. In the foreseeable future the dream fight is the Russian but I’m sure that’s only going to be a minor step in my career. That will be the first step up.”