Michael Conlan and Shakur Stevenson sat a few feet apart Thursday on a makeshift stage inside Madison Square Garden.
Stevenson suspects that’s about as close as their promoter, Bob Arum, will allow Stevenson to get to Conlan. The unbeaten WBO featherweight champion told Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix during the most recent episode of Mannix’s podcast that Arum’s company, Top Rank Inc., has no intention of matching Conlan against him.
Northern Ireland’s Conlan (13-0, 7 KOs) is the number one contender for Stevenson’s WBO 126-pound championship, yet Stevenson still doesn’t consider Conlan a potential opponent.
“Michael Conlan, maybe he’s just gonna take a little longer to adjust to the pro game,” Stevenson told Mannix. “I don’t know. I don’t know what’s going on with Michael Conlan. But Top Rank is making sure they move him real slow and keeping him away from any danger, like a Shakur Stevenson.”
The 22-year-old Stevenson won a silver medal at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. At those same games, Conlan infamously stuck up his middle finger at the judges after a very controversial loss to Vladimir Nikitin in the bantamweight quarterfinals.
Conlan avenged that Olympic loss in his last fight, when he beat Russia’s Nikitin by unanimous decision in a 10-rounder December 14 at Madison Square Garden in New York.
Stevenson (13-0, 7 KOs) and Conlan were supposed to headline separate shows Saturday night and Tuesday night, respectively, at The Garden’s Hulu Theater. Both cards were postponed Thursday night due to coronavirus concerns.
Stevenson was scheduled to make his first title defense against Colombia’s Miguel Marriaga (29-3, 25 KOs) in a main event ESPN was set to televise Saturday night. Conlan was slated to meet Colombia’s Belmar Preciado (20-2-1, 13 KOs) in a 10-round main event ESPN+ was supposed to stream Tuesday night.
The left-handed Stevenson wants a featherweight title unification against England’s Josh Warrington (30-0, 7 KOs), who owns the IBF belt. If Stevenson can’t land that fight with Warrington, he plans to give up the WBO featherweight title he won four months ago to fight at the 130-pound limit.
If Stevenson vacates that title, Conlan could fight the next available contender for an unclaimed championship. Ruben Villa (18-0, 5 KOs), of Salinas, California, is the WBO’s number two featherweight contender.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.