By Jon Uddin✏
A grudge match four years in the making will take place Saturday night when Ireland’s 🥉🇮🇪Michael Conlan (12-0-0, 7KO) takes on Russia’s 🥉🇷🇺Vladimir Nikitin (3-0-0, 0KO) in a ten round Featherweight bout in New York City at the iconic Madison Square Garden in New York City.
The history between these two actually goes back to the European Championships in 2013 where Nikitin defeated Conlan without dispute. Things get more interesting three years later, when they met once again in the bantamweight quarterfinals of the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio De Janeiro, this time around Conlan appeared to clearly dominate Nikitin, but when the scores were read the Russian had gotten the nod on all three judges scorecards.
Nikitin raised his hands in joy as he was moving on to the semifinals, and Conlan raised his middle finger to the judges as an opportunity to add a second Olympic medal to his collection had been taken away. Interestingly enough, injuries sustained during the fight with Conlan would force Nikitin to withdraw from his semifinals matchup against Shakur Stevenson.
It was only a month after his disappointing Olympic experience that Conlan would make his move to the pro ranks, signing with legendary promoter Bob Arum under the Top Rank banner. The Belfast natives professional debut took place in the United States on St Patrick’s Day in front of a tremendous outpouring of Irish fans at the Madison Square Garden Theatre.
Since then, New York has become Conlan’s home away from home as he has made fighting in the Big Apple a St Patrick’s Day weekend staple, including this past holiday when Nikitin fought on Conlan’s undercard, putting a matchup of the two rivals in motion. The original goal was to have the fight take place on August 3rd in Belfast, but those plans were derailed when Nikitin suffered a torn bicep, and he was replaced by Argentina’s Diego Alberto Ruiz who Conlan stopped in the ninth round.
Vladimir Nikitin turned pro in 2018, also signing with Top Rank. He had not fought in between the time of his injury in the Olympics and the signing, but took to the ring not long after putting pen to paper, defeating Uganda’s Edward Kakembo by a six round unanimous decision. Nikitin would fight once more in 2018, sweeping the cards in a six rounder in October, but wouldn’t be back in action until the previously mentioned undercard to Conlan’s 2019 St. Patrick’s day headliner.
So that’s three fights for Nikitin since turning pro in the summer of 2018 , and one setback due to injury. At 29, Nikitin needs the rise to begin for his pro career and winning this fight Saturday night at the Garden has the must win feel to it, if not, at the very least he must perform at his best, showing the fans that he is a fighter people want to see again.
As for Conlan, 28, he has stayed active in his three years as a pro, but he has yet to have that signature performance and win. While Nikitin hasn’t done anything of note in his time as a pro, the storyline that comes with the fight holds weight as boxing is built around the stories, rivalries and any animosities that come along with the deal.
There is no shortage of fuel for either man heading into the showdown, with Nikitin stating that Conlan has been bitter and consumed with his loss in Rio, and that he intends to prove once and for all that he is the better fighter. Conversely, Conlan promises to “dismantle” Nikitin and “make him eat his words” in the ring. Hopefully the fight delivers on the action that the hype surrounding it has built.
Michael Conlan vs Vladimir Nikitin
Madison Square Garden, New York, New York
TV: Saturday, 9pm ET/6pm PT, ESPN