When Michael Conlan and Vladimir Nikitin squared off at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics the result was a massively controversial Nikitin decision win that nearly caused an international incident. A professional rematch was inevitable, and now it is set.
The featherweight prospects will meet in a 10-round bout on Aug. 3 (ESPN+) at Falls Park, an outdoor stadium in Conlan’s hometown of Belfast, Northern Ireland, during the annual Féile an Phobail, Europe’s largest community festival, Top Rank announced at a news conference in Belfast on Tuesday.
“This is the opportunity for Mick Conlan to right what most observers felt was an injustice,” Top Rank chairman Bob Arum said. “That being said, Nikitin is a real aggressive fighter, and he believes that a victory over Conlan in August would cement the one he was given in the Rio Olympics.”
Conlan, who claimed an Olympic bronze medal in 2012 for Ireland, was a medal favorite in the 2016 Games when he met Russia’s Nikitin in the quarterfinals, with the winner guaranteed at least a bronze.
Conlan appeared to easily defeat Nikitin, but the judges did not see it that way and gave Nikitin the shocking victory. But he was so busted up from the fight against Conlan that he withdrew from the tournament because of injuries and was unable to fight in the semifinals.
After the bout, a distraught Conlan famously lashed out at the judges by giving them double middle fingers in the ring. He ripped the International Boxing Association (AIBA), which oversees amateur boxing, and said he believed that Russian president Vladimir Putin had paid off the judges to give the decision to Nikitin.
Conlan later signed a professional contract with Top Rank, and his signing was announced accompanied by a photo of Conlan and Arum flipping their middle fingers to the camera for a social media post that went viral.
Three years later, Conlan (11-0, 6 KOs), 27, is thrilled to get another shot at his rival.
“I am delighted that I will be fighting Vladimir Nikitin in front of 10,000 fans,” Conlan said. “This is literally home turf for me and it is absolutely huge. I am West Belfast and Falls Road born and bred, so this means everything to me. Nikitin and I have unfinished business from the 2016 Olympics, and I can’t wait to set the record straight.”
Said Jamie Conlan, Michael’s older brother and part of his management team at MTK Global, “The fight with Vladimir Nikitin has been talked about for a long time now, and MTK Global and Top Rank have worked extremely hard along with Féile an Phobail to make it happen. Michael Conlan is coming home for one of the biggest fight nights Belfast will have ever seen.”
Nikitin (3-0, 0 KOs), 29, remained an amateur boxer following the Olympics before finally deciding to turn professional last July. He signed with Top Rank and manager Egis Klimas for the express purpose of eventually fighting Conlan again.
Arum said when he signed Nikitin that he planned to eventually make the professional rematch with Conlan after Nikitin got at least some professional experience.
When Nikitin fought his second pro fight in October in Las Vegas and his third fight in March in New York, he was on the same card on which Conlan also fought.
“When I turned professional last year, the man I wanted to fight most was Michael Conlan,” Nikitin said. “Michael has said a lot of things since the Olympics about how he was robbed of a medal. Well, I am coming to his hometown during their biggest festival to show everyone my Olympic victory was not a fluke. This is going to be repeat, not revenge.
“Conlan will regret pushing for this fight. I beat him twice in the amateurs and will do the same as a pro. It will feel even sweeter to beat him in his hometown. Belfast, here I come!”