“AIBA cheats, the f**king cheats. That’s me, I’ll never box for AIBA again, they’re cheating bastards, they’re paying everybody,”
August 16th, 2016, should have been the worst day of Michael Conlan’s boxing career. At the time it certainly felt like it. It unquestionably still hurts.
Two and a half years on, as a now professional Michael Conlan prepares for his first title defence in the headliner spot at the world’s most famous arena, the Belfast native has a slightly different outlook on that infamous incident in Rio de Janeiro.
“You have to look at how well I’ve been promoted and how well known I am (since Rio),” began Conlan speaking exclusively to Pundit Arena.
“Basically doing nothing in the sport of note, you know it’s crazy I’m able to sell out Madison Square Garden, the theatre on my debut and then do it again the following year.
“Getting these events from the start of my career, whereas other fighters, who have to get built up and have to build and build their fanbase. I had a fanbase straight away; I think that’s from what happened in Rio.
“A lot more people know me; the Irish public know me because I was fucked over. I think it worked in my favour.”
It’s hard to argue against Conlan’s reasoning. Since losing to Vladimir Nikitin in the bantamweight quarter-finals in Rio, he has turned pro, signed with Top Rank USA and fought in Madison Square Garden on four occasions.
In January, the 27-year old defeated Jason Cunningham to win his first title in the professional ranks and extend his record to 10-0.
On Sunday in New York City, he must defend his newly acquired gold for the first time against 24-3-1 Mexican fighter Ruben Hernandez-Garcia, a challenger that Conlan feels will provide a very “stern test.”
“Yeah he’s a tough Mexican but I want to go out and give a good performance,” he explained.
“He’s very very tough; I think he lost three times but he’s only been stopped once against Randy Caballero. He went the distance with Nonito Donaire, he can take a shot, he’s tough, he didn’t want to get stopped in the corner, and it was just consistent pressure on him. He was a bit younger; it was a few years ago now.
“He’s a tough Mexican who is tricky and he has a wee bit of power and is going to prove a stern test.”
St Patrick’s Day’s card will also feature fellow Irish boxer, Paddy Barnes, as the former Olympian looks to bounce back from his first professional loss with a six-rounder against Texan Oscar Mojica.
Conlan and Barnes have been close friends dating back to their days in the amateur ranks with Ireland with the 27-year old outlining that it will be “fantastic” to finally share a card with his “brilliant teammate.”
“It’s fantastic. Paddy is a brilliant teammate of mine and has been for many, many years.
“We haven’t actually got to share a card yet as professionals but this will be fantastic to have him on my undercard in Madison Square Garden, I know he’s been dying to, so the fact that he’s doing it in the Garden is fantastic. “
With Conlan, Barnes and newly professional Lee Reeves flying the tricolour in New York, Jono Carroll, John Joe Nevin fighting and Katie Taylor pursuing more lightweight gold in Philadelphia on Friday night, it’s a very exciting weekend for Irish boxing.
The Irish as the centre of attention is no fluke.
Conlan believes that the Irish boxers are thriving not just back home, but around the world outlining that the sport is garnering a lot of attention.
“I think Irish boxing is thriving at the moment,” said Conlan.
“It’s going really, really well. There are fighters, fighting all over the world, even back home it’s going really good for us. I feel we’re in a really good position.
“I feel boxing, in general, has gone up another level, in terms of popularity and how much people are interested in it now. I think it’s great for all us, especially in Ireland.
“There’s an awful lot to talk about in Ireland, there’s a lot of attention for it in Ireland. I think we’re very very lucky now.”
WBO Inter-Continental featherweight champion, 10-0 since joining the pro-ranks, and two days out from headlining Madison Square Garden, it’s safe to say that Conlan has bounced back from that fateful day in August 2016 in a spectacular way.
There is, however, still something about his controversial “defeat” in the bantamweight quarter-finals of Rio Olympic games, that he feels he needs to take care of.
“Yeah, I feel that’s one I need to get off the chest,” said Conlan when quizzed about a potential bout with the Russian in the pro-ranks.
“Once I get that one out of the way I can continue on, and start to move on to bigger and better things.
“I feel that the only fight that I need for myself is the Nikitin fight but I’m obviously focused on Ruben Garcia-Hernandez. My short term goal is the Nikitin fight in Belfast. “
The pair have been on a collision course since Nikitin turned pro and joined the Top Rank team, with the Russian scheduled to fight on Conlan’s undercard in MSG.
Nikitin has not been shy in calling out Conlan for a fight and the Belfast native outlined that should they both win in New York on Sunday night, then a homecoming bout could be on the cards for August.
“Yeah, that’s kind of basically in the works now for Belfast this year. That’s been the talk and that’s what I’ve asked for. It’s going in that direction as long as no one gets injured.
“If he doesn’t slip up and loose in the meantime, it should happen in Belfast this summer.
“If we both win, I might have to fight in May again and then it should be August in Belfast.”
Before August though, comes St Patrick’s Day, and with Katie Taylor and John Joe Nevin fighting on Friday and Conlan, Barnes and Reeves on Sunday, Irish eyes will be certainly be glued to the squared circle this weekend.