Belfast featherweight contender Michael Conlan looks to take revenge for his quarter-final 2016 Olympic defeat when he faces his nemesis Vladimir Nikitin at Madison Square Garden on Saturday, December 14th on the same card as WBO welterweight champion Terence Crawford's mandatory defence against Egidijus Kavaliauskas. The tripleheader also includes the Richard Commey vs Teofimo Lopez IBF lightweight title fight. The card will be televised by ESPN.
This is a fight that Conlan has wanted since he turned professional as he seeks to put right the injustice he suffered in Rio.
Conlan (12-0-0, 7 Ko's) will take a big advantage into the bout as far as pro experience is concerned. For Nikitin, this will be only his fourth outing since he gave up his amateur status. His 3 pro wins have all gone the 6 round distance and his last, against Juan Tapia (8-2-0) was a majority decision with one Judge scoring 57-57. As we see more regularly now with former crack amateurs from the former Eastern-bloc countries turning professional in America, the level of opposition is high from day one.
Having watched all three of Nikitin's pro bouts, I can tell you that this will be a shootout. Nikitin is ultra-aggressive and clever. His work rate is phenomenal, and his mastery of distance second to none. He may well be a much better pro than he was an amateur. Conlan is going to get some action, that's for sure because the Northern Irishman likes to take the fight to his opponent as well.
The 28-years-old Conlan and Nikitin 29, will always be connected by the injustice the world saw done in 2016, but they may well need to fight one-another more than once as pro's to resolve their rivalry because they are so well matched.
This could well be the show-stealer, even though the Commey vs Lopez contest should be exciting, Conlan and Nikitin are bound to be a barn burner. Both boxers are high volume punchers and both like to come forward. Maybe Conlan is the more versatile of the two, being able to box and move but I feel that their rivalry demands that they will both want to dominate the other. This won't please Conlan's trainer Adam Booth who I am sure will want his charge to box clever on the outside, but Nikitin does not give his opponents that choice. Whatever game plan Booth decides upon, and I think it will be to box long and grab the shorter Nikitin when he gets into range, Conlan will be dragged into a brawl at some stage.
In Nikitin's 3 fights, he kept the pace up until the final bell but these were 6 rounder's whereas Conlan has done 8 and 10 rounds twice each. It is this extra experience that Conlan holds over Nikitin that should be the deciding factor but I still see a war ensuing and both boxers having to come through tough spots in the 10 rounds.
Prediction: Conlan to win a hard-fought slugfest on points.