At the Rio Olympics in 2016, Vladimir Nikitin faced Michael Conlan in the men’s bantamweight quarterfinals. The outcome, with Nikitin getting the decision nod over Conlan, was controversial, to say the least.
Nikitin — whose first round Rio win over Thailand’s Chatchai Butdee was really no more convincing than his win over Conlan — wound up going home with a bronze medal after pulling out of a semifinal matchup with Shakur Stevenson due to cuts suffered in his first two bouts. Conlan wound up making major headlines for giving the double birds to the ringside officials when the decision was final, and for a profanity-laced TV interview slamming AIBA.
Now, they’re both professional featherweight prospects, and they’re both set to fight on March 17, each hoping to eventually settle their old business in the ring.
Conlan (10-0, 6 KO) will be facing Ruben Garcia Hernandez (24-3-2, 10 KO) in a 10-round main event on St. Patrick’s Day, streaming live on ESPN+ on a Sunday afternoon from Madison Square Garden’s Hulu Theater in New York.
And now Nikitin (2-0, 0 KO) is scheduled to take on Juan Tapia (8-2, 3 KO) in a six-round bout on the same card. You may remember Tapia from his last fight, a Feb. 2018 loss to the aforementioned Stevenson. He did go the eight-round distance with Stevenson.
Nikitin, 28, turned pro last July, and a fight with the 27-year-old Conlan has been discussed ever since. They fought on the same card last October in Las Vegas.
Nikitin: “The fight I want after I take care of business on March 17 is Michael Conlan. He wants revenge, and I want to show everyone that I was, and still am, the superior fighter. I respect Michael and his team. While there is no bad blood outside the ring, we have unfinished business inside the ring.”
Conlan: “Nikitin is a rival from the 2016 Olympics and clearly someone who I look forward to fighting in the professional ranks. This is the second time we’ve fought on the same card, and I look forward to seeing his progress as a professional.”
There’s no personal animosity here — Conlan has never, at least that I’ve read or heard, slammed Nikitin, who did his honest best and wasn’t the one who filled out the scorecards in Rio. In fact, it was an entertaining fight, which got lost in the post-fight ruckus. And it seems inevitable that they’ll meet sometime and settle things professionally.
The March 17 ESPN+ card will also feature the return of welterweight veteran Luis Collazo (38-7, 20 KO), who will take on Samuel Vargas (30-4-2, 14 KO) in a 10-round bout, and two-time Olympic bronze medalist Paddy Barnes (5-1, 1 KO) will look to rebound from his first pro loss as he faces Oscar Mojica (11-5-1, 1 KO) in a six-round bantamweight fight.