Mick Conlan didn’t want to talk about revenge going into this fight against Olympic rival Vladimir Nikitin on Saturday night. But his 10-round unanimous decision spoke for itself.
Conlan, one of the young stars in Bob Arum’s Top Rank stable, scored a comfortable 98-92, 99-91, 100-90 decision in the featherweight bout at Madison Square Garden. Three years ago, Conlan lost a controversial decision to Nikitin at the 2016 Olympics.
“I needed to right this wrong,” said Conlan, who is 28. “Full credit to Nikitin, who fought his heart out. There’s no bad blood. There was never was. Now, we can put this chapter of my career behind me.”
Conlan (13-0, 7 KOs) had a fairly easy time turning back the challenge of Nikitin. Conlan kept the burrowing Nikitin on the end of his punches for much of the 10 rounds. Nikitin was aggressive and game but had a hard time penetrating Conlan’s jab and sharp counters. Conlan controlled most the action and pivoted away any time Nikitin got to close.
Both fighters traded punches for the last 30 seconds of Round 7, as Conlan planted his feet and stood toe-to-toe with Nikitin (3-1). It was the best round of the fight. The same action continued into the eighth, with both fighters landing heavy punches. Conlan was the more accurate of the two during those exchanges and wobbled his opponent late in the round.
“It was a lot of pressure going into that fight, but it’s nice to get it done,” said Conlan. “I just needed to get that one back.”
Conlan, fighting for Ireland, won a bronze medal at the 2012 Olympics while competing in the flyweight division. Four years later, in Rio de Janeiro, he moved up to bantamweight and met Nikitin in the quarterfinals. Conlan lost a 2-1 decision. He was so infuriated that made an obscene gesture to the judges.
The Conlan-Nikitin fight opened ESPN’s televised portion of the Garden card, which featured Terence “Bud” Crawford (35-0, 26 KOs) defending his WBO welterweight title against Egidijus “Mean Machine” Kavaliauskas (21-0-1, 17 KOs).
Earlier, Edgar Berlanga stopped Cesar Nunez in the first round for his 13th- straight first-round knockout. Berlanga, a Brooklyn middleweight is a former national amateur champion. He improved to 13-0, all of his victories are first-round knockouts.
“Next fight I want to go more rounds, but I wanted the first-round knockout for my cousin,” Berlanga said. “I want to be the one to carry the Puerto Rican flag and represent the Island in New York.”