Michael Conlan: NI boxer eager to show improved skills

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Michael Conlan: St Patrick's Day rematch against Vladimir Nikitin

In a little over a week Michael Conlan follows in the footsteps of the likes of Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier when he fights at Madison Square Garden.

He made his professional debut in the theatre venue at the iconic New York arena but 14 months later he has graduated to the 'big room'.

Fighting on the undercard of the Vasyl Lomachenko-Jorge Linares title bout is a measure of his increasing popularity.

But the Belfast featherweight says he just wants it "out of the way".

The Olympic bronze medal winner will face Spaniard Ibon Larrinaga in New York before he can turn his attention towards his first homecoming bout.

Conlan beat David Berna by technical knock-out in his most recent outing
Conlan beat David Berna by technical knock-out in his most recent outing

"I'm more excited about coming home than I am about boxing next week," said the Olympic bronze medal winner, who will make his professional debut in Northern Ireland on 30, June.

"I'm focused on it but I'm looking forward to getting it out of the way and coming back here."

Date with destiny

Conlan, 26, has told his promoter Bob Arum he wants to fight in Ireland at least once a year and he will top the bill at the SSE Arena.

An opponent has yet to be finalised but Brazilian Adeilson Dos Santos is a possible candidate.

Conlan and his team continue to seek better fighters and Dos Santos, a former WBO super bantamweight title challenger who has fought against Jessie Magdaleno and Kid Galahad, would represent another test of his world title ambitions.

Conlan suffered a controversial defeat to Vladimir Nikitin at the 2016 Olympics
Conlan suffered a controversial defeat to Vladimir Nikitin at the 2016 Olympics

If he can continue the unbeaten start to his professional career, Conlan's second fight in Ireland could be another significant milestone.

The former amateur world champion is already looking forward to a showdown against Vladimir Nikitin, who he lost to in the 2016 Olympic quarter-finals, after the Russian recently joined Arum's stable of boxers.

"That could be the date with destiny, that one," said Conlan, who revealed a rematch with Nikitin has already been pencilled in for St Patrick's Day next year.

"Either at 'the Garden' or Belfast. I'd probably prefer Belfast, if I'm honest, but it doesn't matter where it is in the world, I think that's a guaranteed sell."

'All about learning'

The bout against Larrinaga on 12 May will be Conlan's second fight since his decision to part company with Los Angeles-based trainer Manny Robles and team up with Englishman Adam Booth.

Adam Booth (right) has already trained Belfast native Ryan Burnett to a world title
Adam Booth (right) has already trained Belfast native Ryan Burnett to a world title

"I feel that things are starting to come together with Adam and it's been great so far," added Conlan.

"I feel I've grown as a boxer and as a person as well. I've learned an awful lot and I kind of understand pro boxing a lot more but as a fighter myself I feel I've improved a tonne.

"The first year in LA was perfect for what I needed to give me a grounding as a professional fighter and now I'm working on my skills and my boxing abilities more so than just slugging it out.

"I feel I've improved a lot and especially the last few months with Adam I feel that my levels have improved even more."

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