Michael Conlan left defeated and disillusioned in Rio

‘I’m absolutely devastated . . . my Olympic dream was robbed from me today’

There was a moment when all his talking was done and his father John was expressing his disgust at the 'amateur' boxing world, Michael Conlan laid his arms on the dividing rail, bent over and put his head down shaking it from side to side.

He stood up holding back tears, kicked a plastic bottle violently across the floor, crashed open the doors and left. It will be the last time Ireland’s World Champion bantamweight will appear at an AIBA organised event.

Consumed with anger over the decision that handed Vladimir Nikitin the Olympic quarter-final fight on a unanimous decision, Conlan eventually ran out of words in his condemnation of the judging and the international federation, the AIBA, who he claimed were corrupt.

“I’m absolutely devastated,” said the 24-year-old. “My Olympic dream was robbed from me today. It has been a horrendous week for Irish boxing. We haven’t got any favours. The IABA mustn’t have paid enough money to AIBA . . . because we’re not winning anything.


“I watched the heavyweight final last night and after what happened to Katie, (I thought) that can’t happen to me. For a whole nation to be watching, the whole of Ireland watching with their whole press and media, they couldn’t go and rob me, could they? But in fact, they did.

“We’ve seen the Russian’s reaction after. He didn’t believe he won, I didn’t believe he won, the crowd didn’t believe he won. I don’t even think his corner believed he won and he reacted like he had won an Olympic gold medal. Today, I wouldn’t have even celebrated. I was here for gold. My Olympic dream has been ruined. I’ll never box in AIBA competition again because I feel they are probably one of the most corrupt organisations in the world.”

Conlan’s end to his ‘amateur’ career came after a brutal fight against Nikitin, a punching machine who showed guts and heart and durability but few of the boxing skills of Conlan.

It was a fight that was watched, it seemed, in Technicolor as an old wound on the side of Nikitin’s head opened and shaded the three rounds in pink and red as heads clashed and Conlan’s punches landed.

It was also a fight many people saw as a win for the Irishman, the first two rounds at least and when Nikitin’s hand was raised it was greeted with a crescendo of booing in Pavilion 6 at Riocentro . Conlan stripped off his vest and whirled it above his head spurring them on before expressing his disgust by turning his thumb to the ground.

The Belfast fighter also stuck up his middle finger as he made his exit and as he walked past the judges on his way out he let them know what he thought of their decision.

In the first round Conlan highlighted his movement and elusiveness – punching and moving, scoring shots with his left jab and changing angles.

He looked slippery and aggressive, Nikitin’s cut immediately opening with the referee stepping in to mop the blood from Conlan’s face midway through. Nikitin, direct and bravely seeking contact, was one dimensional but also landing.

The judges handed it to the Russian 10-9 on all cards. An audible sigh went around the arena.

In the second round Conlan sought more contact and ramped up his punch count. On occasion he stepped out of contact to change up the angle and at one point forced Nikitin to almost fall out through the ropes.

After a minute the referee again stepped in and asked the doctor to inspect Conlan and some seconds later Nikitin. There appeared to be so much blood they were unsure of whose it was. It was called 10-9 for Conlan before a toe to toe third round.

Again it was brutal with Conlan and Nikitin landing. There was less of the movement from the Irishman and more battling and by the end the Russian was covered in blood. But it was his hand that went up and the last of the Irish team departed.

Two World Champions, Katie Taylor and Conlan, a double European gold medallist Joe Ward and a double Olympic medallist Paddy Barnes were all on the plane out of Rio.

“One thing’s for sure, I’ll not boxing in AIBA competition again. If they offered me five million to box in APB – they probably got that for me losing.

“People are questioning Irish boxing,” said Conlan. “Why not question the judges here? Katie Taylor didn’t lose yesterday. Paddy Barnes probably could have got a decision but he was bollixed making weight. Joe Ward definitely shouldn’t have got two warnings – well he definitely should have got two warnings but the other guy should have got at least one. It is what it is.

"It ('amateur' boxing) is completely dead. If you watch this Olympic Games and you've seen some of the decisions, Olympic boxing is dead. It's whoever pays the most money, whoever has the biggest wins."

Conlan’s fight was reviewed but according to AIBA officials the review would not change the outcome. The governing body does not overturn decisions lightly and it is a standard part of their process to to review bouts, especially if there is controversy.

"You're asking questions and drawing things out that will make you the headline story," said John Conlan. "Tell the truth. Say what it is. You don't need us to put words in your mouth. You guys all went to university.

“We didn’t. You’ve all spent four, five years to become fucking writers or whatever it is. Do your job. Tell the truth. He’s gutted, absolutely gutted.”

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson is a sports writer with The Irish Times