Michael Conlan – 'I’ve never seen my partner cry when I fight but she cried today'
Five hours after his belief that an Olympic gold medal would be his had been shattered, Michael Conlan wasn’t making any attempt to be philosophical.
How could he after what had taken place on a Brazilian morning? As he talks through the fight, the anger comes quickly back.
The first round where he felt he was “boxing the ears off” his Russian opponent, Vladimir Nikitin, the shock when he heard he’d lost that round, then the determination to take the fight to Nikitin in the second and third rounds.
He did that, he knew he'd done enough, but then came the unanimous decision, followed by the rage and frustration.
Somebody might have tried to calm him down afterwards, he thinks they probably did, but nobody was going to stop him saying what he said.
“Everything I said I do not regret. It came from the bottom of my heart. It is what it is, life goes on. I’lll take the next chapter of my life by storm and do what needs to be done.”
But this chapter is closing with bitterness and pain. Conlan expected gold. He paid for his family to come to Rio because he wanted them to see him collect the medal which was his lifelong dream. Then it disappeared in a bewildering three rounds that were cut with injustice and mystery.
“In the first round I thought I was boxing the ears off the guy. I didn’t think he really hit me at all. I thought I was still in first gear. I went back to the corner and I was very happy. The corner was very happy and the next thing you hear you’re down. And I was like, ‘What?!’ So I knew I had to go to war then, go in and beat him at his own game."
He did that and felt he was still in control, even if he believed he was hindered by the refereeing.
“I went out in the second round and I was annihilating him. The referee kept warning me for my head. She kept being on me which was really annoying because it was him coming in with his head low. She kept warning me, giving him breaks and time to get his breath back. It didn’t bother me during the fight but the more I think of it now, it’s really annoying me.”
He won the second round and that was enough, that was all he needed to take it home.
“I heard it was level and I went, ‘That’s it, that’s brilliant, no worries, calm down. I’ll go out and do the same things this round’. And I went out and I thought I did the exact same thing, the third was the closest round, I outworked him, I out punched him, I was looking on Twitter there at the stats. I outpunched him in every round.”
But then came the decision and lots of fears came flooding back. He had watched the Russian heavyweight Evgeny Tishchenko controversially win gold on Monday and he thought that might be the fight that would be viewed suspiciously.
Michael Conlan calls out Vladimir Putin in first tweet since controversial loss https://t.co/xI642jia8i
— SportsJOE (@SportsJOEdotie) August 16, 2016
But then came his own fight, his own suspicions which followed defeat in the quarter-final. Conlan tweeted Vladimir Putin afterwards, such was the uncontrolled fury he was experiencing as he called out the AIBA.
“People probably tried to stop me, I can’t really remember now, but I needed to express my emotions. First and foremost I’m an Irishman. I had to come out and say it for the rest of the fighters. Hopefully nobody else is robbed in the games because it’s heartbreaking, it’s dream shattered. I’ve trained all my life for this, I felt this was destiny for me. For it to happen is so hard to take.”
Conlan can’t comprehend what has happened in Rio. He has been vocal about the strengths of Irish boxing, but he thinks the things that did go wrong may have counted against them.
“It has annoyed me in the media, everybody talking about Irish amateur boxing and how bad we’ve performed. I don’t think we’ve performed bad. I think we’ve performed decently at these games, but we haven’t got any favours at all and that could be down to the Michael O’Reilly situation. We haven’t got one favour here. Zaur Antia is probably the best coach I’ve ever worked under. My father also. But do you know what? It will be hard after the decision. Maybe what I said will affect Irish boxing but somebody needed to stand up and say it.”
There was no backing down from his post-fight comments that AIBA were “fucking cheats”, but there have been other issues. Well, one in particular.
“I think the Michael O’Reilly situation probably hasn’t helped. With that drugs scandal they’re going to say, ‘Why are we going to let Ireland win when they’re bringing scandal to our organisation?’ It’s definitely played a part, but there’s nothing I can do about now.
"Since that happened, he’s tainted everything for Irish boxing. At the start I was unsure who it was then Michael comes in and says it’s him and we were all shellshocked. He’s done something which has tarnished Irish boxing and put a bad stink over us all.”
Now Conlan needs to come to terms with his own inexplicable defeat. Conlan won’t fight in AIBA boxing again, he says. He has spoken out to highlight the problem, driven by the injustice he endured at an Olympics that was supposed to be everything to him and his family.
“We’re all devastated. I’ve never seen my partner cry when I fight but she cried today. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen it and it made me cry myself. I haven’t really cried much because of how I’ve lost.”
Conlan had unjustly lost in the ring, but his day of fighting wasn’t done.