The 13th Round: Passionate Mick Conlan will be a f*cking star

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Take all the outrage you felt yesterday and multiply it by a hundred – that’s how Mick Conlan felt when he was adjudged to have lost his Olympic quarter final.

The Belfast bantamweight outclassed Russia’s Vladimir Nikitin but was disgustingly ruled to have lost by all three of the scoring ringside judges.

Understandably, the passionate 24 year old let his disapproval be known in the most visual and vocal way possible. Conlan gave a middle finger to the AIBA officials inside the Riocentro before giving an explosive interview to RTÉ, where he labelled the AIBA as “f*cking cheats.”

An interview that will go down in Irish sporting history, it could also serve to make Conlan an even bigger star than if he had roared to 56kg gold as he had predicted. At the very least, it certainly wont harm his career.

It will be scant consolation to Conlan, who has dedicated his life to Olympic gold, only to see his chances extinguished by the faceless trio of Jones Kennedy Silva Da Rosario, Bandara Talik Udoni Kiridena, and Mariusz Gorny, as well as potentially a whole host of other nameless benefactors.

While it was most unparliamentary language, Conlan summed up the feelings of most who have even a passing interest in amateur boxing. This was different to your average boxer moaning about losing a fifty-fifty.

“F*cking cheats,” two emotive haymakers that made a wiry ball of muscle from West Belfast the talk of the sporting World.

If Conlan claimed gold would he have been on the lips of as many people Worldwide as he is today? Probably not. And while coverage could never take the place of medals, yesterday’s farce could benefit the Irishman in the long run.

The reporting on Conlan’s ‘loss’ and, mostly, his reaction has been widespread. From across the Atlantic, the Bible of Boxing, Ring Magazine, wrote how “Ireland’s Michael Conlan didn’t just vocally give the finger to AIBA’s judges after his controversial loss to Russia’s Vladimir Nikitin in the bantamweight quarterfinals on Tuesday that continued a worrying trend of questionable decisions in Rio.” Aside from the result of US boxers, it was only the second Olympic boxing story they had published throughout the Games, with the first being about the heavyweight final robbery where Vassily Levit ‘lost’ to Evgeny Tischenko.

The New York Times credit Conlan’s outburst as “reviving an issue that has long troubled boxing at the Olympic level.”

Fox News describe the “irate Irish boxer” giving a “scathing assessment of the state of amateur boxing” after a loss which occurred “despite clearly outlanding the Russian throughout the bout.”

Kevin Iole of Yahoo wrote how Conlan’s Olympic dream “fell apart unexpectedly on Tuesday with an unusually bad call. Yahoo Sports had Conlan winning all three rounds, and none seemed all that debatable,” before crediting him with raising a few eyebrows regarding corruption following his “gold-medal worthy rant”

The Press Association ran a story noting Conlan’s “foul-mouthed tirade after finding himself on the wrong end of a controversial unanimous decision against Russia’s Vladimir Nikitin,” which has been picked up by the likes of ESPN.

On the boxing side of things, respected fight announcer Al Bernstein tweeted “Feel bad for Irish boxer Michael Conlan, who got robbed in Olympic match.”

Even online entertainment outlets, such as Buzzfeed and the Huffington Post, found Conlan’s story irresistible.

In Britain, where Conlan may set up camp as a professional considering his young family, there was more support for the Belfast man. Steve Bunce wrote how Conlan “was on the wrong end of a disgraceful verdict against Russia’s Vladimir Nikitin.”

Kevin Mitchell of the Guardian noted how “Conlan is not afraid to growl at the biggest bear.”

“He is no mere gnat on an elephant’s backside. Conlan is a significant and respected presence in international boxing.”

Sky Sports, where I personally feel Conlan will end up fighting, were also ones to cover the outrage.

Of course, not all responses were positive, with Dan Rafael suggesting that Conlan was classless

Regardless, every boxing fan, whatever their interest in the sport is, now know the name Michael Conlan. A semi final win over ‘the new Mayweather,’ Shakur Stevenson, and a gold medal may have also seen to this, but if you were ever to have a next best thing, this is it.

Obviously it’s not all good, any gold medalist signing-on fee that Conlan may have received will be greatly reduced, and the Clonard man may well feel like he has wasted four years of his career on a doomed venture when he could have been building a professional record – although of course it is not that black and white.

Conlan is now in a unique position that he did not expect to be in. His signature will be courted, perhaps more than ever, and a narrative has already formed, positioning him as the cheated but principled Irish livewire that guarantees excitement.

‘You don’t mess with Mick.’

If Conlan had won gold how different would this story be? We don’t know, but it’s a lot more likely that he would have been somewhat shoehorned into the ‘stay humble,’ #blessed, ‘destined for greatness’ role.

We pride ourselves in Ireland, perhaps overly so, on ‘real’ sportspeople and passion, and you couldn’t get any more real than Mick

As a quick aside, even away from his own personal journey, Conlan’s post-fight actions have led to the spotlight on the AIBA intensifying. While Vassily Levit was disappointed, he was quiet in the aftermath. The robbery perpetrated on Conlan was not as bad, but it is the one which has caught fire. Swearing sells and hopefully, although we wouldn’t hold our breath, the AIBA will be cleaned up as a result of the dirty language.

Indeed, while they are great at the start, Olympic medals often mean less in a professional sense as a career progresses. At the start they offer publicity and legitimacy for a prospect. Conlan, his stardom in Ireland already solidified and his Belfast accent twanging in the ears of boxing fans everywhere, does not need this. On a global scale, and maybe even in Ireland, more has been written and said about Mick now than if he had won gold. Is this wrong? Probably, but at least Conlan’s career will not be adversely affected by the goings-on in Pavilion 6 on August 16th 2016.

This of course will mean absolutely nothing to Mick. Entering the 2016 Olympics was more a personal quest for him than one of career-enhancement. He was a man who subscribed to what it meant to be an Olympian and he disgustingly had this taken away from him through no fault of his own.

The only consolation is that he will still be a f*cking star.

Joe O'Neill

Reporting on Irish boxing the past five years. Work has appeared on irish-boxing.com, Boxing News, the42.ie, and local and national media. Provide live ringside updates, occasional interviews, and special features on the future of Irish boxing. email: [email protected]