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RIO DE JANEIRO — There have been far worse robberies in Olympic boxing over the years than what Irish bantamweight Michael Conlan experienced on Tuesday in his quarterfinal loss to Russia’s Vladimir Nikitin.
Roy Jones Jr. and Floyd Mayweather Jr., two of the sport’s legends, each were denied gold medals by dubious calls from clueless judges.
Nobody, however, had a better reaction than Conlan, a 24-year-old who was born in Belfast.
In the ring after Nikitin’s decision was read to the crowd, Conlan raised his arms up in a double middle finger salute to let the judges know what he thought of them.
Then, he went on television and, in a rant filled with curses, accused the International Boxing Association (AIBA) of corruption and said he was through competing in its events.
But the coup de grace came when the 2012 Olympic bronze medalist sent a tweet to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“How much did they charge you bro??” an irate Conlan tweeted directly to Putin.
The three judges, Jones Kennedy Silva do Rosario (Brazil), Udeni Kiridena (Sri Lanka) and Mariusz Gorny (Poland), all scored the bout 29-28 for Nikitin. All three gave Nikitin the first and third rounds and Conlan the second.
Tuesday’s morning session was filled with bad calls – American Gary Antuanne Russell was eliminated in the light welterweight quarterfinal even though Uzbekistan’s Fazliddin Gaibnararov spent most of the last two rounds doing little other than running – but the Conlan-Nikitin fight may have topped them all.
On Tuesday, that is. On Monday, Russian heavyweight Evgeny Tishchenko won the gold medal in a horrid decision over Vassiliy Levit of Kazakhstan.
That verdict might have been the worst of the tournament, though even that couldn’t match the debacle involving Jones at the 1988 Games in Seoul, South Korea. Jones dominated Korea’s Park Si-hun but, unimaginably, lost. The call was so bad, the organizers went to a computerized scoring system in the next Olympics.
None of that was any comfort to Conlan, though, who laid into AIBA and the judges without holding anything back.
He went on Irish television immediately after the bout and immediately began dropping bombs.
“They’re [expletive] cheats, it’s as simple as that,” Conlan said. “I’ll never box for anybody again. They’re cheating [expletives and] they’re paying everybody.”
Conlan won the bronze in his division in London in 2012, and stayed amateur, hoping to capture gold in Rio. It looked like a wise choice last year when he won the AIBA world championships in Doha, Qatar.
But it fell apart unexpectedly on Tuesday with an unusually bad call. Yahoo Sports had Conlan winning all three rounds, and none seemed all that debatable.
Conlan was hit and got cut, and that is something that the judges see and score. Conlan is an outstanding boxer who very much has a pro style, but he went in and brawled with Nikitin, a pressure fighter who couldn’t do anything when Conlan was at range.
He didn’t see any room for grey and saw it simply as a robbery.
“I came for gold and I’ve been cheated,” he said. “I’ll not do another Olympics. I would advise anybody not to compete for AIBA. At the end of the first round, it had been so easy, so comfortable, I wasn’t even out of breath. I said, ‘I’ll win this easily.’ But I was told I was down so I had to go to war.
“I fought him at his own game. I pulled back that second round, then I outfought him in the last round. I’ve been robbed of my Olympic dream.”
Nikitin will face American Shakur Stevenson in the semifinals, but Stevenson said he thought Conlan won the fight.
So did U.S. coach Billy Walsh and associate coach Kay Koroma. Walsh was extremely unhappy about a Monday decision that went against U.S. lightweight Mikaela Mayer in her quarterfinal bout with Russia’s Anastasia Beliakova.
All of those verdicts – Beliakova over Mayer; Tischenko over Levit and Nikitin over Conlan – favored Russian boxers.
Incompetence? Corruption? Whenever things continually favor the Russians, eyebrows will be raised.
And Conlan raised more than a few eyebrows with his gold-medal worthy rant on Tuesday.