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Michael Conlan will go from fighting at the iconic Madison Square Garden to a public park on Saturday (Aug. 3), but for the Irish featherweight it is equally as special.

Conlan will have his 12th professional fight just a short left hook from where he was brought up in West Belfast, Northern Ireland, when he faces Argentina's Diego Alberto Ruiz in a 10-round fight in the main event of a Top Rank Boxing on ESPN+ at a specially built outdoor venue in Falls Park.

"It's a two-minute walk from my mum's house," Conlan told ESPN.

"I grew up there. I had plenty of fights in Falls Park for free and now I'm going to fight there and get paid for it. It's the biggest park from where I'm from and when I was a kid I would get up to no good in that park, but now I'm bringing the biggest boxing event West Belfast has seen there.

"We used to play football and ride our bikes about there. My football training was up in that park. It's funny, and it's going to be surreal boxing there."

Conlan (11-0, 6 KOs), 27, from West Belfast, said a crowd of 11,000-12,000 is expected after extra seating was required to meet demand.

It will be totally different surroundings to what Conlan last experienced when he earned a unanimous points decision over Ruben Garcia Hernandez as top of the bill at Madison Square Garden Theater, New York, on St. Patrick's Day weekend in March.

"When I fight in New York on St. Patrick's Day it's very hard to beat that atmosphere but this fight here will be the only one to compete with it on that level," Conlan said.

"It's a lot more bigger and it's outdoors, but more than anything else, it's home. This is where I grew up. New York is my home from home."

Conlan was initially set to face Vladimir Nikitin (3-0, 0 KOs), 29, this weekend in a rematch of their controversial contest in the quarterfinals of the 2016 Olympics, but the Russian suffered a torn bicep and withdrew from the bout in late June.

Conlan turned professional after being left frustrated and without a medal at the 2016 Olympics when Nikitin was awarded a controversial decision in their quarterfinal bout. Conlan, who claimed an Olympic bronze medal in 2012 for Ireland, then gave a middle finger salute in the ring and lashed out at the judges.

A change of opponent has not dampened Conlan's enthusiasm for this weekend's fight, only his second professional fight in his homeland, but he now believes he will never face Nikitin in the ring again.

"I was disappointed [when Nikitin pulled out] but it didn't deflate me," Conlan told ESPN.

"The training regime I've been on has made me feel I'm bulletproof and when I heard he was out I just asked for the next-best opponent. They gave me a harder guy in terms of career development and it didn't bother me at all to be honest.

"I would think the Nikitin fight might never happen now. On paper it was a mismatch anyway with my experience and development, but the story line with the Olympics fed into it and the timing was right.

"But my career will progress and he's going to be out for a while with this injury."


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Conlan is ranked No. 5 and No. 6 by the WBO and WBA world governing bodies, respectively. Rather than Nikitin, the division's world champions are Conlan's preferred targets should he remain unbeaten this weekend.

"Within the next 12 months I want to fight for a world title, and for any of the world titles, I don't mind who it is against, that's my mindset," Conlan said.

"It's going really well at the moment, and I would face any of the champions on August 3 and I would beat them.

"Josh [Warrington] is doing fantastic, he seems to be need to be up against it to do well. Kid Galahad was trickier in defence and on the inside than he experienced against Carl [Frampton] and Lee [Selby]. He caused awful problems and I've the got the style to also give Josh problems.

"It's boxing and things can change in an instance. There's talk of Oscar Valdez moving up and Gary Russell Jr. has been about for a long time, so I can't see him being around for much longer. Leo Santa Cruz is talking about moving up a division to fight Gervonta Davis too, so I can see a lot of changes with the belts in the next 12 months."