Boxing

Underdog Paddy Barnes ready to make history in WBC world title rumble

Paddy Barnes stopped Eliecer Quezada to win the WBO European flyweight title in his last fight
Andy Watters

DON'T tell Paddy Barnes what he can't do. The double Olympic medallist who lost his first 12 contests as an amateur has spent his career since then proving the doubters wrong but he knows that taking a world title fight in his sixth professional bout is a high stakes gamble.

Barnes goes all-in at Windsor Park on Saturday night and that is his way of doing things. He's not going to die wondering what might have been and intends to rip the WBC belt away from reigning flyweight champion Cristofer Rosales.

Victory will guarantee his place in Irish fighting folklore as a professional and an amateur, but the bottom line for Barnes is providing for his young family.

“At the end of the day, there's a mortgage to be paid,” he says.

“If I wasn't being paid for boxing I wouldn't be doing it at this level.

“It's a great sport but money is king, that's the way it is. Winning this world title will pave the way for me to secure my family's future.”

‘The Leprechaun' reports that training has gone well, that making the weight won't be an issue and that he'll have his hand raised after what he predicts will be an “amazing fight” with Rosales.

With a 27-3 record, his Nicaraguan opponent has just over six times Barnes' professional experience and, aged 23, he's eight years younger. He won the coveted WBC belt in Japan by dethroning Daigo Higa, so he shouldn't be intimidated by travelling to Barnes' backyard.

All-in-all, this is a massive test for Barnes so early in his pro career but Ireland's double Olympic Games medal winner is convinced he wins on Saturday night.

“Of course it's a gamble,” said the Belfast flyweight.

“I could have waited about, got a few more fights under my belt and got a bit more experience as a professional.

“But in this game, especially if you're from Ireland, world title shots don't come around that often. So if you get the opportunity, whether you're ready or not, you jump at it. When I was presented with the opportunity it gave me the chance to create history. I created history as an amateur and at the forefront of my mind was to create history as a professional.

“I've been given this opportunity and I know I'm ready.”

Barnes had targeted a fight with WBO champ Sho Kimura and former Olympic nemesis Zou Shiming was also mentioned as a possible opponent. Both fights fell through but ties from his meeting with fellow Nicaraguan Eliecer Quezada were used to make Saturday night's match.

“Initially I thought I'd get to fight Kimura because I was ranked six with the WBO,” he explained.

“Kimura decided to go against somebody else but then Rosales won the WBC title. The last guy I fought is with the same management team as him and my team their team had kept a good relationship so we got the fight sorted.

“Before I got the fight sorted Rosales had followed me on Twitter which I thought was a bit strange. He wished me well, it is what it is. He can't speak English so there's no chance of a slagging match!

“Anyway I'm not worried about that stuff, at the end of the day it's sport. He never did anything wrong on me and I've never done nothing wrong on him.

“He has something that I want – the belt – but I'm not going to start slagging him.”

He and Rosales are aggressive, front-foot fighters and you can expect them to lock horns from the bell on Saturday night. Rosales is taller but lacks Barnes speed. Both of them are fit, relentless and tough. “It has the makings of an amazing fight but my hand will get raised at the end, 100 per cent,” says Barnes.

Bookmakers rank him as the 7/4 underdog. But if you'd asked the young fella who only started out in boxing all those years ago because his mates were into it if he'd ever get this far he'd have given you much better odds than that.

After a dozen losses he learned to move his feet and let his hands go and those qualities, along with his granite chin and fighting heart, saw him add Commonwealth Games gold to the Olympic and European championship medals in his extensive collection of Ulster, Irish and multi-nations titles.

“It's crazy,” he says, when he reflects on how far his career has come.

“It's six years ago that I won my second Olympic medal. You sit back and think about all these things and it's crazy how I've got on in my career. But I'm going to win this title and then push on and create more history.”

He hasn't fought since November last year but says: “Everything is going according to plan, it's brilliant.

“I'm doing the weight better than I ever have because I've been working with a guy from Belfast who works in Liverpool called Stephen Floyd. He's a friend of mine and he's an accomplished nutritionist so it has been a lot easier.

“I've been working away with my coach Danny Vaughan and I have Tyrone McKenna, Sean McComb and Sam Maxwell in camp as well so it's good.”

While Barnes trains at Danny Vaughan's Glasgow gym, down in Manchester bill-topper Carl Frampton's camp includes Steven Ward and Conrad Cummings.

Barnes says all the craic is north of the border.

“They're all boring bastards,” he says, with a slice of that trademark tongue-in-cheek Belfast sense of humour of his.

Frampton tops the bill, Ward has a breakthrough fight against Steve Collins jnr, Cummings makes his comeback and McComb debuts alongside fellow former amateur stand-out Steven Donnelly. Add in heavyweight headliner Tyson Fury, Luke Keeler, Lewis Crocker and Marc McCullough to the list and you have another superb Belfast card and Windsor should be absolutely rocking.

It's a sell-out and while Frampton could sell out arenas fighting a tailor's dummy, Barnes' also has considerable drawing power and his rumble with Rosales could well be the fight of the night.

“There has been many great cards in Belfast,” said Barnes.

“The last Mick Conlan bill was a great card and Tyrone McKenna's fight (with Jack Catterall) stole the show, it was amazing.

“This is the first football stadium bill and it is a massive card, it's the first time the WBC belt has been fought for in Ireland so that's another bit of history as well. You've got Carl, Tyson Fury, myself and an amazing undercard so it's going to be a great night.

“I know it's a massive arena, but I've fought in big arenas before – 15,000 and that – so the occasion won't affect me. I'll love it, I won't feel daunted going to the ring because I'm used to big arenas.”

He's the underdog on Saturday night. But don't tell Paddy Barnes what he can't do.

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