Calm before the storm as Paddy Barnes prepares for world title rumble
WBC Flyweight world title: Paddy Barnes (5-0) v Cristofer Rosales (27-3) (tonight, Windsor Park, 7.50pm, live on BT Sport)
AMID all the hustle and bustle, Paddy Barnes sat quietly on his own.
Heavyweight giant Tyson Fury whirled in and out of the weigh-in waiting room, but Barnes hardly seemed to notice, then Carl Frampton arrived and gave him a friendly pat on the arm.
“Alright mate,” says the Jackal. Barnes smiled and nodded his head, lost in thought and focussed on tonight. He knows he'll have to be at his absolute best to win.
At 23, his opponent Nicaraguan Cristofer Rosales is eight years his junior and has 30 professional fights behind him to Barnes' five.
After just five pro fights (and the first of them was a farce) Barnes is at world title level against a younger, more experienced warrior who travelled to Yokohama to dethrone Japanese champion Daigo Higa last year.
Is he ready? Is he good enough?
Barnes, the underdog with the bookies, says: “We'll see the marra night”.
“It's the first time I've been the underdog in my life but even when I've been favourite before I've lost,” he says.
“Just because the bookies say something doesn't mean it's going to happen. I know how good I am, I know how good he is and I'm better than him. We'll see who's the underdog.
“He is the current world champion, he has a lot more professional experience than me and he went to Japan and dethroned somebody with 15 knockout wins. He's the favourite, and rightly so, but that means nothing to me.
“I need to go in and do everything that he does, only better.”
Of course Barnes has a long and illustrious career behind him that included Commonwealth Games gold and bronze medals at the Olympic Games in Beijing and London. He also had a stint in the halfway house of World Series of Boxing to ease him into the professional game.
His two most recent performances in Belfast should give his many fans reason for optimism tonight. In June last year, he went 10 rounds - for the first time ever - against durable Spaniard Silvio Olteanu and improved as the fight wore on. Then, in November, he dominated Eliecer Quezada at the SSE Arena, stopping the Nicaraguan with a thumping bodyshot in an all-action display packed with ring craft and quality. Another factor in his favour is that Quezada also fought Rosales who beat him on split decision with the Latino flyweight title on the line in March last year.
“I'll go out, feint a bit and see what he does,” said Barnes.
“I can fight in many ways but he can only fight one way so that's an advantage for me. On paper my fight is going to be the fight of the night – there's a champion and a hungry challenger so it's going to be a great fight.”
Rosales, who looked in superb shape at yesterday's weigh-in will have advantages in height and reach, and he will come-forward and force the pace tonight. He had a loss early in his career but his only defeats since came on British soil against Kal Yafai and Andrew Selby.
“I'm used to fighting away and I have no bother fighting in front of this big crowd. I know enough to realise I am going to win on Saturday,” he claimed.
“I don't want Paddy to go running like a chicken. I will let him dictate and then I will catch him.”
It isn't Barnes' style to “go running like a chicken” and coach Danny Vaughan brought Yafai – now the WBA super-flyweight champ – in for sparring in preparation for tonight.
“The camp has been unbelievable and Paddy has given his heart and soul so we just can't wait,” he said.
“We have been to spar with Kal Yafai who beat Rosales and that was fantastic.”
Looking in from afar there is no way you could make Barnes favourite for this fight. There are so many factors against him but he showed enough, particularly against Quezada, to prove that he has the tools to make a real fight of this tonight.
He has a proven track record at amateur level and the support of the home crowd, who will get behind him from the opening bell, will count for a lot. He's the underdog, and rightly so as he admits, but if he gets through the early rounds the setting and the world title that is at stake should bring the very best out of him.
Don't rule out an upset.