Boxing

Paddy Barnes looks set for coaching role after hanging up his gloves

Paddy Barnes stops Eliecer Quezada to defend his WBO European flyweight title at the SSE Arena in November 2017
Andy Watters

IT IS understood that Paddy Barnes will pass on his vast experience to the next generation of young hopefuls in a coaching role with Sport NI.

The popular two-time Olympic medallist, who began boxing at Ardglass ABC at the age of 11 only because his cousins and friends enjoyed the sport, announced his retirement from boxing on Thursday.

He decided to hang up his gloves after a glittering career, admitting that “it wasn't there any more” in the wake of his loss to Jay Harris in an IBF Inter-continental flyweight title fight last month.

“Even before the Harris fight I was thinking about it,” said Barnes.

“When I lost, that was it. Definitely. I was gone. My reaction time is getting slower – I didn't feel I was as fast as I used to be, not punching-wise, just my reactions and I thought ‘I could get hurt here' at this level.

“It wasn't there anymore. My reactions weren't there and how do you train for that? Age just caught up on me.”

Barnes had his moments as a professional but his pro career never reached the heights of his time as an amateur and he selected his two career highlights from those days.

“The first would be winning the European Championships in 2010,” he said.

“That was my greatest achievement and carrying the flag for Ireland at the Rio Olympic Games was definitely the best memory. I was just proud, being selected to lead out your country at the Olympics was amazing. Ireland had some great athletes that year and to be able to walk them out in front of the world was unbelievable.”

Blessed with fast hands, quick wit and a warriors' heart, Holy Family ABC product Barnes shot to fame after winning bronze at light-fly at the Bejing Olympics in 2008. Another bronze followed at the Games in London when he was beaten on countback by arch-rival Zou Shiming of China. Four years later he travelled to Rio de Janeiro hoping for a third medal but weight issues undermined his efforts and, after the disappointment of losing in the round of 16, he surprised many by turning pro.

“I became pro too late but the reason for that was that I never had any dreams or aspirations to be a professional,” he said with typical honesty.

“After I didn't get a medal in Rio, MGM (now MTK) offered me the chance to try and create history as a professional. I threw myself in the deepend but it didn't work out and that's how it goes.”

His ambition was to win a world title in fewer fights than any other Irish boxer and when he beat experienced Eliecer Quezada in his fifth pro outing in November 2017 to win the WBO Inter-Continental title on the same bill as his great friend Carl Frampton, it looked like he could pull it off.

Barnes took on Cristofer Rosales for the WBC title at Windsor Park the following summer and dominated the early stages before a thunderous bodyshot from the Nicaraguan ended the fight.

Truth be told, his career never recovered from that body blow but he has no regrets.

“I wouldn't have done it any differently,” said Barnes yesterday, en route to cheer on friend and former stablemate Tyrone McKenna at the York Hall last night.

“The professional game is a business and people fight journeymen to build a name for themselves. I was lucky that everybody already knew who I was and I felt that I could bypass that stage. But I didn't factor in that it's a totally different game so I didn't learn how to adapt and I didn't think I needed to adapt.

“I jumped in and got the opportunity to fight the best and I'm thankful for that. Quezada was the highlight of my pro career, I destroyed him and he had drawn with Rosales so I thought I would box the head off Rosales. But then I got beat. He caught me a brilliant shot to the ribs and that's boxing for you.

“But I'm happy with what I've done, I've no regrets.

“Things didn't work out for whatever reason but I tried. I don't need to look back and say ‘What if?' Because there are no what-ifs, I went and tried everything.

“I only started boxing because my cousins boxed and I was down every weekend at Ardglass.

“My mates boxed in Belfast so I just copied them. I'll miss the camps, the friends I made and the craic we had travelling the world and fighting. I loved it. But I know what I won't miss – dieting.

“I can have a pint of Guinness now and eat a burger without worrying.”

Throughout his career he has been a favourite with fight fans who roared him on every time he ducked through the ropes.

“I never nailed my colours to the mast,” he said.

“I represented both sides of the community. I never had any colours or flags or songs and I did my best to represent both sides of the community and both sides supported me so I'm happy with that.”

What a career Paddy Barnes had. A battler in the ring and a one-off character outside it, he will be missed but his decision to retire is as well-timed as one of his trademark right hands. He can pass on those skills to the next generation.

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Boxing