Peter Carroll spoke to the three-time Olympian ahead of his second professional bout
On November 5th of last year, the crowds at the Titanic Exhibition Centre in Belfast were ready to give three-time Olympian Paddy Barnes a raucous reception for his professional debut.
While the spectators were in full voice, Barnes himself had an awful lot of distractions ahead of his milestone bout with Stefan Slavchev.
Barnes would later claim that the week leading up to the fight was one of the most stressful of his life as his fiancé, Mari, was hospitalised with an infection after giving birth to their second child.
Although Barnes was clearly a far superior fighter than Slavchev, the Bulgarian’s unwillingness to exchange with the Belfast flyweight didn’t allow him to showcase his arsenal.
Barnes was also denied the opportunity to put an exclamation mark on his debut when, after avoiding one exchange by exiting it through the ropes in the fourth round, Slavchev hoisted the celebrated amateur into the air, forcing the referee to disqualify him from the bout.
"I was absolutely gutted with how my debut finished," said Barnes.
"That’s what journeymen do. They come in to spoil a fight and avoid exchanges as much as they can. I just couldn’t believe how much that guy avoided me and spoiled the fight."
"This time I was sure to ask my team to get me someone that wasn’t strong enough to lift me," he said, showcasing his infamous sharp wit.
The learning curve from amateur to professional can be quite steep. Perhaps, one of the more frustrating things for Barnes coming off his debut was that he didn’t gain any insight from his first four rounds as a professional.
"To be honest, I didn’t learn a thing from that fight. When I look at it, I should’ve used some things that I already know in there."
"I guess because it was my debut, I kind of felt like I had to play to the crowd a bit more. I wanted to put on a big performance for everybody that was there, but I think I tried too hard."
Stefan Slachev lift Barnes during their fight. Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Presseye/William Cherry
"This time it’s all about getting on with my business. I know the guy that I’ve been matched with is going to come to fight, so I don’t think I’m going to have the same issues with chasing him down."
The 29-year-old will be bolstered coming off his first professional camp with Danny Vaughan.
Barnes feels like he has had his prepared like a professional first time, and for that reason, his sophomore outing with his new status feels like his real debut.
"This was my first real pro camp because of everything that was happening ahead of my debut didn’t really allow for it. It’s been eleven weeks of hard work between LA and Glasgow, so I feel I’m in the best shape that I’ve ever been in."
"This really feels like my debut. The first fight was such a joke. I can’t even think about it. It’s like it never happened. It’s just blank. I hope this will be the performance that I wanted to give people the last time out."
Having travelled around the world with Michael Conlan, Barnes was happy to see his good friend again while he prepared for his second pro fight at The Rock Gym in LA over the last few weeks.
Backed by promotional powerhouse Top Rank, Conlan will have the best path to a successful career in the pro ranks, as evidenced by his billing at Madison Square Garden on St Patrick’s Day.
Despite Conlan’s big backing, Barnes doesn’t see much of a difference in their situations as emerging pros.
"Really, the training is pretty much the same everywhere you go, but it’s just the quality of boxers that Mick has to work with that makes it different."
"The sparring out there is fantastic. You’re sparring the best guys in the world every round in LA. Even when I was out there I got some good sparring with a Mexican Olympian."
"He was at the Olympics with us the last time. The other guys that I was sparring with were about 17-0 and they were a lot heavier than me."
"It’s the best possible sparring that’s available."
As far as his own training is concerned, Barnes is confident that Vaughan has provided him the necessary tools to add a lot more finishes to his record, which he hopes to showcase on Friday night against Adrian Garzon.
"Danny has been working really hard to help me with the transition. At the moment I’m just too fast. It’s like I use my feet too much, which is something I’ve kept with me from my amateur days."
"Now I’m working on slowing my pace right down and punching harder. In the pros, you’ve got to be punching hard to knock people out. For me to do that, I need to be slower and plant my feet a bit more."
"Obviously, I hope to see some of those improvements on Friday night. I definitely feel like I’m going to knock this guy out. The people are going to see my power."
Barnes opted to contest his second outing over eight rounds, which will make him eligible for championship bouts.
Paddy Barnes and Jamie Conlan. Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Presseye/Jonathan Porter
Seeking a European title clash this year, Barnes also has his eyes on opponents like Mexican veteran Edgar Sosa, who he thinks would open up a lot of doors in terms of world level opponents.
After just one pro fight, Barnes looked to align himself with double world champion Donnie Nietes. Although it seems optimistic, the Irish flag bearer for the Rio Games believes the combination of his stellar amateur career and calling out big names is the best way for him to pick up momentum.
"I feel that because of what I’ve done in the Olympics and the World Series of Boxing, provided I keep the results solid, I think I can be fast tracked."
"I’ve got to keep on calling out big names, because I’m a nobody in the pro ranks at the moment, to be honest. I may have to travel for fights, but I’ve been travelling for fights my whole life, so I don’t really care.”
Barnes has no hesitation in declaring that his ultimate goal is to take on WBO champion Zou Shiming, but on Friday night his objectives are a little closer to home.
The Belfast event’s headliner Jamie Conlan managed to stop Garzon in four rounds back in 2015. Fearing the backlash, Barnes is feeling the pressure to get Argentine out of their even quicker than his teammate.
"I’m very confident that I’m going to have a good performance. I hear a lot of people talk about game plans and things like that, but I feel my level is just too much for him."
"I saw his last fight where he fought an undefeated British and Commonwealth champion. He gave that guy a tough fight, but a few years ago Jamie Conlan stopped him in four rounds."
"If I don’t knock him out Jamie will probably slate me, so I’ve got to get rid of him quicker than Jamie did!"