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'I didn't know what I was doing at times'

New WBO European Flyweight Champion Paddy Barnes was relieved rather than elated after his third professional bout.

Paddy Barnes punches Silvio Olteanu.
Paddy Barnes punches Silvio Olteanu.
Image: Presseye/William Cherry/INPHO

FRESH OFF A compelling WBO European title victory in his hometown, Paddy Barnes was in typically candid mood while reflecting on his back-and-forth battle with Madrid-based Romanian Silvio Olteanu.

The 30-year-old Belfast flyweight took an intense scrap on a close majority decision, and sat contemplatively in his dressing-room having endured a mandatory medical check from the ringside doctor.

In spite of going 10 rounds for the first time in just his third professional contest, and having won his first title as a pro, he didn’t strike as particularly exhausted nor elated. Instead he was composed and reflective. It took him a few minutes to crack a smile.

“I’m a bit tired,” Barnes said, still dripping with sweat after a grueling war.

“Well, I’m not too tired — just a bit relieved. It was a tough fight. The fella [Oteanu] was a very tough fighter. I expected it would go 10 rounds, I said it before.

“Who am I to knock him out, you know? I’ve never had a knockout in my life.

It was great to fight 10 rounds. At times, my head was all over the place, because I hurt him, but I didn’t know whether to step on the gas because I was told to pace it a bit. I didn’t know what I was doing at times, you know what I mean?”

It strikes as an odd admission; Barnes is a fighter who has, for years, prided himself on his ability to drop opponents in the amateur ranks. In three pro fights, that power is yet to translate to his new craft.

But he’s fighting men now — not boys, as might often have been the case in his illustrious amateur journey, such is the nature of his weight. A latecomer to the paid ranks, Barnes — for all his pedigree — is still learning on the job.

I sparred nine rounds with Ryan Farrag. He hit me an uppercut and I cut my tongue. So I couldn’t do the 10th round. So that’s why 10 rounds for me tonight was such an experience — that was the first 10 rounds I’ve ever done in my life!

“I’ll not get a much tougher test than that, there, especially this early in my career. The guy I fought was a serious contender. He might be 39, but he’s twice a European champion, and he lost by split decision in a world title fight…in Japan. So he’s a very good fighter.”

Many contested that Barnes indeed lost Saturday night’s scrap at Belfast’s Waterfront Hall; his defence was porous, and Olteanu appeared to wobble him as early as the second stanza, finding considerable success throughout.

Paddy Barnes celebrates becoming the WBO European Flyweight Champion Paddy Barnes celebrates becoming the WBO European Flyweight Champion. Source: Presseye/William Cherry/INPHO

Barnes, to his credit, didn’t try to pass the shot in question off as a slip, as many might have. He also suggested that his block-first defence may have played a role in the judges’ scorecards being so close at the finish.

No, that was a proper shot. Boom. But it didn’t hurt me. I was off balance a bit, and he did shake me a bit – I did feel it.

“He didn’t surprise me at all. I knew — I’ve been watching him — how game and tough he was. He’s very limited with his boxing. I was covering up and taking a break, and I think that’s why so many rounds went against me — because I kept my hands tight and let him blast away. He wouldn’t hurt me. It’s all an experience for me.

It’s given me great confidence; my first 10-rounder in my third fight, at high pace against someone who’s very, very good.”

With Belfast-born world champions old and new in Carl Frampton and Ryan Burnett present backstage to pay tribute to their comrade, Barnes revealed the former had told him that the 10-round distance would be “wee buns” to him when the pair spoke in his dressing room prior to the bout.

It wasn’t that hard, like, really,” Barnes maintained, endorsing former two-weight world champion Frampton’s nugget of wisdom. But it was hardly plain sailing, either.

“I hurt my left hand, and I heard Frampton and Ryan shouting, ‘Jab! Swift jab!’ But I couldn’t because it was so sore! I had to just keep throwing it out,” he says with a wry smile.

The opponents, of course, will get harder, but Barnes was again bluntly honest about the prospect of facing an old amateur rival — at least in the near future.

Me and Andrew Selby would be a great fight, but if I’m honest, he’s a bit further in his career than I am now, so he won’t want to fight me. He just fought for a world title eliminator, so he’d be taking a backward step fighting me.

“But I think it’d be great, maybe next year: Frampton-Selby, Barnes-Selby. It would have to be in Ireland, I think — bigger fanbase.”

The Selby brothers in Belfast to fight Frampton and his Best Man would be an event for the ages, but it’s another old score which Barnes is particularly intent on settling. China’s two-time Olympic gold medalist Zou Shiming twice eliminated Barnes from the Olympics at the semi-final stage – the second occasion, at London 2012, on a score of 45-44, after a countback.

Barnes’ WBO European title scrap was merely the first step towards reconvening with his own personal white whale, and he’s planning his next steps accordingly.

I’d like to fight for the WBO intercontinental or international title, and move myself even further up the WBO rankings, because Zou Shiming is the ultimate goal. He’s the Floyd Mayweather of flyweights, he’s the money man. So, he’s the man I want to fight.”

A trip to China, however, is likely a couple of years away yet. There remains much work to be done. Time will tell as to whether a give-and-take battle with Olteanu will be the makings of the Irish boxing icon, or a premature unveiling of his limitations. In any case, there won’t be too many dull moments.

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