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Paddy Barnes, the liver-punching ‘Leprechaun’, gets St. Paddy’s Day spotlight

Photo courtesy of www.frankwarren.com
15
Mar

Paddy Barnes has never fought in New York before, but it’s always been a welcoming place whenever he has visited. 

“I’ve been to a few bars and I never have to pick my hand up, I get free drinks all night,” said the 31-year-old from Belfast, Northern Ireland. “New York is one of the best cities – probably the best city – I’ve ever been in in my life. I love cities that buzz, and this city is nonstop.”

He has watched his close friend and former amateur teammate Michael Conlan fight twice before on St. Patrick’s Day at Madison Square Garden, and once on the Lomachenko-Rigondeax card, but now Barnes will get the chance to walk through the Hulu Theatre’s corridor to wild adulation this Sunday. Barnes (5-1, 1 knockout) will face Oscar Mojica (11-5-1, 1 KO) in a six-round bout on the card headlined by Conlan on ESPN+.

Being an Irish fighter nicknamed “The Leprechaun” would make this St. Paddy’s Day spot a natural for him, but Barnes never thought he’d get the chance to appear on a card like this, with Conlan on top of the bill, because they were under different promotional factions before. Situations changed when Top Rank announced a partnership with MTK Global that will bring the fighters of the burgeoning managerial outfit to U.S. screens.

Barnes and Conlan are close, with each serving as godfather to one of the other’s children, but Barnes admits that it took some getting used to each other.

“There weren’t many people from Belfast there at the time, and because he was we became friends. He was a bit heavier than me, I was light fly, he was fly, so we would do a lot of sparring. To be honest we really didn’t like each other beforehand because he thought he would beat me,” said Barnes.

After traveling the world together, to the European Championships, to the Worlds, and two Olympics, they’ve forged a bond of brotherhood. Barnes went to three different Olympics, earning bronze in 2008 and 2012, while Conlan also picked up a bronze in London. After both suffered setbacks in 2016 – immortalized by Conlan’s double bird salute to AIBA judges – they turned pro.

Barnes says he had been comfortable with his life as a top amateur, and never dreamed of going pro.

“My main goal as a kid was to compete at the world championships. Once I’d done that I always wanted to be world champion, but then I got the Olympic Games,” said Barnes.

“People ask me about this all the time, why I didn’t go pro earlier. The reason is quite simple, I was on a government grant, tax free, 40,000 Euros a year to box amateur and travel all around the world. Most professionals don’t even get that so why would I want to go professional?”

That changed before going to Rio when MTK, which started out of Ireland and has since branched around the world, reached out to Barnes and offered him a deal.

His first shot at a world title last August didn’t go as planned as he was knocked out in four rounds by then-WBC flyweight titleholder Cristofer Rosales. The punch was a right hook to the rib cage, a “perfect shot” as he called it, which sent him down to the canvas.

Rosales has since lost the title, dropping it to England’s Charlie Edwards shortly before the new year. Barnes says he’d like another crack at the belt, as soon as his next fight.

“Ireland vs. England for a world title, you can’t get much bigger than that,” said Barnes.

Both Barnes and Edwards are aligned with MTK, though they’re linked with different promoters. Edwards, who defends his belt against Angel Moreno on March 23, said in an interview that he’d be interested in making the fight, though Barnes took exception to his categorization of the bout as an all-British showdown.

“[Edwards] is a great boxer but no one knows him, he’s not a personality. I may not be the best boxer in the world but I have a strong media presence, people know me,” said Barnes, who has expressed interest in fighting another MTK managed fighter, IBF titleholder Moruti Mthalane, as well.

He says he’d still feel like he’s fulfilling a historic achievement to win a world title within 10 fights. First he has to get past Mojica, a 26-year-old from Dallas who has won just two of his last seven bouts, but has faced stiff quality in defeat while never being stopped.

He won’t have time to watch the parade march up Fifth Avenue, but there’s an after-party where he’ll get to mingle with the Irish fans after his “Erin Go Brawl”.

“It’s crazy because not just am I fighting in New York one of my best mates on top of the card in The Garden, but there’s an extra incentive that it’s St. Patrick’s Day and every Irish person on the east coast will be in Philly for Katie Taylor and Jono Carroll, and New York for myself and Mick. So I’m very excited to be able to put on a show for the Irish Americans and Irish fans,” said Barnes.

 

Ryan Songalia is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and can be reached at [email protected].

 

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