Struggling for breath and looking up at the same Belfast air he’d breathed in as a child, victory seemed so far from home. Thousands looked on as the accomplished amateur from the proud fighting City tried to rally to his feet. It just wasn’t to be – this time.

“To be honest with you, I’m devastated. Not devastated with the way that I lost, I’m just devastated I lost in general. It was for the WBC World title, the best World title. It’s hard to pin down a shot at that kinda title and I had it, then I fuckin’ lost, so I was raging about it.”

Paddy Barnes (5-1, 1 KO’s) had dared to be great on the most grandiose of stages. On the undercard of Carl Frampton v Luke Jackson, he challenged Cristofer Rosales and spoke exclusively to Boxing Social about the pain of that all-too-personal defeat.

“He’s a big puncher [Rosales], but it was the fourth round, so it was still early for a twelve-round fight. We were still working each other out.

“People keep saying to me that we were fighting at a high pace, but I found the pace to be quite slow”, he confessed. “He fights the same way from the first round to the last, he doesn’t tire. But, his pace is the same the whole way through. I thought it was quite slow and I could push on, but I didn’t want to until the seventh round, because I had never done twelve rounds meself’. He caught me with a cracking body shot when I was throwing one to his head and he caught me perfectly…”

A crushing body shot halted Barnes’ World title aspirations that evening, but he was keen to reiterate his faith in the game-plan.

“I dunno, if I was fighting him again, I’d probably step on the gas a bit earlier because I know I could keep a good pace for twelve rounds. I would fight the same way with the same tactics, you know, he caught me with a good shot regardless and that was it! Every fight is a learning fight.”

Months had passed since that evening in the open air of Windsor Park. The memory was fresh, though. The highly-coveted World title slipping out of his grasp in only his sixth contest. However, with a return to the ring pencilled in for December 22nd, Barnes was excited at the thought of bouncing back.

Currently holed up in Holytown, the two-time Olympic bronze medallist and former Commonwealth gold medallist was regrouping for another assault on flyweight division’s finest. The new MTK complex in North Lanarkshire was boosting the thirty-one-year-old’s preparations, as we spoke about dragging himself away from his family in Belfast.

“Yeah, we’re in Holytown now. We bring the excitement to the town (laughs)! It’s not that bad, to be fair, and the gym is class! It’s brilliant because we have absolutely everything we could need. All of the top of the range equipment and the boxing gym is upstair’ with the ring, the bags and obviously next door is where we stay. We literally just roll out of bed and into the gym.

“There’s four boxers here. Tyrone McKenna and Tyrone McCullagh are from Belfast, so it’s like a home-away-from-home! We’d be friends back home too, so we’re over here training and it makes things a lot easier.”

He continued, “To be honest with you, it’s not something I’ve really thought of [whether I train more effectively away from home]. I’ve been away from home since I was sixteen, training, so it’s something I’ve just had to live by and endure my whole career. You know, it’s hard because I’ve got two kids an’ all. For me, I’m not gonna lie to you and say, ‘Aw – it makes me fight better!’, you know? It’s always been that way my whole career.”

Now, still a relatively novice professional, Barnes had unusually taken up boxing as a straggler, following his cousins to a gym in Northern Ireland in search of a hobby. He reportedly lost his first fifteen unpaid contests, merely turning up to compete with his family and friends.

“To be honest, I only started boxing because my friends done it”, he explained. “I just followed them into the gym and every weekend I used to go to a place in County Down. My cousin boxed there with me’ Uncle and I just joined their club. I was boxing there at the weekends and honestly, I only boxed because they boxed. If they had stopped at an early age, I would have stopped too! Thankfully they liked to box until they were sixteen and when I was sixteen, I started to do very, very well. So, I kept going! I was eleven [when I started training for the first time].”

In doing ‘very well’, Barnes visited the Beijing 2008 Olympics and the London 2012 Olympics, picking up third place on both occasions, disappointingly by his own admission. An amateur European gold medal and both Commonwealth golds solidified his pedigree at a time when Ireland was thriving.

Often demonstrated through their interaction on social media, the Irish professionals have been friendly since the beginning. The Conlan brothers, Carl Frampton, the Tyrones and of course, Paddy, have remained close-knit and loyal to one another, a rarity in boxing. It was truly a special time for the group in green jerseys.

“When I was an amateur, Irish amateur boxing had its golden era and now I’ve turned professional, I think it’s the golden era for the professionals too! I think it’s brilliant. I feel privileged that I’m boxing at this time and I’m glad to be boxing in this era. Boxing in Ireland is at an all-time high. It’s funny because we’re all doing well, but we’re all very friendly and we all know each other, you know? We’re always wishing each other the best!

“The Olympics, definitely [is the peak of my career so far]. It’s the pinnacle of amateur sport. It’s just amazing, but [only] until I win a World title – that would top the medal at the Olympic games. It’s always something that I’ll look back of and be proud of, definitely.”

That World title remained Paddy’s only destination. Determined to right the wrongs of that Summer evening in Belfast, he was looking to take his first step on the road to redemption only a couple of days before Christmas. His opponent on December 22nd wasn’t expected to be a World-beater, however he would serve his purpose – delivering Barnes back to winning ways.

With a busy year ahead, his old foe Cristofer Rosales was slated to face the increasingly vocal Charlie Edwards on the same evening, albeit on the opposing Matchroom Boxing show in London’s O2. Edwards was the elder of the boxing siblings, with younger brother Sunny relentlessly calling for a showdown with the Irish star.

Barnes had shut down the advances of the younger Edwards, focusing on the top of his division and following his own path. When discussing Sunny, he claimed, “He [Sunny Edwards] needs to use my name to build up himself. Outside of boxing, even in boxing, nobody knows him! Everybody knows me. So he needs my name but I don’t reply to him or anything on Twitter – I don’t engage with him.

“I don’t wanna give him a platform, he wants to talk himself into those opportunities. If he [Charlie Edwards] was a World champion, 100% I’d be interested in that fight. I’d be looking for that fight!”

In a division which often finds itself shallow at the top-end, the possibility of Paddy fighting Charlie Edwards may be realised in the Spring of next year, should the Brit emerge victorious. The highly-decorated amateur career of the man from Belfast was yet to fully transition to the professional ranks, though, as ever, he wasn’t short on confidence.

“The World title shot [is what I want next year]. Realistically, I don’t think I would get a WBC shot again, so any of the other governing bodies I would take. Hopefully Charlie Edwards gets the WBC, that’s the dream scenario.”

Article by: Craig Scott

Follow Craig on Twitter at: @craigscott209