Paddy Barnes hoping to seal deal in Maiquetia

Maiquetia, the city in Venezuela where Paddy Barnes will tonight look to seal his place in next year’s Olympic Games, last made the news in 1999 when mudslides devastated the region and caused tens of thousands of casualties.

Paddy Barnes hoping to seal deal in Maiquetia

The airport the Irish boxer flew into this week is named in honour of Simon Bolivar, the statesman and soldier who transformed South America by freeing Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia from the greedy mitts of the Spanish empire.

It’s doubtful Barnes has taken any of that in.

For 13 weeks now the Belfast light-fly has been in blinkered mode on his travels to outposts as diverse as Baku, Palermo, Konin, Almaty and Milan for the Italia Thunder team which competes in the World Series of Boxing (WSB).

He has made no bones about what a slog it has been.

Interminable flights and fortnightly weigh-ins have imposed a considerable mental and physical strain, but he fights tonight in South America still unbeaten in his division and just one more victory away from a place in Rio in 2016.

Nothing else really matters.

The margins are razor thin. Only one fighter will qualify from the light flyweight ranks, but defeat the 4-1 Yoel Segundo Finol Rivas and the two-time Olympic medallist will be beyond the reach.

His buddy Michael Conlan appears on the same card at the 13,000 capacity ‘El Poliedo’ and, though well-placed to confirm his own place at the Olympics, the bantamweight must beat Jose Vicente Diaz Azocar and await other results to discover his fate.

Amateur boxing, it ain’t anything like it used to be.

Other fighters can, and do, still compete in national championships and continental and world championships, but the five-round WSB and eight-round APB arms were spawned with a view to stemming the flood of boxers into the sport’s professional ranks.

Joe Ward and David Oliver Joyce have both chosen the APB path after boxers, coaches, the Irish Amateur Boxing Association (IABA) and the high-performance programme headed by Billy Walsh knocked heads to maximise Irish chances of qualifying fighters for the Olympics.

“There’s quite a difference between the various strands of boxing,” says the IABA’s chief executive Fergal Carruth. “Duration of rounds alone would impact on how you train for these events and it’s about where your own strengths lie because some boxers might be brilliant over three rounds but struggle over five, let alone eight.”

So it was that WSB was deemed to be Barnes’ best route. Not just for his fighting skills and style, but also his meticulousness in taking weigh-ins to the wire and the benefit to be accrued from the fact that the WSB’s are held the day before the fight rather than the same morning.

For Ward, APB was a natural fit given his preference for a slower pace in the ring and the fact that more rounds promise more fatigued opponents susceptible to a talented fighter who can do damage with either hand.

“The one thing that we have always done well in Irish boxing is adapt to new types of fighting,” says Carruth. “The first time computerised scoring came in for a major championship was the ‘92 Olympics where we got a gold and a silver.

“Down through the ages there has been so many different styles of boxing. Different scoring methods forced boxers to adapt to different boxing styles. You might remember the fairly negative, passive type of boxing where people would cover up and stick out the odd jab.

“They would score and win a fight on that. We adapted to that as well. We have medalled fairly consistently despite all those changes over the years. A lot of the credit for that has to go to the boxers, the coaches, the HP and the coaches in the clubs as well.”

The WSB path will qualify 17 fighters for Rio. Another 20 will make it through APB and more again through combined WSB/APB qualifiers, continental and world champions as well as a designated last-ditch qualifier to be held around May of next year.

In all, 250 men will make it.

It’s a convoluted pathway, but the real confusion arises over what will become of fighters like Barnes (should he seal the deal tonight) once they qualify for the Games as it has yet to be decided if the early qualifiers will be allowed compete in subsequent European or World championships.

Should Barnes and his ilk be prevented from doing so, they would face the prospect of almost 16 months without any real competitive boxing, the implications of which are obvious given so many Irish medallists — Carruth’s brother Michael among them — medalled after late qualifications.

“Will Paddy Barnes be allowed to enter into the European Championships? I don’t know,” Carruth says. “In fact, I would imagine not. But will the IABA be able to put (national champion) Brendan Irvine into the 49kg given that he is in a weight that is already qualified? I am not a hundred per cent because we don’t have any guidance on that.

“It’s a little bit like the back-door system in the hurling and Gaelic football because when you stay match fit that’s where an athlete needs to be. Which is better? It’s hard to say either way.

“You have to keep your foot in or the ring-rustiness sets in. Ideally for Paddy, he will be able to compete in whatever he wants to compete in between now and then, but it may not be the case.”

The hope is that the AIBA will see sense and allow boxers already qualified to compete in events like the Europeans and Worlds and simply fill Olympic qualifying spots with those fighters who have not already booked their passage.

In all, 250 men will make it.

It’s a convoluted pathway, but the real confusion arises over what will become of fighters like Barnes (should he seal the deal tonight) once they qualify for the Games as it has yet to be decided if the early qualifiers will be allowed compete in subsequent European or World championships.

Should Barnes and his ilk be prevented from doing so, they would face the prospect of almost 16 months without any real competitive boxing, the implications of which are obvious given so many Irish medallists — Carruth’s brother Michael among them — medalled after late qualifications.

“Will Paddy Barnes be allowed to enter into the European Championships? I don’t know,” Carruth says. “In fact, I would imagine not. But will the IABA be able to put (national champion) Brendan Irvine into the 49kg given that he is in a weight that is already qualified? I am not a hundred per cent because we don’t have any guidance on that.

“It’s a little bit like the back-door system in the hurling and Gaelic football because when you stay match fit that’s where an athlete needs to be. Which is better? It’s hard to say either way.

“You have to keep your foot in or the ring-rustiness sets in. Ideally for Paddy, he will be able to compete in whatever he wants to compete in between now and then, but it may not be the case.”

The hope is that the AIBA will see sense and allow boxers already qualified to compete in events like the Europeans and Worlds and simply fill Olympic qualifying spots with those fighters who have not already booked their passage.

All that is for another day.

For now, all eyes are on Maiquetia and two fighters who will be aiming to seal their places at an extravaganza both have graced with some style and success before.

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