When Paddy Barnes claims, “I couldn’t care who I’m fighting”, ahead of his pro debut tonight, it is said with some justification.
The Belfast native has had slightly more pressing concerns.
Aged 29, the three-time Olympian will formally wave goodbye to the amateur ranks as he competes in his first paid bout, co-headlining a bill at Belfast’s Titanic Centre with Jamie Conlan live on BoxNation.
A win tonight will set up Barnes for his new-year mission to build towards world-title contention, but he has had other things on his mind lately after his partner Mari gave birth to their second child last week.
“It still hasn’t really sunk in. I wasn’t really expecting her so soon, especially on fight week,” said Barnes on the birth of daughter Fianna.
“Mari was due on November 28, but with complications she’s been in hospital for eight weeks already.
“It was an emergency delivery,” explained Barnes, who was forced to rely on the driving skills of former amateur team-mate Seán McComb to transport him from a press conference to launch Michael Conlan’s new pro deal with Top Rank to the hospital.
“He broke every red light in Belfast! I didn’t care if we had someone pulling us over, especially with the week it is,” laughed the former European amateur champion, who also had the additional stress of Mari having to remain in hospital for treatment due to an illness following the birth.
“I’ve been training away so I’m in decent enough shape even though things haven’t been ideal,” said the 29-year-old.
“At the end of the day, that’s life and shit happens. I’m sure everything will be okay. I have a family of three girls now so I’m outnumbered! I’m just going to have to start learning how to do hair now,” added Barnes with a laugh, before adding: “I’m a fighter, I’ve been boxing all my life, ad come Saturday night I’ll be on fire.”
Twenty-three-year-old Bulgarian Stefan Slavchev (8-24-1) is the one who is set to get burnt and Barnes did not try to talk up his journeyman opponent.
“I couldn’t care who I’m fighting. Zou Shiming is fighting on the same night, so they couldn’t get me him,” joked the Belfast man, referring to his former Olympic nemesis, who competes for the vacant vacant WBO World flyweight title in Las Vegas tonight.
“If you’re a big name then I’ll pay attention, I couldn’t care about anybody else,” continued Barnes. “Ultimately when I get everything sorted out [with family] at home then I’ll be able to go away and train properly in England or Scotland.
“When that happens in the new year that’s when I can focus on winning titles and big fights
Jamie Conlan, brother of amateur world champ Michael, will take on Hungarian novice David Koos in the co-headliner.
It should be a welcome ‘handy number’ for the undefeated 30-year-old, who has been involved in some entertaining wars in his recent fights, and an easier gig than a previous job at the Titanic Quarter.
Ironically, Conlan previously worked at tonight’s fight venue laying paving flags during a lull in his boxing career.
“It was during my career when nothing was coming on and no fights were coming up,” explained Conlan.
“It was absolutely Baltic with the wind — I’d rather get punched in the face any day of the week! I stuck it out [with boxing] and I’ve got a good team behind me, and now I’m topping a bill in Belfast.”
The evening’s highlight in Belfast could well be the meeting of Dublin light-welterweight Phil Sutcliffe Jr and Welshman Chris Jenkins of Wales.
Meanwhile, there is also a fight night taking place in the capital with another Dub and Welshman headlining as middleweight Luke Keeler meets veteran Bradley Pryce at the National Stadium.
Former European amateur medallist Eric Donovan also features on that bill in his second pro bout and the Athy native has had a late change of opponent, with Poland’s Krzysztof Rogowski stepping in.
“I wasn’t expecting to experience this [late change] so soon in my pro career,” admitted RTÉ analyst Donovan.
“But I’m going to look at it as a positive experience. It’s part and parcel of the game and most of my life I’ve been used to going into an amateur tournament and waiting on the draw, so it’s similar to that.”
TV: Barnes v Slavchev & Conlan v Koos live on Boxnation (Sky 437) from 7pm.
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