Paddy Barnes recorded a majority-decision points win over Silvio Olteanu at the Waterfront Hall on Saturday night as the two-time Olympic medallist claimed his first professional title in just his third paid bout.
Belfast native Barnes, a European amateur champion, took the WBO European flyweight belt with the victory in his home city. The stepping-stone title comes with the more notable bonus of a top-15 world ranking with that governing body.
That means the 30-year-old’s ambitions of booking an early world-title shot remain on track, although Barnes was made to work for his third pro victory against a game opponent.
Madrid-based Romanian Olteanu (now 16-12-1) presented a relatively testing challenge for Barnes at such an early stage of his paid career. Although the 29-fight veteran is 39 years old, he is a former holder of the more-recognised EBU European title and previously challenged for a world title in 2010.
And the visitor certainly lived up to expectations in terms of offering a credible test, resulting in a draw on one judge’s card.
Barnes had stated in the build-up that he was keen to pace himself, rather than maintaining the lightening tempo he was known for in three-round amateur bouts. And the 30-year-old did just that in the opening round, boxing at a steady rhythm and landing clean, single shots.
The second and third rounds were more competitive, however as Olteanu –wearing blue shorts with yellow trim – upped his work-rate against the home favourite, who wore black shorts carrying his self-depreciating ‘Leprechaun’ nickname.
By the fourth, both men were trading liberally although Barnes continued to maintain the slightly cleaner work to body and head, although Olteanu also enjoyed success with some eye-catching head shots.
Busy flurries from Barnes gained the approval of a scattered Waterfront Hall crowd, who were treated to a competitive fight thanks to the determined Olteanu.
The fight also marked the first time that Barnes went above five rounds in his career – his previous World Series of Boxing ‘semi-pro’ bouts having been capped at that distance.
Barnes impressively managed the 10-round distance until he slowed down in the latter rounds - particularly in the penultimate round as he attempted to evade the dogged visitor, who continued to offer an admirably rugged effort.
A left hook stumbled Olteanu early in the 10th and final round, but the Romanian continued to press forward against a tired Barnes.
The former European amateur champion had done enough by that stage, however, and he took a points win on the cards of judges Phil Edwards (97-94) and Zoltan Enyedi (97-93), with only Olteana’s Romanian compatriot Mihai Leu scoring it a 95-95 draw.
“It was a very tough fight,” admitted Barnes afterwards. “But it was an invaluable experience. I have to say, Olteanu is tough lad!”
An entertaining undercard contained a number of Barnes’ gym-mates from Matthew Macklin’s MTK Gym.
Rio Olympian David Oliver Joyce made a successful professional debut on the undercard, stopping his Hungarian opponent Gabor Kovacs in two rounds. A left uppercut had Kovacs in trouble before the Mullingar lightweight forced referee John Lowey to step in at 2mins 38secs of the round after a flurry of punches.
In the chief-support bouts, there was mixed results for Dubliners Jono Carroll and Stephen Ormond.
In a battle of previously-undefeated super-featherweight southpaws, 25-year-old Carroll (now 14-0) defeated Liverpool’s Johnny Quigley (14-1) on a split decision after a tough battle.
Carroll put his foe down twice in the second round but Quigley survived the round and a gritty performance saw him last the 12-round distance.
Later, Clondalkin lightweight Ormond (now 24-4) failed to reclaim his old WBO European lightweight belt as he came out the wrong side of a unanimous points decision to Wales’ Craig Evans (17-1-2).
The 10-round bout was an awkward and messy affair for the most part, with both fighters falling to the canvas after grappling on a number of occasions.
Ormond was legitimately put down twice in the final round, a body shot collapsing the 34-year-old Clondalkin man before he returned to the floor after being overwhelmed by Evans, but he managed to see out the round before seeing the judges’ call go against him.
Belfast prospects Tyrone McKenna, Steven Ward and Lewis Crocker all recorded wins over journeymen opposition as did Derry super-middleweight Seán McGlinchey.