Paddy Barnes had been left infuriated at what he felt was farcical judging. He was magnanimous in his praise of his conqueror but disconsolate given the fact he hadn’t been awarded a single point by the ringside judges.
He scoffed at the notion of even collecting his bronze medal. The year was 2008 and Barnes had just been defeated in the Olympic semi-final by Zou Shiming on a scoreline of 15-0 in Beijing.
Four years later in London at the very same stage Barnes would once again be toppled by the same opponent, this time a much closer affair with Shiming winning on a count back after the judges had initially scored it even. There was no fury on this occasion for Barnes, instead it was replaced by a sense of pride at coming so close against the reigning Olympic champion.
Yesterday Barnes’ post-fight mood, having been surprisingly beaten by Spain’s Samuel Carmona Heredia in the last 16 of the men’s light-flyweight division, was one of bewilderment. He spoke of how tired he felt after only one round and that his energy had totally betrayed him. In an all-action fight such as this one, where the eager Spaniard was content to stand and trade with Barnes, conditioning was going to prove vital and alas the Irishman’s engine let him down in the end.
He conceded that making weight has always been a difficult slog but now at 29 years of age shrinking to the required 49kg for a man who walks around at 58kg is just not feasible. So where does that leave Barnes as he plots his next move, obviously after taking some time to reflect on this bitterly disappointing experience?
Once the initial cloud has lifted and the agony has begun to subside, however long that may take, Barnes can be content in the knowledge that he truly is one of Ireland’s greatest ever Olympians with hammer-thrower Dr. Pat O’Callaghan being the country’s only other athlete to have medalled in two different Games.
Should Barnes decide to stay in the amateur ranks then it will be in the flyweight or bantamweight divisions where he will look to campaign and given the fact he would be still only be 33 by the time the next Olympics rolls around it’s not as if he would be considered a fossil.
If anything yesterday’s fight only demonstrated how much of a toll the Belfast man has been putting on his body through excruciating weight cuts and still Barnes was extremely unlucky not to snatch victory, with many observers feeling he had done enough. So while the loss is a bitter pill to swallow and the dream of creating history and becoming Ireland’s first triple Olympic medallist is extinguished for now retirement shouldn’t be an option for a man who is still an elite boxer.
Perhaps more captivating than a rise up the weight classes and another stab at Olympic glory in four years’ time would be to make the transition to the paid ranks of professional boxing. While many may feel that Barnes’ age would make him a latecomer to the prize fighting game, there is no doubting that he already brings a high profile with him and could be fast-tracked to world title level. A risky strategy but one that could very well pay off given his amateur pedigree.
Barnes could also find himself on the crest of a wave having seen his good friend Carl Frampton claim the WBA featherweight title recently ensuring that there should be plenty of opportunities to launch his career on the undercard of his future big-money shows in Belfast and beyond.
Add to the mix the possibility of another of Ireland’s strongest medal prospects and another boxer from Belfast’s assembly line of world-class pugilists Michael Conlan turning professional after these Olympic Games and Barnes could hypothetically begin his voyage into the professional game surrounded by his closest allies. The perennial thorn in his side, Zou Shiming, is currently a world title holder and should Barnes decide to venture down that road there is nothing to suggest that he cannot attain similar honours.
Whatever path he chooses to go down, and while he ponders what might have been in the immediate aftermath of his third Olympics, Barnes can be content in the knowledge that long before he stepped in the ring in Rio De Janeiro he had already cemented his position as one of Ireland’s greatest ever Olympians.
While the clouds have momentarily descended on this wonderful career, clouds always pass and Paddy Barnes can once again dance under those bright lights, a champion.
Eóin Kennedy, Pundit Arena