Two-time Olympic bronze medallist Paddy Barnes has confirmed he is turning professional and leaving amateur boxing behind.
Barnes, 29, who competed in his third Olympics in the summer, won bronze for Ireland in Beijing (2008) and London (2012) before being given the honour of being Ireland’s flag bearer at the Rio de Janeiro games.
His quest to become the first Irish athlete to win a medal at three successive Olympic Games didn’t go to plan however, as he was defeated in his opening bout by Samuel Carmona of Spain.
Now, speaking exclusively to Paddy Power, Barnes said he was seeking “a new challenge” by moving into the professional ranks.
“Now it’s time to go pro, I’ve been in the amateurs too long and I want a new challenge,” said the Belfast boxer.
“The experience was brilliant, but after a few Olympics I know what it’s like.”
Being a proud native of Belfast, Barnes also revealed that he plans on having his first pro fight there and that he’s moving on from the light-flyweight division, after having issues with that weight in Rio.
“My debut will possibly be before Christmas in Belfast. It’s my home city so it would be great to begin my career there,” said Barnes.
“I’m going to start off at a flyweight, hopefully move through the weights and probably end up bantamweight at the end of my career.
“I’ll still be disappointed with my (amateur) career, not winning a gold medal.
“That will never leave me, but bringing back the world title is something that’s just as recognisable. That will in some ways make up for it.”
Barnes already has one huge fight in mind as his pro career progresses and that is against the man who ended his gold medal hopes in both Beijing and London, Zou Shiming (35).
“I obviously want to win a world title, but the fight that I really want is the guy from China – Zou Shiming.
“He’s the big money fight and he’s the one who I’ll be targeting. I want to win the world title, go to China and defend it against him.”
Despite being positive with his Olympic experience overall, Barnes didn’t hold back when the subject of his third Games came up. The former European champion “hated” Rio, described the facilities in the Olympic village as “terrible” and blasted AIBA’s organisation of the boxing tournament as the Games.
“I hated Rio, the village was terrible. Beijing was amazing, London was amazing – but the Olympic village wasn’t even finished,” said Barnes. “It was flooded half the time, it just wasn’t nice.
“In Rio, I thought my training was perfect. I went in, I made the weight okay – I struggled to lose a bit of it alright.
“The only thing which hampered me was that I weighed in at eight in the morning and I fought at 11am. So I’d three hours to recover and that’s something that I never had to do in my whole career.
“You usually have at least seven or eight hours, three hours was just madness. It’s just the way AIBA set it out, it’s nothing I could have trained for.”
One of the very few things that double Olympic bronze medallist took from Rio was the camaraderie he built up with other Irish athletes inside the village, including a certain set of siblings from Skibbereen, Co Cork.
“The only positives I can take was meeting new people like the O’Donovan brothers and different athletes from different sports in Ireland, becoming friends with them and watching what they do,” said the Belfast puncher.
After some major officiating controversies in Rio – including the much publicised Michael Conlan affair – Barnes is now “finished with the Olympic Games”, even if he can still fight in them as a pro.
“After watching what went on at Rio, where AIBA were officiating, amateur boxing is the same as it’s always been – it’s always been corrupt and it always will be corrupt.
“Nothing’s going to change. You might remove chief executives, but people behind the scenes will still be there and still be up to their dealings. They don’t care.”
The arrest of the former Olympic Council of Ireland president Pat Hickey on August 17 become one of the biggest stories in the history of Irish sport, but according to Barnes it had little effect on the performance of Team Ireland in Rio.
Hickey faces charges of ticket-touting, theft, tax evasion, ambush marketing, money-laundering and criminal association. However, Barnes believes the arrest provided some “entertainment” for a bored set of Irish competitors.
“It didn’t affect the 80 or so athletes because, bar a few of them, we didn’t even know who Pat Hickey was,” exclaimed the boxer.
“The village was that boring, we were actually glad to see something like this because it give us a bit of entertainment.”
Finally, Barnes believes the departure of coach Billy Walsh from the Irish team to the US before the games had nothing to do with the boxing team’s collapse in Rio, adding “the same result would have stood”.
“There was too much talking about Billy Walsh in the media. They made a big thing about it, but really it was nothing.”