Conlan and Barnes on path to testing times
Clinical Jamie is set for world title eliminator as Paddy eyes tough challenge after debut victory
It was more McDonalds than James Street South but Jamie Conlan and Paddy Barnes know they will have the platform to serve up more savoury dishes in 2017 and beyond.
The Titanic Exhibition Centre made its debut as a boxing venue and passed the early test, as did Barnes, though with typical spicy honesty he wasn't going to put any relish on the manner of his first victory as a professional.
Bulgarian Stefan Slavchev's career may have curled up around the edges long before Saturday night but he knew enough to scuttle around the ring like a frustrating rodent as double Olympic bronze medallist Barnes sought to trap him for a finish to match the reception he received as he made his way to the ring.
Few Irish fighters have enjoyed an ovation to match the one the 29-year-old received for his debut and Barnes went full throttle for the victory but Slavchev was in the mood to be a party pooper and after three rounds of survival mode he then came up with a WWE move, bizarrely hoisting Barnes over his shoulder.
Inexperienced referee Hugh Russell jnr will have better nights ahead, as instead of simply deducting a point and handing out a warning he immediately disqualified the Bulgarian. That followed on from a 98-93 score in favour of Phil Sutcliffe jnr over Welshman Chris Jenkins which left many scratching their heads.
The fans celebrated but Barnes was left wanting more after a week in which he hardly got to see hospitalised wife Mari and 11-day old baby Fianna.
"It was a strange finish to a crazy week, that's for sure," said Barnes, who will now base himself alongside Conlan in Spain as he looks to move up the European flyweight rankings.
"When everything settles down with Mari and the baby I want to really kick on. I want a fight next that will then allow me to fight for the European title. If it could happen I would want a European title shot next. I'd like a 10-rounder next to push me on to a European title shot.
"I've seen the champion and he has an exciting style which would suit me.
"I can't be fighting Eastern European journeyman any more. I need to really get my career going after this. I didn't think it was going to be that good and I'm just sorry it wasn't a better fight. I was really frustrated because I wanted to entertain the fans but the guy kept holding so it was a terrible fight. I was trying too hard to impress.
"The best part of the night was the crowd. They gave me a great reception at the start and the finish so that's encouraging for my next fight which has to be a real test - and by then I'll have some proper professional training behind me. Because Mari has been in hospital the last eight weeks I was just training myself."
The next big night should come at the end of February when close friend Conlan steps up for a WBO World title eliminator. The Commonwealth super-flyweight champion was always in cruise control against Hungarian David Koos, a couple of levels below the 30-year-old Belfast man who, by the standard of his recent thrilling encounters, gave a subdued display. But, it was the kind of smart performance required when a major fight is sitting on the horizon.
"I stuck to the game plan which is not something that I have always done.
"I almost felt disappointed because I like to get in there and blast people out but I had to see the bigger picture and I stuck to my boxing," said Conlan, who was handed an 80-72 points victory after eight one-sided rounds.
"Boxing was the big winner tonight. There were more people here than we had expected.
"Leading up to the night when my opponent pulled out I wasn't sure how it would go but the support has been fantastic," said Conlan.
"We could probably get another couple of thousand in the arena the next time. What happens next is up to Frank Warren but the WBO have ordered the World title eliminator so that has to happen.
"We clearly have the fighters here who the fans are getting behind so it's exciting times for boxing in Belfast."