Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 September 2014

Paddy Barnes: '45-44. I'm even more devastated. It was so close, it's heartbreaking'

Paddy Barnes
Paddy Barnes of Ireland competes against Shiming Zou (L) of China during their Men's Light Fly (49kg) Boxing Semifinal bout on Day 14 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at ExCeL on August 10, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Scott Heavey/Getty Images)

Paddy Barnes comes to us, his face the colour of parchment, signing himself out of the London Games.

I's over now. He's just rewritten the memories of Beijing with, maybe, the greatest performance of his life. The man, who, allegedly, did not lay a glove on Shimming Zou four years ago, has just taken him to the edge of the world.

The judges scored the contest 15-15, but scratch card justice applies here. Billy Walsh wheeled away to bless himself when the penny dropped that Paddy had just taken the world champion to a countback verdict. Then the verdict. "In the red corner..."

In its simplest terms, Paddy Barnes is out of the Games because, between them, five judges pressed a red button 45 times and a blue button 44. Now to the naked eye, Paddy's fists were pistons, pumping all day long.

After losing the opening round 5-8, he went after Zou as if he'd just seen him slip a wallet from a woman's bag.

Zou has a ballerina's balance and, for that opening round, you could hardly hit him if you threw a handful of rice. He was a red blur of feints and ducks, doing his matador thing with the Belfast light-fly. Every now and then he'd pick a shot, one beautiful left jab snapping Barnes' head back as if hit by a bullet.

"That round cost me a place in the final," Paddy would tell us later.

"I wasn't sloppy, it was just he made me look that way. He's such a hard target to hit."

But Barnes, the Belfast light-fly with a stand-up's wit and room in his life for sponsors, suddenly found his way.

In round two, he charged after Zou, swinging, crowding and -- if need be -- brawling.

By the end of it, Zou looked like he'd been savaged by the neighbours' poodle. This wasn't the Paddy Barnes he remembered with a big, ugly zero behind his name. The judges gave it 3-3.

And round three was to prove extraordinary. Three points down with as many minutes to rescue it, Barnes dug down into his shoes and found something nobody knew was there.

Time and again, he jolted Zou backwards with combinations that were accurate and explosive. The world champion looked mortified. He was running up a steep hill now, into the teeth of a hard gale.

At the bell, both men put their fists in the air, playing gentle little swindles with the customers.

The fight had been too close to call.

But then the announcement and the groans

"45-44? I'm even more devastated," he told us. "I wish he had beaten me by a couple of points. It was so, so close. It's even more heartbreaking.

"I'm surprised he wasn't given a warning for smothering me. That's his tactics. He's very, very elusive and hard to pin down. Once he got three scores up in the first round, I knew it was going to be a tough fight, but he was blowing at the end.

"I hurt him with a few body shots.

"He was tiring big time. He's getting old. I wish he was older but..."

Someone suggests to Paddy that Zou will hardly make it to Rio. A little mischief flickers across his eyes.

"Thank God," he says. "Hopefully, I will be and, with a bit of luck, he'll have retired. This was their third contest, Zou winning 22-8 at the '07 World Championships in Chicago and, of course, 15-0 in that infamous Beijing whitewash.

"In fairness to Paddy, that's some improvement he's made in the four years," sighed Billy Walsh.

"Yer man is three times world champion and Olympic champion, one of the best boxers in the world and Paddy made him look ordinary.

"With a little rub of the green he might have got over the line, but he can go home with his head held high."

That he can, the first Irish boxer ever to medal at two Olympiads.

Was this a bigger achievement than '08?

"Well the fight in Beijing wasn't properly scored," says Paddy. "That's why I went off on a rant.

"But this time the judges have been fair. Even though I haven't got to the final, we all got a fair crack of the whip.

"My fight could have gone either way, so I've no complaints.

"When they said countback, I thought I had it, because I felt I landed more punches. But I'm not going to cry about it.

"He's a three time world champion and Olympic champion, he's not that for no reason.

"He's a brilliant boxer and a good friend and I wish him all the best for the final."

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