Paddy Barnes and Michael Conlan book Rio tickets as quest begins for Olympic gold
Paddy Barnes and Michael Conlan are on their way to the Rio Olympics after hammering out a Venezuelan double in the World Series of Boxing (WSB) on Saturday night.
The Belfast duo, boxing for Italia Thunder versus Venezuela, punched their tickets for Rio 2016 on a dramatic night for Irish boxing at the Estadio Polideportivo venue in Maiquetía.
Barnes beat Finol Rivas on a split decision (49-45, 49-45, 47-48) to earn the four points he needed to finish on top of the light-fly weight table ahead of Uzbekistan's Hasanboy Dusmatov.
The two-time Olympic bronze medallist has won all seven of his WSB fights for Italia Thunder this season, amassing 34 points, one less than a maximum return after earning five unanimous decisions, one split decision and a TKO.
Barnes has fought the best part of 34 rounds in total since January 17 this year. To put that in context, his former Ireland team-mates, current IBF and WBO World pro champions Carl Frampton and Andy Lee, have boxed 35 rounds between them in four fights since last September.
Barnes admitted that Rivas, who he floored off a combination in the first, was a tough test in front of his own fans.
"I was getting in the cleaner shots. He had nothing to lose and he wanted to put on a good show and prove himself against one of the best boxers in the world," said Barnes.
"The atmosphere was unbelievable, but the heat was unbelievable. It was so, so warm. It will probably sink in tomorrow. I'm No 1 in the world in the WSB. I'm proud of that."
Conlan needed to beat Jose Diaz, and Azerbaijan's Magomed Kurbanov to lose away to Puerto Rico's Hector Garcia on Saturday, to secure one of the top two Olympic places for bantams, along with Russia's Vladimir Nikitin.
Conlan kept his side of the bargain on a unanimous decision - 49-46 across the board - and Garcia shocked Kurbanov in San Juan on a unanimous verdict.
"It was a long shot that Kurbanov would lose. I'm over the moon, can't believe it. I'll take a break now for a while, but I'll keep an eye on the weight. My aim this year is the keep active," said Conlan. "I'm coming into my prime as an amateur. I'll be 24 in Rio. I'll be winning gold in Rio, 100 pc!"
Billy Walsh and John Conlan, father to Michael, were working the Irish corners in Venezuela.
"This far out it's fantastic to have two medallist from London (2012) qualified for the Rio Olympics. Michael was up against it and we needed a bit of luck along the way," said Walsh. "The pressure was on Paddy. His main opponent in the rankings moved from No 2 position to No 1 overnight and Paddy had to perform, which he did in front of over 3,000 people in a very partisan atmosphere.
"It was a fantastic atmosphere, but obviously all for them. Paddy and Michael were fantastic against quality opponents."