Olympic boxing medalist Paddy Barnes has sparked controversy again after confirming he has turned pro and signed for the Macklin MGM gym in Spain owned by Irish fighter Matthew Macklin.
The MGM gym has been linked to a number of gangland stories in recent years, but Barnes is concentrating only on fulfilling belief that he can become a world champion in the paid ranks.
Barnes, beaten in the last-32 at the Rio Games in August on a split-decision to Spaniard Samuel Carmona Heredia, plans to begin his pro career with a hometown fight in Belfast before Christmas.
“I’ve enjoyed every minute of my time as an amateur and my achievements are something I am very proud of,” Barnes said
“Representing Ireland has always been my ambition and now I hope to emulate that success as a professional.
“After the Olympics there were many offers on the table but being part of Team MGM was the natural choice and one I’m delighted with. I honestly believe I have the ideal team to guide me to world title opportunities.”
A statement released on MGM’s Facebook page said, “MGM are delighted to announce the signing of Olympian Paddy Barnes on a management contract.
“The signing of Paddy Barnes has everyone at MGM very excited. An impressive amateur career has produced one of Ireland’s most popular Olympians.
“Three appearances at the Olympic Games produced consecutive bronze medals in 2008 and 2012. This led to Paddy being given the honor of being Ireland’s flag bearer at the most recent Olympics in Brazil.
“Paddy’s extensive list of accolades also includes Commonwealth gold on two occasions, Delhi 2010 and captain of Northern Ireland in Glasgow 2014, WSB appearances and a host of national titles.
“However, now is the time to begin a new chapter in his boxing career and Paddy cannot wait to get started.”
Barnes’ Olympic teammate Michael Conlan also announced on Monday that he would turn pro. Conlan, 24, was controversially defeated in the Rio quarterfinals. A bronze medalist at the London Games, he will now fight for Top Rank in the U.S., and is expected to make his pro debut around next St. Patrick’s Day at the Theater at Madison Square Garden as a 122 pound junior featherweight.
ESPN.com reports that Conlan will fight at least six times next year, with one of the Belfast native’s fights to take place in Ireland.
"I'm really looking forward to all of this," Conlan told ESPN.com. "I couldn't be with a better team than Top Rank. They'll take me to a world title. I'm looking forward to the journey.
"I think it's every Irish fighter's dream to fight on [St. Patrick’s] weekend in New York. It's going to be big. I'll take the opportunity with both hands."
Bob Arum, chairman of Top Rank, is enthusiastic about Conlan’s chances to become a breakout star.
"This kid, I feel, is something special," Arum said. "There's something about this kid. He has a lovely personality and, obviously, based on what my matchmakers say, he has ability, which is what counts. As far as his personality, he lights up the room. The fans are going to love this kid. I'm going to hit all the Irish cities -- New York, Boston and over in Ireland also."