A look ahead: Which Irish Olympians will turn pro?

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With the Olympics now over we will see the beginning of boxing’s equivalent of football’s transfer window.

Rumours will fly as to which boxers will turn pro and with whom they will enter the pro ranks with.

For Irish fighters, the post-Olympic migration to the pros has always been less than the like of America and Britain. Following London just John Joe Nevin turned over, while after Beijing Darren Sutherland was the only fighter to ditch the vest. Our sole Athens Olympian, Andy Lee, made the move in 2004. This perhaps is a sign of the power of the High Performance Unit, as nine of the ten Irish boxers who competed in Barcelona 1992 and Atlanta 1996 turned pro afterwards.

However, for the class of 2016, it looks as if it will be somewhere in between, with some staying with the IABA, while others go into the paid game.

Here Irish-Boxing.com takes a look at the current crop and where they may end up.

Paddy Barnes – Light Flyweight (49kg/108lbs)
A three-time Olympian and, at 29 years of age, it’s now or never for Barnes in terms of the pro game. He can’t afford to have any wasted time. Weight issues ended his hopes of a third Olympic medal this month, but the hugely popular Belfast man still has big pro potential. Barnes’s friend and two-weight World champ Carl Frampton has stated his belief that the Holy Family fighter could box for the European title on his debut. Already with a high-tempo style, punching power which will become more of a factor with smaller gloves, and eight five-round WSB bouts under his belt, Barnes wont need much adjusting to the paid game. Most likely to turn pro at flyweight (50.8kg/112lbs), the extra few pounds and extra rehydration time should allow Barnes get back to his near-unbeatable best seen in last year’s WSB. Who Barnes will go pro with is another question. A Matchroom Belfast double-act with Mick Conlan is a possibility, as is a move to Queensbury (if Hearn feels that Barnes’s straight-talking Belfast lilt isn’t ‘Sky Sports’ enough). What would be financially-rewarding, but tough on a personal level and highly unlikely, is a relocation to Japan with the likes of Teiken Promotions who handle fighters such as Chocolatito Gonzalez and Carlos Cuadras.

Brendan Irvine – Flyweight (52kg/115lbs)
Only 20 and still growing into the weight, Irvine has confirmed himself that he will be looking to stay around until the 2020 Games in Tokyo.

Mick Conlan – Bantamweight (56kg/123.5lbs)
Likely to be the most sought after Irish fighter from these Games. The reigning World champion, inadvertently, made sure that everyone in boxing now knows his name following his tirade at the AIBA following his unjust loss to Vladimir Nikitin in Rio. Should be able to make super bantamweight (55.33kg/122lbs) in the pros and wants to be fast-tracked, expecting at the very least a British title fight in his fourth contest. Still just 24, with ten WSB contests in the locker, and a master of all trades in the ring, Conlan could be the new jewel in a lot of promoter’s crown. Golden Boy have had a well-documented interest since last year, while both Eddie Hearn and Frank Warren have mentioned the Belfast man in recent days. The Clonard boxer wants his young daughter to be educated in a Gaelscoil so a relocation Stateside looks unlikely. Conlan has a star quality which screams Sky Sports and there is a sense that Matchroom may be his final destination.

Davey Oliver Joyce – Lightweight (60kg/132.33lbs)
Probably the most ‘pro-styled’ boxer on the whole team. However the likelihood of the Mullingar man turning pro is questionable. A family man who has shown little interest in the paid game, Joyce may avail of his well-deserved grant and stay within the familiar confines of the High Performance Unit for a couple more years and win another medal or two before retiring.

Katie Taylor – Lightweight (60kg/132.33lbs)
The prospect of retirement has been raised by many following Taylor’s disappointing exit from this year’s Games. While she is undoubtedly not as dominant as previously, Taylor is still one of the top boxers at her weight and many more medals await if she still has the hunger to compete at 30 years of age. Taylor is probably more suited to the pro game than she was four years ago, although this avenue seems unlikely considering that it would require her to relocate to America.

Steven Donnelly – Welterweight (69kg/152lbs)
The Ballymena man looks a cert to enter the paid ranks. Already courting interest from the USA, Donnelly could find himself joining up with the likes of Lou DiBella’s multi-national stable. An option closer to home could be MGM, who were in contact with the Antrim all-rounder last Summer. Likely to turn pro at light middleweight (69.8kg/154lbs), the charismatic and ambitious Donnelly may opt to make a big move abroad rather than taking it steady on this side of the Atlantic. 28 in September, Donnelly still has time to make an impression in the pros – especially considering his eight-fight WSB career – but will need to be brought along relatively swiftly.

Michael O’Reilly – Middleweight (75kg/165lbs)
Impossible to know until we find out what, if any, punishment is levied upon the Portlaoise BC man for his pre-Olympic failed drug test. If the 23 year old is hit by with a lengthy ban by Sport Ireland and/or the IABA he may choose to start again abroad with whomever is willing to look past his indiscretions.

Joe Ward – Light Heavyweight (81kg/178.5lbs)
Tipped by many to turn pro after the Games, Ward may instead choose to stay in the vested code where he will look to right a wrong at Tokyo 2020. A boxer who is suited to the structure of the High Performance Unit, Ward certainly has the talent to win many many medals over the next decade rather than turning pro where his style would most likely be less effective. That said, if someone were to come in with a big offer he could definitely be tempted.

Photo Credit: Ricardo Guglielminotti – The Fighting Irish (@ThefIrish).

Joe O'Neill

Reporting on Irish boxing the past five years. Work has appeared on irish-boxing.com, Boxing News, the42.ie, and local and national media. Provide live ringside updates, occasional interviews, and special features on the future of Irish boxing. email: [email protected]