Back in 2009, Terry Dooley spoke to former world title challenger Pat Barrett at length about his career. Barrett had recently resurfaced on the Manchester boxing scene and, over the course of time, had lost all the footage of his fights apart from a short highlight reel. Dooley turned up with a full career set and they went over it over the course of a few weeks. The result was an exhaustive, but not exhausting, overview of the career of one of Britain’s hardest hitters. It was lost when British Boxing News went down yet has resurfaced and some of the audio has been recovered. Boxing Social are republishing it in full.
On a rainy summer’s evening, I found myself sitting in a car in Salford waiting to meet former British and European light-welterweight champion Pat Barrett, who retired in 1994 with a record of 37-4-1 (28 KOs). We eventually managed to pinpoint Pat’s whereabouts. However, his location seemed odd at first since it was the exact same spot where we had been sitting for half an hour. A few conversations later we realised that we were on opposite sides of the same building.
Upon meeting, Pat directed us to his flat so that we could make up for lost time. As we stood in the elevator making chit-chat, Pat told us about his apartment, it was situated on the ninth, and final, floor of the building. At this point, we looked at the elevator buttons and noticed that there were 19 floors in our current building. Pat had brought us to the wrong building. I knew that we were going to get along tremendously.
Pat Barrett is one of those boxing figures that mean many things to many people. For some a potential world champion who never quite made it, in the eyes of others one of boxing’s real ‘characters’ (with a capital C), or a mystery figure who some thought was dead, or in jail. The truth is that he is trying to make his own moves in the sport of boxing by helping out (the late) Brian Hughes MBE in his Collyhurst gym, whilst also trying to get off the ground as a promoter. Before moving onto his current situation, I asked Pat about his first memories of the sport:
“I started (boxing) at the age of 16,” he recalled. “My older brother got me into it. He was an amateur boxer. When you’re a young kid you have someone that you just follow, and my brother was the person I liked to follow. I used to watch him do a bit and tried to copy him. He came everywhere with us when I turned pro, every fight except for the [European] title fight [against Efrem Calamati] in Italy. Every fight I had in England he came [to] and my sisters [did], too.
“Then Brian took an interest in me and showed me how to do a bit more with my talent. I had a few stoppages as an amateur but wouldn’t put myself down as a puncher then. All that came later, as a pro. It was just after my mum died that I decided to turn pro [in 1987]. I was not highly touted and turned over without anyone really behind me.
“I had very little experience and no knowledge at all, but I would fight anybody. Brian got me an early fight [a first-round stoppage of Iskender Savas in 1987] that people thought I was supposed to lose as it was his turf [Switzerland, to be exact]. We get to the ring and there are two pairs of gloves, one of those old pair of straw gloves and a nice set of 8 oz gloves. We tossed for the gloves. I lost the toss, but Brian picked up the nice gloves.
“I was saying, ‘Brian we lost the toss’, but he was away with the gloves. They kept saying stuff to him and pointing at the gloves, so he said, ‘Speaky no English’, and put them on me. Their kid was meant to win this fight — it was his show — and I was brought over to lose but I knocked this kid over and there was a fucking uproar. When you go with Brian it is these little things you always remember.
“Listening to Brian, I would be so relaxed before a fight that I never cared about getting into the ring. With all his stories, even if you were shittting yourself, you would step out to [the] fight relaxed — even when not in your hometown — and you would feel you are going to win. It is hard to explain. You pick up things from him when you are around him.”
One of his earliest fights came against Paul Burke, a decision loss over six earlier in 1987. I asked Pat if that early name stood out on his record. He said, “Nah, it was more like I stood out on Paul’s record because he was the only one to actually beat me properly in my career. It was one of those controversial decisions really where either of us could say we had won it. It was very close, and I suffered a late knockdown that tipped it in his favour. I’m glad [defeat] happened in the early stage of my career because later on in my career I don’t think I could have taken defeat that well. I then went 31 fights undefeated.”
That undefeated run did feature a blemish, though, as five fights after the Burke loss Barrett drew with Sugar Gibiliru over eight rounds in 1988. A run of wins soon glossed over these setbacks and Barrett faced Gibiliru once again in 1989, this time with the Central Area title at stake, as Pat explained: “I fought Sugar Gibiliru then fought a return with him for the Central Area title, he was meant to be a puncher but I stopped him in the eighth round.”
He added: “From the Sugar Gibiliru fight something clicked. From there on I was knocking people out. This all happened to me like ‘Boom!’ I turned pro at 18, won the British title at 21 went onto the European and before that I’d been winning the Central Area [title] so there is a picture there: Central Area to European then to world.
“Then I fought Roberto Trevino [in the meantime Pat won the British title via a ninth round KO over Tony Willis] and that was another knockout (KO2). I wasn’t inspired by boxing at first. It was about getting paid. I remember that I had just taken over my sister’s apartment and had to fix it up, so I needed money to get it all done. It was all about money at the time.”
A draw is often a good thing for a fledgling fighter. It helps them understand that perhaps they are doing something right — enough at least to get them a half of a result — as well as enforcing the fact that they are doing a few things wrong or aren’t quite there yet.
James Toney’s draw with Sanderline Williams saw him bring in Bill Miller, who gave him the perfect style to roll with, literally. An early draw against Sugar Ray Seales gave Marvin Hagler a means by which he could test his progress; he later hammered Seales in a single round. The first fight with Gibiliru showed that Pat’s technique had yet to gel physically and stylistically, his movement was good enough to get him into position yet his bursts of shots on the outside often hit the gloves of his opponent; this, in turn, allowed Sugar to work inside. The draw was a fair result.
By the second fight, Pat had taken a leaf out of Sugar’s book in the hairstyle sense —Sugar had a trendy mane in fight one and Pat a short back and sides, the stylistic roles were reversed in fight two — yet in the early going his punching was still not truly settled. However, Barrett began to move on the outside to find decent spots and would then lure his opponent in before pouncing his spot with short hooks. One such hook, a left in round eight, flattened Gibiliru for a good few minutes.
Pat’s form enabled him to step into a vacant British light-welterweight title fight against Wills, who had represented Britain at the 1980 Olympics and had already won a British title himself, albeit at lightweight. A late replacement for Clinton McKenzie, Barrett won the fight courtesy of a vicious left hook. It served as a turning point for the guy who had turned pro without any title dreams.
“I was knocking people out and Brian said, ‘I’ve got good news and I’ve got bad news’. The bad news was that it was going to be a British title fight taken at short-notice, but the good news was that Tony was there for the taking,” recalled Barrett. “Brian said that opportunity only knocks once, and I was ready to take this title. He said we had only just fought for a title, so I only had to tick over in the gym. I had done the hard work. He told me my weight was ready, so we took the fight and it paid off [Barrett scored a ninth-round KO].
“After the British title fight, I realised that I could go somewhere. My mentality wasn’t to win a world title [at the start]. I was not inspired by the idea of becoming world champion — it was all about earning money. It wasn’t until later on when I realised that people were taking a big interest in me and that I was going places that I decided to go for it.”
As mentioned above, Barrett was put on the road early in his career, initially being brought in as the opponent, and this ‘road warrior’ mentality meant that when the time came to go abroad for significant fights Barrett was already used to the experience:
“Going abroad was part of the job for me,” he said. “With Brian training me, I always believed that I was ready to win anywhere. With Brian it is an inspiration. He gets you more mentally ready than physically. If you are physically ready but not mentally ready you are going to lose, because you don’t know which version of you is going to turn up on the night. If you are mentally ready, even if you aren’t fit, you have about a seventy percent chance of winning. Once your mind is strong and determined it won’t let the body give up. You will always stay in there.
“I turned pro as a nobody. I was only there to be used by up-and-coming fighters. You pay those journeymen guys a bit more and put them on to lose. Every early fight I had I was meant to get beaten. This is what you don’t realise. It was sink or swim.
“I wasn’t looked after by anyone but Brian. If it weren’t for Brian, I would have been thrown in with anybody. Brian had faith and trust in me. He saw the talent in me even though I couldn’t see it. I see my kids coming up now and see the talent in them and I tell them, ‘Listen, if you work hard you can become world champion’, and they probably think, ‘Yeah, whatever,’ but you need to be with someone with faith in you.
“Me and Brian are like father and son. You do have your little disagreements, everyone has their ups and downs, yet I would never disrespect him because anything he has done for me, he did for the best. Everything else is down to me because you get to an age where you think you know everything, and you stop listening. That is when you become a head banging into a wall.”
However, for a few of his fights Hughes was suspended from Barrett’s corner and this loss seemed to impact on his performances at a crucial time in his career, particularly during the Dwayne Swift fight, a tepid points win over 10 in 1990. In the mind of Barrett, though, Hughes was in the corner in spirit.
“Brian was suspended from my corner but was still there at ringside for my fights. Once you’ve worked in the gym there is nowt else you can do with the fighters. I’d had my work with Brian before the fight so that is the main thing.”
During his successful run Barrett went from being, in his own words, a “Nobody” to a somebody. He signed with manager Mickey Duff after presuming that Duff, who was a fading force at the time, would bring him the world title shot he craved. Duff guided Barrett to a European title win over Efrem Calamati in 1990 — a stunning highlight reel fourth-round KO in Italy — and subsequent defences, only to fail to bring him a shot at the light-welterweight title. This left Barrett feeling dejected and increasingly flat in his performances.
“I thought that things were going to elevate, definitely,” he said. “Mickey Duff could not produce a world championship fight at the time, though. I defended the European title a few times and it began to get a bit boring. Someone like me needs new interests. You get bored quickly.
“I went from the Central Area, to the British, to the European, and you know what should come next, don’t you? It should have been a world title. When you’ve got a fighter into that zone you have to feed them. But it was, ‘European title this, and purse bids this’, and I was getting bored. I wasn’t being moved up that extra level.
“I eventually moved to Frank Warren. I had a meeting with him. Once we had that meeting, he said he would get me so many fights and get me a world title fight. He delivered. I had to move up a weight [to welterweight] to get it but he delivered the fight with Manning Galloway.”
A successful champion looking for pastures new often makes a move up in weight. In the case of Barrett, it was a pragmatic move; he wanted to fight Julio Cesar Chavez yet there was a major queue. In lieu of that fight, a bout for a welterweight title was the next best step. Even though Pat himself was reticent about his chances as a welterweight:
“I didn’t want to move up a weight at all,” admitted Barrett. “Everyone said, ‘Move up a weight you’re struggling to make weight’, when the truth was that I honestly preferred the hard work of stripping down to the weight. When you have to work hard to make the weight you are properly in the zone. You get stripped and ripped. Carrying that extra few pounds I felt strong, but it wasn’t natural. I was mentally strong but not physically strong if you know what I mean?
“At 10 stone, I knew I had all the advantages, like Ricky Hatton does at light-welter, but at welterweight I didn’t have them. At welterweight, Ricky doesn’t have it, either. He beat Kostya Tszyu at light-welterweight with his strength but just look at him in his fights at welterweight. Certain weight categories suit you and you have to stay in them. You can move up and make millions but once you move up in weight you lose that strength.”
A loss against Manning Galloway in 1992, a fight in which the stylistic approaches favoured the southpaw title holder, was later followed by a loss for the British welterweight title, which came on points versus Delroy Bryan in 1993.
“It wasn’t [just] the strength, it was the fact it was not right for me. I trained hard for the welterweight fights but there was something missing. I had to train extremely hard to make light-welterweight, extremely hard. Skipping in saunas and all that to shift pounds [as was the case prior to the win over Willis] — that to me was part of the training. It wasn’t right for me if I didn’t have to train like that. Does that sound mad? At welterweight, I was already there [at the weight] and would come into training two pounds over the weight — this is nothing for someone like me— and I had more impact at the lower weight.”
Thrown into the mix was the fact that the Galloway fight was called off several times. Barrett felt then, as now, that Galloway used the delays to deflate Barrett and work on a way to defuse his style.
“First time I was supposed to fight Galloway I would have knocked him out,” insisted Barrett. “I was down to fight him three times. One time it was [cancelled] bang on the press conference. Imagine, you’re at your press conference waiting to fight for the world title. You have your meal and are getting ready for the biggest fight of your life only to get told, ‘The fight is off’. I was like: ‘What do you mean the fight’s off?’
“The guy had to go back to America — I think his brother got shot or something like that [Galloway cited gastroenteritis as the reason for the delay]. It was hard. Do you know how demoralising it feels? You’ve done all that hard work and it is now your time. You’ve got the papers, the news and all the people saying, ‘Barrett is going to get his title fight’, and next thing you know ‘Boom’ — the fight is cancelled.
“I fought Mike Johnson [instead, in 1991] but my mind was gone out of it [Barrett was hurt badly in round one before finishing his opponent with a left hook off the ropes in round two]. I didn’t want to even be in the ring that night. They asked me if I wanted to fight and I just [shrugs]. It ain’t no world title fight. It doesn’t mean anything. I wasn’t even bothered about getting the payday by then. When it was all about the payday, I would have cared, but by now it was now about the title and I wasn’t interested [in the non-title bout] but had to take the fight to stay busy.”
When they did finally fight, Galloway proved what many had suspected about Barrett. Less effective as a mover, Barrett would land his shots after using movement to lure his opponent forward, setting traps for his opponents to walk into. Pat could box on the move to an extent, but he could not box as effectively against movers. Galloway lived up to his nickname of ‘The Spoiler’ and defused the challenger with his lateral movement. Sometimes dropping his gloves in frustration, Barrett could not set himself for his shots and never looked like winning the fight.
A few weeks later, Barrett told me that one of the things that bothered him the most about the defeat was that it took place on his home turf in front of his friends and family. “Everyone was there,” he said. “I remember thinking that I’d lost in front of all the people I knew. For me, one of the best things about fighting was after the fight when you’d go out and see everyone. That was a big thing for me so losing in that way was really hard to take.”
In Part Two, Barrett breaks down his KO power, reviews his earlier fights and talks about how he thinks he would have done in a fight with Chavez.
Main image: Fiona Hanson/PA Archive/PA Images.